The Gospel. St. Matthew 13. 24.
At that time, Jesus spake this parable unto the multitudes: The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which 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 blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him: Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them: An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him: Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said: Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
I’m sure that by now most of us are quite familiar with the parable of the Wheat and the Tares. In its simplest form, we have a farmer who plants his field, making sure that the seed he is using is of the highest quality. But his efforts are sabotaged by someone who intersperses the seeds of a nasty sort of weed throughout the field. And after discovering the sabotage, and receiving the advice of his laborers, the farmer decides to wait to get rid of the weeds, until the time of the harvest; when the weeds will be burned and the wheat will be taken into the usual place of storage.
Of course, the message embedded within this parable appears obvious to us; yeah sure, God spreading good seed, the devil spreading bad seed, and we can be either the wheat or the tares, depending on our Faith. But as usual with anything Our Lord said or taught, there is a great depth to this message; a string of ideas that should not only give us a greater appreciation for Our Lords words, but also inspire us to a Faith of equal depth and remind us of the dangers we face for not so doing.
OK, I’ll admit, THAT sounded really confusing; so let me see if I can break it down a bit. First of all we have “the man”, the farmer, who we have been told planted his field. But St. Matthew doesn’t simply say that the man planted seed, nor does he even specify that it was wheat (we only know this for sure because it says so later on); rather, we are told that it is “good seed”; not ordinary or perhaps seed of lower quality, but the best that the farmer has; the better to ensure a fruitful harvest.
Now as I said earlier, it’s obvious that the farmer is God, and it’s just as obvious that the “good seed” is His Gospel; what could be of higher quality? But at the same time, WE are supposed to be farmers as well; after all, aren’t we commanded to spread the Gospel? But here we must make sure that the seed we spread is likewise of the same quality as that which was planted by Our Lord. This may seem confusing, because we believe that we do confess that same Gospel, but the question is; is it really of the same high quality?
In other words, are we constant in professing our Faith to those outside the Church, or do we reserve our witness only for those times that we are inside this building? Do we show our Faith to the world in the example of our lives; how Our Lord’s Sacrifice has changed our hearts and inspired a true love for all God’s Creation? Or do we hesitate and merely tell people, “oh yeah, I’m a Christian”? Are the seeds that we spread truly of the highest quality?
Next, of course, the enemy is Satan. And let me assure you; Satan is VERY persistent in his work. His job is to weaken us, to play to our human frailties; to do all that he can to reduce the quality of the seeds that we spread. And so, when we say that we are too tired, too old, too busy to come to Mass or attend some Church function, the quality of our seeds is lessened. When we submit to the mores of secular society, declining to witness truly to the full glory of the Gospel, the quality is further diminished. When we say that the job of bringing others to the Faith is beyond us or is someone else’s responsibility, then we cannot say that we have spread “good seed”.
But even if we do overcome all those human foibles, still our work is not finished; the job does not end simply because we spread good seed. To ensure a fruitful harvest, we are required to be vigilant; to carefully watch for those things that will prevent the seed from taking hold and growing to fruition. And the problem, of course, is that we may not see the danger to our crops until it appears to be too late.
You see, Satan doesn’t work just to reduce the quality of our seeds, but he also plants seeds; which are intended to grow and clutter and choke the life out of our efforts. This is where the tares come in.
Tares are not just some ordinary type of weed; they are much more insidious. The Jews of Our Lord’s time called them bastard wheat. The Greek word for them translates as “to commit fornication”. Tares where dangerous to a farmer for three reasons; first, in their earliest stages of growth, they looked exactly like the young wheat plants they grew next to, so they were almost impossible to detect. Second, by the time the farmer realized that the tares had infested his crop, the weed would have so intertwined its roots with the wheat that it was impossible to remove them without also destroying the roots of the good plant. And third, the grain produced by the tares was poisonous and bitter in taste; so they needed to be removed, but the only way to get rid of them was to wait till harvest time, take up both plants, then separate the tares by hand. Very costly, very time-consuming.
We see evidence of tares throughout God’s Creation today. We see how the Gospel is twisted, perverted, rationalized, explained away by secular forces who claim to be Christian. We see how the Faith has suffered persecution, not just in foreign lands, but also right here in our country. We hear people who say that they are followers of Christ, but who justify such abominations as the slaughter of innocent life in the name of the secular notion of “choice”. All these phenomena seem to have crept up on us, taken us by surprise. We hadn’t thought that such things could happen, until they did. The tares were in our field, and we didn’t recognize them, and now it might seem to be too late.
So now we find ourselves in the position of those servants, those laborers charged with the responsibility for tending the field. And typically, having realized that we failed to see the danger until it was too late, we presume to “advise” our Master; Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? In other words; should we react haphazardly and stridently to condemn all these weeds, these tares? We forget that the tares are now intertwined with the good, and that there is only one way to safely separate them.
But he said: Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. You see, when we presume to act on our own notion of how to combat the evil in this world, we risk causing irreparable damage to the good. Any effort we undertake to eradicate Satan’s influence will be doomed to failure if we do not proceed with the same love and compassion exemplified by Christ. Only by humbly following Our Lord’s commandments, can we gain the power to destroy evil. Only by obeying God can we separate the tares from the wheat.
This is how we obey; Let both grow together until the harvest. You may have noticed that nowhere in this parable does Our Lord say that the tares actually killed the wheat. In fact, the implication is that both plants will eventually grow to fruition, and that it would only be the hasty actions of the laborers that could endanger the wheat. No, the farmer says, let them both grow together, then we will separate the good from the bad at the time of harvest. There will be evil in this world always, but at the last day the good will be separated from the evil. And like those tares, the evil will be condemned to hell fire. The good, like the wheat, will be gathered and taken into the eternal protection of Almighty God.
But I warn you, this should not lead us to complacency. We must not simply sit back and do nothing to spread good seed, to tend the field, and to watch for the weeds that would infest the crop. There is work to be done, even up to and including that final Day of Judgment.
We are servants of God; it is our responsibility to do all these things; we are commanded to do all these things. But as His servants, as His representatives here on earth, we must tend to the field always with God’s Love in our hearts. If we do this, if we submit to His Will and His Commandments, Our Lord has promised that we will be participants in his ultimate victory. Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.