Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30

Wheat and Weeds, Good and Evil

Has the problem of evil in the world ever challenged your faith?

Looking back, events in the Twentieth Century remind us that evil takes root even in the greatest good. National powers have fought two World Wars and several regional conflicts to protect the innocent. Yet, the death and destruction those struggles have produced staggers the imagination. Fighting evil seems, in a perverse way, to promote evil.

In the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus recognized good's co-existence with evil. He also held out the hope that the Kingdom would right all wrongs.

Popular Translation

24 Jesus gave them another parable: "The Kingdom of heaven is like this story. A farmer planted high quality wheat seed in his field. 25 But, as everyone slept, an enemy of the farmer quietly approached, planted weeds in the wheat field, and escaped. 26 When the wheat plants sprouted and showed new grain, so did the weeds. 27 The workers in charge of the field said to the farmer, "Sir, you planted quality seed in the field, didn't you? Where did the weeds come from?" 28 "An enemy did this," the farmer replied. "Do you want us to pull the weeds?" the workers asked. 29 "No," said the farmer, "when you pull the weeds, you might pull the wheat out at the same time. 30 Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I will tell the harvest workers, 'First, pull the weeds. Then, tie them into bundles so they can be burned. But, put all the wheat together in the my barn.'"

These verses from Matthew form the focal point. But they were followed by a explanation.

Literal Translation

24 HE presented another parable to them, saying, "The Kingdom of heaven is like a man having sown good seed in his field. 25 But, during the (nightly) slumber of men, (an) enemy came, sowed darnel in the midst of the wheat, and departed. 26 When the (wheat) grass spouted, (it) bore grain, then the darnel also appeared. 27 Having approached, the servants of the head of the house said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? From where did the darnel (come)?' 28 He said to them, 'A man, an enemy, did this.' The servants said to him, 'So, do you wish (that) we, having gone (into the field) should gather these (poisonous plants)?' 29 He said, 'No, (lest) collecting the darnel, you might uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest. At harvest time, I will instruct the reapers: 'Gather the darnel first and bind them into bundles to be burned., but bring the wheat together in my barn.'"

13:25 "sowed darnel in the midst of the wheat" Since wheat was the bread of the rich, the story assumed the owner of field was rich. The owner's hired help in 13:27 supports this notion. By the way, barley was the bread of the poor.

Darnel is a poisonous plant that looks like wheat as it spouts. The enemy clearly wanted to spoil the owner's harvest.

13:26 "grain" is literally "fruit."

13:27 "head of the house" was the same as the man who sowed the seeds. The head of the house was most likely the patriarch of a family who owned the land it farmed.

"Sir" is literally "Lord." In the context of the parable, the title was one of respect, not of faith.

Like the parable of the sower and the seeds in Matthew 13:1-9, Jesus told a story that shocked his audience. On the surface, the farmer in the story had a dubious logic. In a culture where farm land passed from generation to generation (along with family allies and family enemies), farmers diligently protected their lands for two reasons. The wanted to maximize harvest yields and insure a reputation as good farmers. The lax attitude of the farmer in the face of an enemy's attack certainly raised questions in the minds of Jesus' listeners.

But the farmer wisely chose to allow the wheat to fully mature. Anyone who actively pulled the weeds might trample or uproot the wheat. In the end, the farmer had maximized his harvest. And, he gained a bonus. The bundled weeds would provide fuel for fire.

How has God delayed in answering your prayers? How have you suffered from a delayed answer? How has his delay helped you?

Matthew 13:36-43

Popular Translation

36 After Jesus left the crowd and went indoors, his followers approached him with a request. "Explain the wheat and weeds parable to us in simple language" they said.

37-38 "The farmer who sowed the high quality wheat seed is the Son of Man. And the quality seed is everyone who follows God into his Kingdom," Jesus answered. "The field is the world. But the weeds are the evil people who reject God. And the enemy who put the evil people among the good is the devil. 39 Now, the harvest is the end of time and the reapers are God's messengers. 40 The end of time will be just like the harvest and burning of the weeds. 41 The Son of Man will send out his messengers. They will gather together everyone who sins and causes others to sin. 42 They will throw those people into a fiery furnace where they will cry out and grind their teeth. 43 Then, the good people will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. If you can hear me, then listen!"

