The Wheat and the Tares

 

Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares would have been understood easily by his listeners. They were country folk who knew about planting seeds and the harm which weeds can do to a parcel of farmland, or for us today, to our gardens. Perhaps though a little extra information may shed some light on this parable which is “chocked” full of meaning.
The field here obviously can be seen as representing the human world as well as representing the Church. The Lord made paradise and the devil led man to ruin it. God later planted good seed, the Good News, and of course the devil came along to foul things up again. The Church, for example, has battled gnosticism since it left monotheistic Palestine with the journeys of St. Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, and Silas. It still battles the idea that there is secret knowledge out there about Christ which is not recorded in the Bible, and that at best the Bible is incomplete or imperfect.
Beyond that, there have been sad divisions among good Christians as how to conduct the liturgy and about who is in charge, who is the arbiter of doctrine. Is it all the collective patriarchs of the ancient Church, as Constantinople has held and as we see in the first Seven Ecumenical Councils in the centuries immediately following the Apostles, or was it Rome? Could a monarch make someone a bishop as Henry the Eighth held, or did the Church alone have the power to “make” one a bishop.
Besides division among good Christians, the Church also has within it bad Christians, and it also lives simultaneously in the field dirt surrounded not only by heretic “Christians” but also those who never have believed in Christ at all. Good Christians believe the Gospel and try to live it even while disagreeing on some important issues. Bad Christians believe the Gospel but also believe they do not have to really live it. Heretics, along with non-Christians, believe they know the actual real truth about the universe and that everybody else is just wrong. Thus, in this world, the field, we have good Christians, bad Christians, and non-believers.
Within each branch of the Christian Church whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, one also finds good Christians, bad Christians, and heretics all mixed in together, just like any field of golden wheat with weeds growing through out it. So whether the field here is seen as representing the world or the Church one has a typically human messy milieu with good and bad living together side by side just like wheat and tares.
The type of weed, a tare, about which Jesus was talking was called “bearded darnel”. As it sprouted and grew it was identical in appearance to wheat. Only after it had budded was it obvious that it was not wheat. But by then the root systems of the two were so intertwined that a field hand could not uproot one without also the other. To harvest the good wheat, for darnel is toxic, one had to spare the bad until harvest time. After threshing women, because of their smaller hands, would pick the similarly shaped, but differently colored, kernels of darnel to be thrown out.
Our Lord is making several fairly obvious points with this short parable, all of which though are critical for Christians to remember. First, the devil is always out there causing trouble for us by using situations and enemies to create problems and challenges for us in life. This should be some comfort whenever things seem to “go wrong” for us. We may complain to the Lord but need to keep in mind that our suffering is never really His fault. The devil wants us to fail; he is the one who wants us to give up and surrender being a good person.
Secondly, the parable teaches that we should not be hasty to judge. Ones judgment of a situation, as we know from life, can be hasty. For example our judgment of any person may prove to be wrong especially over time. Just as the field hand thought it might be a good idea to go pull up the tares, we might make matters worse for ourselves and perhaps others. This is because it is hard to tell the good from the bad until they have fully sprouted or “played out”.
In our own lives we may have known of people whom we long had regarded as role models who ultimately prove not to be particularly good people. Conversely, we may have been surprised to learn that someone whom we were certain was a bum or a cheat ultimately comes across as having been actually a really good person. Without naming names we see this all the time played out by athletes, celebrities and politicians.
Thirdly, when we do judge we should refrain from judging others harshly. As humans, being judgmental of others comes easily to us. It makes us feel good to know that we are so much better than someone else. This of course is simply a form of pride which always has been a human weakness since the Garden of Eden.
We need to keep in mind that God, who created all, ultimately will judge all he created. He also will do it without causing any harm to others since bad people, like tares, often have good people of spouses and children all around them.. We thus should remain guarded in our actions and comments to and our judgments about others.
Again, as I have said before, this does not mean that Christians can not be jurors or become judges in courts of law. Rather, the idea is to refrain from considering oneself much better than another, or someone else as just wicked through and through. We all fall very short of goodness in comparison to God.
This third point that we should be guarded in our actions and comments is picked up by St. Paul in our Epistle today from Colossians. He tells the members of that young church that they should, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts”. This may well be the underlying basis for the our modern expression of, “what would Jesus do?”
St. Paul, by telling the Colossians to let God rule in their hearts, is exhorting, to use and apropos football analogy this day, to let the Lord referee their decisions. Let Him be umpire of their actions. As we know, umpires in sports decide what actions are allowed or appropriate and what in particular is out of bounds. And, I guess it is self-evident that the Lord also can after the fact make use of “slow-mo” instant replay of our actions and decisions. It is called our conscience.
If we make Jesus the umpire of our words and actions, then making decisions in times of uncertainty becomes suddenly much easier. If we are uncertain about whether to do “A”, maybe taking a deduction, or “B”, maybe taking stapler, we can ask ourselves, “can I do ‘A’ asking Jesus to help me?” If we are not certain whether to say something at a particular moment, we can ask ourselves, “Can I say this with Jesus on my mind or him silently on my lips?” Maybe I ought to keep still.
By bringing every utterance or action in a moment of uncertainty into the presence of Jesus we quickly can learn from the umpire of our heart what is allowed to do and what is not fair-play. Just as with the servant in our Gospel who asked his Lord what to do about the good and bad plants in the field, we may find ourselves learning from Jesus not to do anything at all for the moment, that in-action is the correct path.
Thus, our Propers today provide many helpful lessons for life. First they provide a reminder that the devil is out there intentionally trying to make life hard for you. Secondly, we are admonished to refrain from judging situations or people hastily, and even when we do judge to refrain from being harsh in our actions so we do not hurt good people who are close to someone bad. As a guide we, whenever in doubt, should ask for Jesus to umpire our decisions, our words or deeds, or our inaction. We are living as a Good Christian whenever we can do or say something with Jesus on our lips. Amen. +

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