16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Weeds to Strengthen the Wheat?
(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child, unless the child is a very fluent reader. It is a long Gospel, and a little troubling. But there is Good News!)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells three more parables by the Sea of Galilee: two short parables caught between a longer one and its explanation. I really like the two short parables. There is the parable of the Mustard Seed, that impossibly tiny seed that somehow grows to become a tree--a home for birds--and I wonder, how can I be involved in that marvellous growth? There is also the parable of the Yeast that gets mixed into the whole batch of dough causing all of it to grow and rise and I think, I want to be part of that work of the Kingdom! I want to dwell on these parables, but my mind gets caught on that longer parable, the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of God may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
This parable is a bit worrisome, isn't it? Jesus speaks of an enemy who sows weeds. We know that enemies are not our friends. Enemies are the ones who are against us, the ones who war, the ones who fight. We do not like enemies. Who is the enemy that Jesus means?
He also speaks of burning the weeds. This is worrisome, too. Our insides squirm. We don't like burning either. We begin to worry that we are the weeds. We are not the weeds, right? Then who is? Who are the weeds?
Last week we heard about the sower who flings his abundance of wheat seed over all the earth and we thought about how we would like to be the good soil in which the wheat grows tall and strong, producing even more wheat. In the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, Jesus makes it clear that the sower is not sowing weeds. The sower, the householder, sows only wheat, only goodness over the soil. The weeds that grow among the wheat are from the enemy. The weeds are NOT from God.
So the weeds cannot be people at all, can they? People are not created bad; God creates only good. Only goodness comes from God. So the question, maybe, is not who are the weeds, but what are the weeds? What are the weeds that grow in my soil?
I wonder if the weeds could be sin. Sin does not come from God. We know that we sometimes choose not to follow the Good Shepherd, that we choose not to listen even though we have ears. Sometimes we make poor choices, don't we? Could the weeds be these choices we make? The choice to sin does not come from God, but we can allow that choice to grow if we act on it.
This parable really makes me uncomfortable.
We think a lot about the mercy of God--that God forgives and forgives no matter what. We think a lot about the sacrament of Reconciliation and that great moment when we are given Absolution--when our sins are taken away, absolutely. We are forgiven.
But in this parable the weeds remain.
The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
Is Jesus saying our sins remain, we are not forgiven? No, I don't think so. We have sinned. That's true, it happened. We are forgiven because God's mercy is so great--that's true, too--but we cannot pretend that we never made a bad choice, that it never happened. If we did, some of our wheat would be uprooted, too. What can this mean?
Let both of them grow together until the harvest
In the fields, wheat stalks are not very strong. They flop over; they need support. Weeds, growing among the wheat, can actually lend support to the wheat, giving the stalks of wheat something to lean on. The weeds--unless there are too many--can actually make the wheat stronger. Can our sins, can our failings, actually make us stronger? Can they actually make us produce more goodness?
We know that God forgives us when we sin. This is Truth. Merciful is our God. But pretending that we are perfect--ripping out the weeds--would not make us produce more wheat. We would sin more because we would not remember our failings. It might even make us think that we don't even need God.
Knowing that we have sinned makes us turn to God for strength, because we don't want to do it again.
Knowing that we have sinned helps us understand others better when they sin, because we have done that, too.
Knowing that we have sinned allows us to forgive others when they sin because God forgives us.
Turning to God, understanding others, forgiving others...this is goodness! This is wheat! Keep the weeds here, Lord our God, to help us produce good wheat.
There is marvellous growth here. There is work to be done. We are growing in the Kingdom of God.
Then we will be gathered up into the fullness of the Kingdom,
then the weeds will be burned away,
then our sins will be remembered no more,
then we will
shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of our God.