Like the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus used parables to challenge his audience to think. The images and symbols in the stories allowed for various interpretations, depending upon the audience and their circumstances. Interpreting symbolic stories in this way is called allegory.

To help relieve anxiety among his persecuted followers, Jesus told this parable as an allegory of good and evil. Obviously, Jesus recognized good and evil lived together. But, when Jesus made that co-existence part of God's Kingdom, he must have shocked his own followers. How could God allow such evil in the world? Shouldn't God act to save his people? Why did he delay?

Jesus countered those questions with an observation. God allowed evil in the world for the greater good. First, he delayed the terrible day of wrath so the good works of Christians could take root. When a believer experienced God's Kingdom, he or she produced "fruit:" an ethical lifestyle that fed the needy and inspired faith (and repentance) in others. The believer's lifestyle helped build up the Christian community and multiply effects of the good "fruit."

To make this notion clear, Jesus interpreted the parable in Matthew 13:36-43. The Son of Man (i.e., Jesus) sowed the wheat seeds; Satan sowed the weeds. At the Final Judgment, the angels (i.e., messengers) will gather the good and the bad into separate camps. The evil will be punished while the good will "shine like the sun" (13:43, also see Daniel 12:3).

Early Christians had a vested interest in this interpretation. After all, they believed the messengers of the Son of Man were, in fact, Christian missionaries who spread the Good News. As the missionaries evangelized, they "gathered" God's people into community life. In other words, the harvest had begun, in spite of evil in the world. As long as Christians evangelized through word and acts of charity, they could tolerate evil.

However, people, even Christians, did not perform works of charity with the best of intentions. Sometimes, an evil end perverted the best of "fruit." (Even the young weeds looked like fresh wheat; only maturity allowed workers to distinguish between the two.) [13:26] Here, Jesus implied a second reason God delayed the Final Judgement: to allow evil to produce the greater good. The greatest sign of this belief was the cross. Evil men crucified the Lord. Yet, without their evil, believers could not experience the limitless benefits of his resurrection. Indeed, God's revealed his Kingdom on the cross.

How has the experience of evil in your life helped you produce good? How has it challenged you?

Catechism Themes: Providence and the Scandal of Evil (CCC 309-314)

Christianity can answer the question: why does evil exist in the world? The root of the answer lies in our free will. As God is free, so he chose to create us with freedom. Our freedom lies in a choice: to walk closer to the Lord, or to walk away from the Lord. The world functions as an arena for our choice.

To walk closer to the Lord involves the choice of love. We realize God loves us and we love him in return. In the choice of love, we extend our love to others. The world becomes the means to exercise love.

However, freely chosen love involves the risk of rejection. We can chose the self over all others. The world, then can become a means to reject others. We have seen this rejection many times over the past century in the suffering of the innocent.

God does not infringe on our free will. Indeed, to allow us the opportunity to repent, God gives us the chance and the choice to harden our hearts. But, God even uses our rejection as the opportunity for greater good, as he did with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If we ask "why is there evil in the world?" we must also ask "why is there good in the world?" While we may not be able to answer the question of evil on a physical level, certainly we can answer it on a moral level. The moral and the immoral live in the same world, because God created the world as the means to exercise moral freedom. Evil may induce despair, but good inspires hope. Only hope based upon the choice of love can ultimately answer the scandal of evil in the world.

How does faith inspire you to face problem of evil? Are you optimistic about the problems of the world, or pessimistic? Why?

God gives us a choice. Are we the wheat or the weed? What sort of fruit do we produce? If the answers to those questions are less than clear, never fear. God gives us the chance and the means to change and walk closer to him. But the chance requires action. Inaction is not an option.

Think of ways you can choose love and inspire hope. Resolve to accomplish one or two ways this week.