My husband and I went to the Saturday night vigil Mass this weekend and the gospel was a familiar one: the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-43).
The servants ask the master– “didn’t you sow good seed? Where did the weeds come from?”
He tells them, “An enemy has done this.”
The servants, wanting to defend their master and save the seed he planted, ask another question– “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
As someone who has spent time weeding in my parent’s garden, I find the master’s response surprising…
“No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”
The type of wheat that Jesus’ audience would have been most familiar with is barley. It was the most prevalent in that part of the world… and while I didn’t remember the name of the weed and had to look it up, I did remember that at it’s earliest stages it looks identical to the wheat it is growing alongside…
That is why the master doesn’t want the servants to go back and pull out the weeds… they might tear out the wrong plant by mistake.
He also doesn’t want them to wait until the weeds and the wheat are distinguishable from one another, and then go pull them up. By then, the roots of both plants will be deep and intertwined. Pulling up the weed in this case will either harm or kill the wheat. The master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.
“Let them grow together until harvest,” he says… at which time he will separate the good from the bad. The weeds are burned, since consuming them would cause death by poison. The wheat will become bread and give life.
I’m not entirely sure why, but last night I realized that I had missed an understanding of this parable my whole life.
I had always remembered it as a parallel to the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25; I thought that the weeds and the wheat were exactly like the goats and the sheep– two different kinds of persons.
Since the goats and the sheep represent us, mankind, I had always assumed the weeds and the wheat did too. The weeds were the wicked people, and the wheat were the virtuous people. The wicked people will burn at harvest and the good people get to go to the barn/heaven.
That’s where I messed up. That’s only one meaning behind the parable. Last night, our pastor shared another lesson that can be drawn from this passage.
Mankind is the wheat, but the weeds are not.
The weeds are original sin and the results of it… seeds scattered by the Master’s enemy.
I am the wheat…good seed planted by the Master, with roots intertwined with sin and vice. No matter how strong I become, I will always have my own weeds to deal with and slow me down in my progress upwards, towards the “Son”. In this struggle, what a comfort to know how much the Master cares! He wants to give me every opportunity to survive until harvest (ie: the Church and the Sacraments). At that time, and only then, will I be completely free from the roots of my weakness, my vices and my sin. His “sorting” frees me.
[Side note: this passage supports the doctrine of purgatory; the weeds in the parable are separated from the wheat and burned… just as sin is separated from the faithful who die in a state of grace. Until those sinful roots are destroyed, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.]
I continued to meditate on this passage and I saw a second meaning…
As a Catholic, a disciple of Christ, I am also a servant of the master. I used to feel that as a Christian, it was my duty to serve the Master and love my fellow man by trying to “uproot” his vice. I was only trying to get rid of the seeds sown by my Master’s enemy. But after years in ministry, and hearing stories from my students past experiences, I realized how damaging this approach really was. It uprooted a lot of the good that already resided within these individuals– even resulting in bitterness towards Catholicism.
That is exactly what the Master didn’t want to happen…
The Master’s main concern was with nourishing the good seed. As disciples and evangelists, ours should be too. Even when we are aware of the sin of another, our focus should always be on the good, and making sure that it is exposed to Water (John 4:10) and the Light (John 8:12). In this way, that wheat will make it into the Master’s barn.
Now by drawing this conclusion, I do not mean to say that we cannot speak of sin and vice. They are there and they are harmful, just like the weeds. Think of Mary Magdalene. The weeds around her were plentiful. Western Christianity has long regarded her as a prostitute, but there is actually no evidence of this in Scripture. Still, she is the patron saint of sexual temptations. It’s probably safe to say that even if she was not charging money, she most likely slept with many men who were not her husband.
We don’t know for sure, and I know many Theologians think otherwise, but Mary Magdalene could have been the woman caught in adultery… the one the Pharisees bring before Jesus and are about to stone. The weeds of her life were so obvious, the mob was failing to see the good wheat that was also present.
Jesus keeps them from uprooting everything…
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The mob leaves… begrudgingly… and Jesus is left alone with the woman.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” he asks.
She replies, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin any more.”
Jesus did not condone her sin, but he also did not condemn her. He did not act as though she was not at fault… she was, and she knew that he knew that. He simply loved her anyway.
She had been looking for love all along, in all the wrong places… she had been looking for acceptance, happiness, fulfillment, and love among the weeds…
Then she experienced it fully for the first time in her encounter with Christ.
That is good evangelization.
He loved her. He encouraged her. He nourished her… reminding her that she was wheat, not a weed… and that the weeds were never meant to be a part of her…
...and sin did not win. She changed her life–completely— and became one of Jesus’ most faithful followers. Most likely she was there when he was crucified… and she was there Sunday morning to finish the burial process. She found the empty tomb. She ran to tell Peter and the Apostles. She wept, mourning the disappearance of the body, and the loss of the man who had changed her life. She was the first to hear see the Resurrected Lord, the first to hear him speak. She was the first evangelist, delivering the good news of the Resurrection to the Apostles. She is a legendary example of God’s mercy and grace, so much so that she is also the patron saint of converts and repentant sinners.
Jesus’ approach is the one we should imitate, being more concerned with the saving the wheat than pulling out the weeds. Just like Mary Magdalene, most people are caught up in their sin because they are searching… seeking happiness… fulfillment… acceptance…love…
Rather than vocalizing their wrong, we can give them what they seek, and put them in contact with the Master… who planted the good seed and has good plans for them.
Love changes hearts… not correction.
That is what the New Evangelization is all about… this is the kind of evangelization Pope Francis has promoted since the beginning of his papacy.
Heal wounds, nourish growth, pour out love and acceptance, and hearts will soften. Conversion will happen.
Remember… the Master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.