Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." ' "
- Matthew 13:24-30
In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued speaking to those who wished to test Him. He spoke about the importance of choice, specifically in terms of how we accept or reject the work of the Spirit. This is following the readings in which He condemned the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and in which He compared the Gentiles who accepted the work of the Spirit in Jewish Scriptural history to the scribes and Pharisees who seek to test Him. Yesterday, He continued, teaching about the importance of choice. When an unclean spirit leaves a person, He said, "he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation." Later on, as He spoke to the multitudes, He was told that His mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak to Him. He said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." In today's reading, we skip forward in the Gospel. It is after Jesus has introduced His technique of teaching in parables in His ministry. The readings that come just before this one in the context of Matthew's Gospel are: The Parable of the Sower and Therefore hear the parable of the Sower.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared." Over the course of the past few readings, Jesus has been speaking about our response to the Holy Spirit in the world. Specifically, He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees who failed to perceive the work of the Spirit in His ministry and healings (they had accused Him of casting out demons by the power of demons). If we take today's parable in the context of the readings we have just been through since Sunday (Pentecost), we see the tares as those who cannot accept the Spirit in their hearts. Jesus has just told the parable of the Sower; here the man plants good seed but at night, "while men sleep," the enemy sows bad seed - the tares or weeds that grow among the wheat. These are wild plants, that resemble wheat, but do not yield the fruit for bread. Perhaps we can read the "counterfeit" wheat that doesn't yield fruit as that which has not the substance that makes for our "daily bread."
"So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' " We are in a cosmic picture of the world, our world, the one in which good and evil are side by side. How does this happen? How do we see our way between the counterfeit and the real?
"The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." ' " In a later reading, a couple of days from now, Christ Himself will explain His parable. But for now, let us ask ourselves questions. Christ is speaking to the public in parables; parables are so that "those who have ears may hear" -- and those incapable of receiving will not. How are the wheat and tares separated? What will happen at harvest? When is the harvest? How do the two live side by side?
My study bible has an interesting note on this parable: "The parable of the wheat and tares builds on the previous parable of the sower. Here Christ the Sower gives attention to the work of the enemy, the devil, who comes to sow his own seed after the fruits have multiplied. Falsehood comes in after truth, after the prophets come false prophets; after Christ will come the Antichrist. The devil fashions falsehood and heresy to resemble the true Faith: the weeds look somewhat like the wheat. The evil one also comes while everybody is asleep. While the devices of the evil one do not extend into heaven, in this age he intermingles the counterfeit with the Kingdom. This parable explains why the Church does not expel her nominal members. To weed out the tares is to disrupt the wheat." While the note in my study bible speaks of heresy and doctrine, we can apply this to the least minutiae, all the choices we have to make, in our lives. What are our choices? How do we accept or reject the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the world? Especially in a time of brokenness, when we are witness to the things that don't create good but evil in the world, and great pain and suffering, that is the time when we accept or reject: when what is in our hearts truly makes the difference between turning and being healed or not. This is the point at which we consider the great questions posed to us in this little parable. Why is there evil? Why does evil grow side by side with good in our world, in this "age" in which we live? Note that in the context of the Gospels, good and evil can be side by side indeed, amongst nominal community, amongst family, or even among the first apostles chosen by Jesus. While we await the Judgment at the end of the age, what is our witness now? Where is truth? What is our testimony? Remember, it all depends on whether or not we have ears to hear, our response to the grace that calls to us and is there for us, awaiting the choice in our hearts. In the context of the parable, we understand it to be confusing, something that calls us in to fathom, to take seriously - even in the depths of the heart. How do you go forward in the world of wheat and tares?