Servant and Seed

Saturday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 7:1-11; Matthew 13:24-30

The parable of the wheat and the weeds may leave us wondering. It certainly baffled the disciples. Next Tuesday we will hear them ask Jesus to explain it and, although he does, he leaves off two things: First, if wheat is always wheat and weeds are always weeds, is repentance even possible? Second, who do the slaves represent? Jesus identifies every other character, but never mentions the slaves. The parable has the answers but we must look more deeply into it to find them, which of course is why Christ told it to begin with.

As for the wheat and weeds remaining the same, on the surface the parable does say that. But if that was our Lord’s point, it would contradict the first thing he said when he began his ministry: Repent (Matthew 4:17) and if Jesus is anything, he’s consistent. No; repentance isn’t only possible, it is central to the parable. The question is, who repents, and how?

Enter the servants. Noticing the weeds, they offer to pull them, which seems like a good idea. But the master knows what the servants do not. For one thing, the weed, called darnel, looks a lot like wheat; even today it’s called wheat’s ‘evil twin.’ For another, the weed’s roots intertwine with wheat’s. Thus, by pulling the weeds in their ignorance and haste, the servants would actually cause what they most want to prevent. This is why the master advises the servants to let them grow together (Matthew 13:30).

We see two things in this. First, it shows God’s love for his children, who he wants to live at all costs. Second, and equally important, it shows his love for his servants, who need to repent, or change their minds, from ignorance to knowledge and impetuousness to patience.

Being patient doesn’t mean doing nothing; to the contrary, it sharpens their focus. The servants have one job – produce a fruitful harvest – not to judge what is wheat or weed. That will be done by others when God wills and at his direction alone.

This is where we must take the parable to heart, for Christ is speaking to us. We are the servants. We look at the field – the Church, the world, and ourselves – and see the same thing they saw: wheat and weeds. Perhaps our reaction is like theirs; purge the evil quickly, that the good may thrive. But also like them, we may be ignorant and impetuous. Ask yourself: Have I ever been mistaken in my first impressions of people? Have I ever changed my opinion once I got to know them? Have I ever wanted others to be patient with me, despite the wrong things I have done or said?

Even if we have made these kinds of mistakes, does that mean that we are never to judge our own actions or those of others and try to correct them? Certainly not; to be silent or impassive in the face of evil is exactly the kind of complacency our Lord condemns in the first reading. Earlier in this same gospel, Jesus urged us to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). But that is a perfection in love; therefore, our judgment and proclamation of the truth must be tempered by the same kind of mercy, compassion, and patience that God exalted in the first reading through the prophet Jeremiah, and that Christ himself has so perfectly shown us.

This is why repentance is central to the parable. The effort we make to do these things, to be perfected in love, is the repentance, the change of mind, that our Master is calling for. It isn’t that we are either servants asked to produce a fruitful harvest or the wheat or weeds growing in the field. The parable teaches us that we are both servant and seed. For both, the watchwords are faithfulness, patience and perseverance; faith that God is working through us even when we cannot see it, patience with our own growth and that of others, and perseverance, that we may overcome every obstacle to become the good seed that makes the finest wheat, in the image of Christ, the Bread of Life.

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