St. Justin Martyr, one of the earliest Christian writers after the apostles, knew a tradition that Jesus’ work as a carpenter included crafting yokes, plows and other farm implements. Whether or not that was true, it is clear that Jesus uses many agricultural images. They far outnumber the nautical images that spoke to Galilee’s sailors and fishermen. Something about the work of farmers strikes Jesus as particularly apt, and Matthew finds it especially helpful as he wrestles with the mystery of those who harass Christ’s disciples.
‘If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.’ (Mt 13:29)
What “seed of the kingdom” has taken root in you?
How is God’s grace bringing it to abundance?
To believe in the potential of a featureless, tiny seed requires great faith. Farmers trust nature to provide pollinators and wind, earthworms and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, the right mix of soil, rain and sun. Farmers understand the value of time. They know how patience and steady work can overcome setbacks and result in abundance. Jesus finds the spiritual realities of the kingdom reflected in such wisdom.
In last week’s Gospel reading, Matthew tried to explain why so many rejected Jesus. This week, Matthew tries to sort out how to live with them. Jesus’ answer is to do nothing. “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest….” Let nature and the harvesters do their jobs. The human tenants of God’s homestead do not have the wisdom or skill to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Only divine wisdom can set things right.
In a world of religious violence, one might hesitate to embrace a parable that makes such stark divisions among people. If our Gospel last week taught us anything, however, it is that we need to listen with faith, especially when the word is confusing or difficult. Two implications of today’s parable can be helpful to modern believers.
First, it is important to note that neither Jesus nor Matthew identifies the weeds with any specific persons or community. The making of distinctions among individuals is a mystery. The passage confronts human inclinations to draw and police boundaries and construct myths of belonging. Let them grow together, Jesus counsels. The disciples will be obvious.
Second, Matthew inserts two short parables into the middle of his larger reflection. Both of these are parables of abundance, and they illustrate the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus is comfortable letting his wheat grow because the weeds can do it no harm. God’s kingdom is as inexorable as yeast or a fast-growing shrub. It grows more powerful every day. The weeds, lacking the will of God drawing them forth, simply fail to keep up.
Modern disciples who seek wisdom in this Gospel can fail in two ways. They can give in to the sectarian tendencies of the human heart and identify their own weeds to despise, ignoring Jesus’ forbearance. Or they can also settle into a kind of anodyne spirituality that ignores the very real risks to Christians in the world today, minimizing the cost of perseverance in faith. Many of our sisters and brothers live in danger because of their beliefs. Yet Jesus knew the same danger, and still taught us to “grow together.” Discipleship entails risk, but for those who trust in divine grace, the harvest will be abundant.