“We falsely give ourselves the prerogative that is only God’s: to judge hearts and decide who is worthy of our time, our love, and our mercy.”
The Kingdom of heaven is like… This Sunday’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Kingdom discourse. The three shorter parables we hear in this week’s Gospel fall immediately after the parable of the sower that we heard last Sunday. Jesus addressed these three short parables to the crowds (Matthew 13:36). But only his disciples get an interpretation of the first parable, just as only they received an interpretation of the parable of the sower. Also like last week’s parable, the three kingdom parables all use images from daily life in Palestine.
In his parables, Jesus showed a familiarity with the lives of his listeners. He used images from their occupations and their families. He recalled scenes from their kitchens, their backyards, and their daily chores to help them understand the mysteries of the kingdom. The parables use these familiar images to teach deep truths. Jesus is taking his audience into deep mysteries, beginning first with things they know very well.
In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus describes the sabotaging of a field by planting tares or darnel, a poisonous plant that looks like wheat when it is very young. By the time one could easily tell them apart, the roots of the tares would already be intertwined with the roots of the wheat. If you attempted to pull out the tares, you would lose the wheat as well. Since tares was bitter-tasting and poisonous, the seeds would be spread out after harvesting and picked out by hand. There were Roman laws on the books against planting bad seed in someone’s field, showing us that this scenario is not something Jesus invented. It would be something known to his listeners.
This is one of the few parables for which Jesus also gives a clear interpretation (see Matthew 13:36-43). In his explanation, He reveals that He is the sower, and He always sows good seed. The devil sows the tares. The good and bad seed will grow up together until the end of the world, when judgment will separate evildoers from the children of the kingdom.
This parable is a much-needed reminder that judgment is the prerogative of God, which happens at the end of time (or the end of our lives). Until then, the good and bad seed will grow together – and may be difficult to distinguish. It’s distressing to live in a world of both good and bad seed. We want to be able to distinguish and put people into neat boxes. We want to view the world wearing white hats and black hats. Wouldn’t life be easier if the lines were more clearly drawn?
But the lines are not. Not even in our own souls.
We want to be able to classify people as “good” and “bad.” We want to know who to associate with and who to snub. We falsely give ourselves the prerogative that is only God’s: to judge hearts and decide who is worthy of our time, our love, and our mercy.
This parable reminds us that only God knows what He is doing when it comes to sifting the wheat from the tares. Only He knows our hearts, and only He can know the state of someone’s soul.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t judge actions. It’s not wrong to state that certain actions of sinful. Christ commands us not to judge (Matthew 7:1-5), but he does command us to rebuke and correct someone who sins against us (Matthew 18:15-17; Luke 17:3). There is a difference between judging a behavior and judging the state of someone’s soul. Only God can judge someone’s eternal destination, since only He knows their backgrounds, wounds, thoughts, and motives.
We live in a world with both weeds and wheat. Wickedness and fidelity exist side by side, even in Christ’s Church. There are sinners in the Church and leading the Church. While that can test our faith, it shouldn’t destroy it. Even our first Pope denied Christ. The devil works on all of us, and if we allow the weeds in the Church to lead us away, we’re giving the devil exactly what he wants.
We must have patience with each other and ourselves. Every gardener knows that patience is a requirement. Growth doesn’t happen overnight. It is the same in the kingdom. Perhaps we are that servant that wants to pull up all the bad seed. Purify the Church militant here are earth and toss out the sinners! But what will happen? We risk tossing out the wheat. If we’re honest, we risk tossing out ourselves! Jesus is working in people’s lives, and we don’t necessarily know what He’s doing or where He’s working. As hard as it can be sometimes, we must trust He is at work. Judgment happens at the end, and it is important not to despair or judge people and situations prematurely.
Ultimately, this parable should be reassuring to us. Many people want to accuse the Church of hypocrisy because She calls people to virtue while being led by sinners. Of course there are sinners in the Church… the Church militant, anyway. Don’t despair at the wickedness in the Church or in the world, because we know in the end, there are no sinners left in the Church triumphant. They’ve all been purified.
Judgment will eventually happen. We know there are consequences to our actions. Far from rationalizing sin or wickedness, this parable doesn’t mince words when it comes to speaking about the “end of the age.” But the parable is also reassuring because it reminds us that judgment does not come until the end. There is hope for our family members and friends who seem to ignore the call of conversion. Never give up praying for conversion. And never give up in your own conversion!
Scripture commentator William Barclay reminds us, “In the end, we will be judged, not by any single act or stage in our lives, but by our whole lives. Judgment cannot come until the end. It is possible to make a great mistake, and then redeem ourselves and, by the grace of God, atone for it by making the rest of life a lovely thing. It is also possible to live an honorable life and then in the end wreck it all by a sudden collapse into sin. No one who sees only a part of a thing can judge the whole; and no one who knows only part of an individual’s life can judge the whole person” (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew).
Weeds and wheat, side by side. Continue to till the soil of your soul, asking God to make it rich for the good seed to grow. Seek out the sacrament of Confession when thorns are choking the seed. Pray for your family and friends, that they will be rich soil for the good seed to take root. And pray for your enemies, those whom you perceive to be the tares growing in the Church and the world. Thanks to the mercy and patience of God, may the harvest at the end of the world be full of wheat.
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