16th Sunday of the Year
One of the more challenging tasks for anyone like me who doesn’t know much about plants and gardening is to be asked to pull weeds. The difficulty is that for us non-gardener types is that we are not sure at times whether something is a weed or one of the plants.
It may have been something like that Our Lord had in mind when he created the parable of the weeds and the wheat. Before the wheat reaches full maturity there is a danger that through ignorance or just sloppiness someone may pull up the maturing wheat along with the weeds, and thus the farmer will lose part of the crop. So the owner of the field orders the slaves to allow both to grow, and then at harvest time the final separation will be made, and only then.
The parable is a fascinating teaching about the way God’s Kingdom grows in this world alongside and in spite of things sown by the Evil One in order to cause havoc and destroy the good seed of the Kingdom. Our Lord explains to His apostles first that He Himself is the sower of the good seed who belong to the Kingdom; second, that the field is the whole world; and third that the weeds are the product of the Evil One. Most importantly, Jesus is also, fourth, the harvest master, and when the seed of the Kingdom is ripe for gathering He will order the final separation of the children of the Kingdom of God from the weeds or followers of the Evil One.
Now a critical point of this parable has to do with the determination of exactly when the time for final separation has come. While we know that Jesus will order the harvest, and separate the good from the bad, we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that only the Father actually determines the precise moment when the final Kingdom will come to its full maturity, and the final judgement will take place. We ourselves cannot know this time of harvest, let alone determine or cause it to happen. It is so hidden in the mystery of the Father’s direction of the mystery of salvation, that even the Son of man, as man, does not have it as part of his mission to reveal or Himself determine the exact time. It is ultimately the Father who is in charge, and Jesus, as Son of Man, is simply to carry out the Father’s will even regarding the final Judgement. It belongs to the Father, as Creator, to direct everything in relation to the Kingdom; i.e., when the seed is to be sown; how the seed is to be protected and nourished in spite of its coexistence with the weeds in this world, and when the final separation will take place.
Another important point here obviously concerns the finality of this judgement. We are dealing here with the absolute, final separation of good and evil in creation itself which will occur only at the end of time. This final judgement is truly final and awful, as we learn from th Gospels, a terrible judgement that lies in the future and involves not the destruction of the weeds, as takes place on farms in this world, but the eternal separation of the weeds that are cast into an eternal fire and unending suffering, caused mainly by their eternal separation from all that is good and holy, and the loss of that great happiness which the saints share with God. The point of the parable is clear, then, that although God allows the weeds to grow alongside the wheat, and perhaps even flourish in an earthly sense, nonetheless, there will be a final reckoning and separation when God determines the time of the Church is complete or fulfilled
The finality of the last judgement is clearly intended to be a powerful call to repentance for those who serve the evil one and a most serious warning to the citizens of the Kingdom. They must realize that they themselves can become choked by the weeds and become part of the chaff that is thrown into the fire which is never ending. Did we not hear this same warning in last Sunday’s Gospel which spoke of the seed that fell among thorns which choked it to death? This is a most serious matter. Just because Christ has sown us as good seed, by our Baptism, is itself no guarantee that we will be among the mature wheat that will be gathered into the Kingdom at the end of time. Only fools ignore this clear teaching of Jesus in these two parables and scoff at the idea of eternal loss and the finality of God’s judgement. That anyone should doubt this fact is already an indication that their lifeline of faith is terribly weakened and they are already in mortal danger of ending up among the weeds themselves.
Nonetheless, though there is a grave warning present in the parables, there is also a great consolation if we will but look more closely at the implications of this particular parable. How is it that the good seed can survive in the midst of the great corruption of this world, including so many weeds found in people and institutions and laws and cultural traps set by the Evil One? There are so many kinds of weeds sown by the Devil in order to kill the good seed planted by Christ in Baptism.
Survival and growth in this mixture of good and evil in this world is nonetheless possible because the owner of the field, the world is not the Devil, but the Father of Goodness and Mercy. It is not the inherent strength found in the spiritual wheat themselves that enables them to survive the pestilences we find all around us in this world. No, it is the Father alone who enables the wheat to survive by constantly sending His life-giving Spirit into the world and into the wheat to ward off every form of disease that might attack the supernatural life given by Baptism. St. Paul affirms this in today’s second reading when he says that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness” and makes hidden intercession for all our needs, as He probes our hearts for all manner of disease that might threaten the Life of God in us.
Moreover, since we have been baptized, we also always have the possibility of receiving the medicine of the Sacrament of God’s mercy, which not only heals life-threatening diseases of the soul, but has the power of God to raise us up again even from death, to restore life to the wheat, should the pestilence of this world ever overcome our weakness fatally. In other words, the good seed can become good and alive again even if it succumbs fatally to the pestilence of sin. That never happens to the wheat of this world. Thus not only can we never bring about the final separation from God before the end of our life, but neither can the Evil One. What fury must Satan constantly experience when he sees the good seeds that he has corrupted unto death, rise again and again to life through the Sacrament of Penance, as God pours out His great mercy on those who turn to Him in response to His invitation to rise again to new life.
Finally, it is precisely in regards to this great mercy of God that we begin to glimpse the underlying reason for the command of Jesus that His followers are not themselves to try to anticipate the Final Judgement by passing a final judgement on anyone in this world. Remember how Jesus rebuked James and John when they wanted to call down fire on a village that refused welcome Our Savior. They are not to anticipate that which is reserved to the Father alone, the final separation of good from evil. Even when the Church pronounces the worst of all judgements in this world, excommunication, something which she is biblically authorized by Jesus to do, it is not a final judgement, but is meant to be but a temporary separation of the public sinner from the community intended for the sinner’s repentance and return to the fold once more.
Christ’s followers, then, are forbidden to anticipate the final judgement by permanently separating themselves from sinners whom they judged to be damned, because this final condition of the sinner is known only to God. We never know what can happen by the Grace of God, who raises the dead to life, and who alone knows, with absolute certitude, the final sate of anyone’s soul. We, on the other hand, are like poor gardeners in God’s world, who cannot always recognize and identify the good plants as distinct from the weeds. We are simply incompetent to finally weed God’s Garden.
The most we can and should do is to keep a safe distance from things that we prudently suspect are poison that can harm or kill us, and try to help as much as we can to nourish the growth of the garden in general. We must let God do the rest, and trust that if we are but prudent, and take advantage of the many gifts of His Spirit, who dwells within us, we have nothing ultimately to fear from living in a world filled with evils sown by the Evil One. For these evils will not have the last word, since the world belongs to the Father, Whom we know is so good and merciful that He will never abandon his creatures to the enemy, unless they reject His Mercy. For the Evil One has sown these evils not just to destroy the good wheat, but above all to undo the Eternal Son’s redemptive work in the Father’s garden and thus pervert the Father’s own work of creation. This will not be tolerated nor succeed.