People, Not Plants

The parable of the weeds among the wheat is found only in Matthew, and it is an eschatological parable, a parable about the Final Judgment. For gardeners, it evokes memories of hours in the garden, distinguishing between weeds and desirable plants, which is harder to do than one might think, at least for novice gardeners. It raises another question: What constitutes a weed?

After my family bought an old house over 10 years ago, we moved in the spring, and I noticed that there was rhubarb growing in the garden. As the rhubarb grew into summer, I realized that my plant no longer looked like rhubarb. It was something else; it was burdock, arctium lappa. It has long white roots, over a meter long when fully grown, and I found that I could not eradicate it. The roots always snapped before I could dig it out completely.

Advertisement

I found out something else interesting about arctium lappa. Some people eat the roots and use other parts of the plant for medicine. It was also the plant whose clinging flowers led to the development of Velcro, since they stick to animal fur and are difficult to disentangle once attached. That it was a weed to me and my garden did not mean it was a weed to everyone. Distinguishing between a weed and a useful plant depends upon what you are trying to grow.

In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, it does seem that there is a clear distinction made between the wheat, which produces the stuff of life, bread, and the weed, zizania in Greek, known scientifically as the species lolium temulentum and as “tares” or “darnel” in older translations of the Bible. Zizania looks a lot like wheat as it begins to grow and it is not until much later in its development that it can be distinguished from wheat.

Jesus’ parable makes it clear that the zizania do not ultimately have a good purpose or good end, unlike the burdock, but that once the farmer finally determines what it is, it will be destroyed. What is clear, however, is that the determination as to what is zizania and what is wheat will wait until the eschaton, when the reapers, the angels, gather the wheat and the weeds and so determine their final judgment.

Sometimes students ask whether this parable indicates predestination, whether some people are weeds and other people are wheat from the beginning, but this pushes too hard against the metaphoric quality of parables. Plants are plants and people are people. The point of Jesus’ parable is not that some people are made evil from the beginning, in their roots, but that the church is a corpus mixtum of sinners and saints. It is impossible to know who represents the wheat and who represents the weeds, and human attempts to judge someone a “weed” in advance of God’s judgment are bound to fail because of the partial nature of our knowledge and decisions.

It seems that in this parable the church is being cautioned to patience and tolerance with those whom we are just aching to condemn. All of us are in fact a corpus mixtum, created good but with proclivities to our own peculiar sins. None of us are wheat without God’s help, and the improper rush to create a pure church, excluding those who do not sin the same way we do, or not think like us, is bound to fail. We must patiently allow God to work in us as we prepare for the end of the age.

Matthew is not shy of Judgment, with a capital J, for the interpretation of the parable promises that for some “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” and conversely that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” While the church retains authority to judge behaviors and, as expressed in Matthew 18, who may remain in communion with the church, ultimately without complete knowledge we cannot say for certain who is wheat and who is weed. In fact, at this point, we ought to insist strongly again that a metaphor is a metaphor. We are not plants; we are people. And unlike a plant, which is what it is, we can grow to be who God intended us to be, to serve the kingdom with fruitfulness we never knew we had inside of us.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Plants and people, I find that connection intriguing. Or is it Plants are people? Sounds crazy! Well, we people share a lot of our DNA with the rest of cosmos, for example 50% with Baker’s Yeast, the Honey Bee, the Platypus, with Ocean Coral, and also with the Round Worm naming just a few. I don’t know what a Round Worm is, but Isaiah may have been on to something when in his Suffering Servant narratives he called Servant Jesus, “a Worm and not a man!” Jesus in his Humanity and the Round Worm sharing DNA at a 50% ratio. Amazing! About worms, this much I do know; we are totally dependent on the humble Earth Worm for the greening of our Planet, without which there can be neither Plants or People. The Earth Worm (the kind kids feed to fish and Robins have for breakfast) by its wriggle allows oxygen to enter the soil and its body wastes adding nitrogen in the soil – OXYGEN and NITROGEN, the two indispensable elements needed to green the earth. Without that combination our planet would be as arid as the Moon! Maybe Isaiah was speaking about the Earth Worm when he called Jesus a “Worm” a Divine Redemptive Worm so to speak, greening the aridity of soul caused by sin. Just a thought. We also share 50% of our DNA with the Wine Grape the fruit of the vine, a plant. So, may we say that people are 50% wine grape and the wine grape 50% people? Not really, but all of this and so much more show how connected we all are to all creation, to “Brother Sun,” and “Sister Moon” as St. Francis of Assisi liked to say. And to “Mother Earth” as we all like to say. And to the most distant star, bodily composed of the same stuff that we are! About the End Times of the parable, they are the “Now Times” already here principally because with God there is no past, or future, just the present, everything that will be already is! Note Holy Thursday at the Table of Sacrifice, before it happened the next day, it happened as Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass was instituted in Grace, one day before it happened in time! The Everlasting NOW helpful in defining God. Mind boggling! The End Times for us more immediately happens at death, with the parabolic weeds sent to that place where hyperbolically “the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.” But what’s a weed? A useless plant? I wonder if any plant is useless, or simply confined to extinction because humanity has not as yet discovered its life-sustaining medicinal or food value. Just as there is so much we don’t know about the weeds of earth so too, there is so much we do not know about the weeds, or chaff of soul, “gathered in bundles to burn.” St. Faustina says that at the hour of death Divine Mercy, Jesus, appears to Plants and People, I mean specifically Weed People, offering one last chance to s ay “Yes, Lord, I believe!” This is very much in keeping with Scripture where we learn that God’s Mercy is above all His works! God wills that all be saved. Can anything that God wills to happen not happen? I don’t think so! Excepting when “human plants” that we are say to God, “No thanks” allowing the 50% worm within to become that “worm which dies not.” How awful! Your question, Mr. Martens, "Are you open to receiving every person in the church?" YES!

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

‘May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.’ (Mk 13:36)
Michael SimoneNovember 17, 2017
‘One mightier than I is coming after me.” (Mk 1:7)
Michael SimoneNovember 17, 2017
Only those who understand true humility can walk with Christ each day into the presence of the Father.
Michael SimoneOctober 20, 2017
Only three Sundays remain in the church year. Each of them includes a Gospel about the end times.
Michael SimoneOctober 20, 2017