On one summer Sunday, and again on some weekdays, in the Catholic liturgy, we heard again the parable of the weeds and the wheat. This has long been one of my favorite parables and images from Jesus. I think this simple story reflects some of the reality of life in the Church and the world and within each person. It has a lot to say about what we all have been experiencing during this strangest of years.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives a simple explanation to his disciples. Weeds and wheat had grown up together and the workers wanted to pull up the weeds, but the landowner said to wait until harvest, when all would be gathered and the weeds separated from the wheat. Jesus later explains to the disciples that the wheat represents the citizens of the kingdom while the weeds are the followers of the evil one. The good citizens, the saints, will shine like the sun while the evil followers will be sent to the fiery furnace. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Fine, rather straightforward. The good are rewarded, the bad are punished. Do you ever have questions about just how all this will take place? “The harvest is the end of the world,” Jesus says. What is that? When is that? No one knows. And we would be talking about billions and billions of people. I am willing to leave all that up to the judgment and logistics of God.
I like to apply this parable to something closer to home. It can be an image for what is going on in the world at any time, including these months of pandemic which continue to mystify and frustrate us. There are lots of weeds and wheat showing themselves. There are people doing strange and outlandish and violent things. There are thousands of heroes of kindness and compassion who reach out to serve others. And God, of course, as always, lets the weeds grow with the wheat. As Jesus says in another place, God lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust.
I believe the parable can also stand for what is inside each person. Most of us are mixtures of weeds and wheat. We are complex persons. When we are sincere, we see both parts of ourselves. If we have a conscience, if we try to live a relationship with God, we try to increase the “wheat” and work at reducing the “weeds.”
Part of mature spirituality is to be able to hold conflicting energies at the same time. When we notice the “weeds” in ourselves, our faults and failings, we might get discouraged and even angry and want to “pull out” all the weeds. We may want to be totally good, all “wheat,” and maybe we are tempted to “work harder” at being good and make ourselves totally good.
But I believe we are, within ourselves, to be like God and let the rain fall on the just and on the unjust in ourselves. Can we love and accept our whole selves without thinking in terms of extremes of total good or total evil, which must be thrown “into the fire?” We are to have compassion on ourselves, let the weeds and wheat grow together, and let the grace of God help us to gradually allow our virtues to grow and develop and to diminish the power of the faults and failings. God can work good within us just as we are, right now, and we don’t have to try to suddenly change everything. We can’t. God continues to write straight with the crooked lines of our lives.
As far as the wider world in pandemic, we hope we can contribute to what is good and helpful and compassionate among the people whom we encounter. There is much that is beyond our individual control. Just as we are to have proper compassion on ourselves, we are to have compassion on our world, do what little we can, and try to live in gratitude and hope from one day to the next.
– Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.