Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Tares Sown Among the Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30:

[24] Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. [25] But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 

[26] And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the tares. [27] And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? [28] And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? [29] And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. [30] Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the tares, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.

Image taken from: https://allthechildrenoflight.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/wheat-tares_jenner1.jpg

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Once again, I apologize for taking some much time away from this blog. I can't even say I have a good excuse for it either. I'm currently not working, so I have plenty of time on my hands. Well, anyway, here I am, working on another of Jesus' parables.

This one is actually really easy for me, mainly because Jesus actually explains this parable in the Gospel. Far be it for me to think I can explain it any better than He can, but I will, I think, add some commentary that I find interesting, that may add some depth to the reading that might otherwise not be there--mainly because our society has lost a sense of what was commonly known back then, and didn't need explanation.

First, in case you were wondering, "tare" is a kind of weed that looks very similar to wheat, as you can see from the picture. You probably gathered that from the context of the parable itself, though. I just thought I'd clarify in case it was a lingering question in your mind. The Douay Rheims translates this word to "cockle", which is also a weed, but is characterized as stinky or noxious. For the sake of this post, I'll consider both kinds of weeds here, since they both add something to the parable that either alone does not.

So, this is one of a number of "seed" parables that Jesus offers in quick succession, each revealing a different aspect of the Kingdom. After Jesus has given these parables, and the crowds go away, the Disciples ask Jesus to explain this one in particular. This is what He says:

"[37] Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. [38] And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. [39] And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. [40] Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. 

[41] The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. [42] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:37-43)

Just one more word about the image of tares and wheat here. It is an interesting feature of these two plants that, though they are similar looking, as they ripen they become distinct in this way: the wheat stoops under the weight of the seeds, so it looks like it is "bowing" and it changes color (from green to tan), while the tares remain upright and green. As an image, it reminds us that we can recognize the Children of the Kingdom by their humility, and the children of the wicked one by their pride.

One thing that I often hear from very well-meaning people, who have the best interest of the Church at heart, is the notion that we ought to be excommunicating all these horrible Bishops and so-called Catholic politicians. However, what we're told, pretty well explicitly in this parable, is that God has deliberately allowed the corruption to have grown within His Church (and the wider world, of course). It was the enemy, the wicked one, who sowed these "noxious weeds", but God has chosen to allow them to grow together with the Children of the Kingdom.

But why? Isn't the danger of allowing them to grow together with the wheat that they will choke many of the wheat plants to death? Yes, but there is a greater danger in rooting them out, as we see in the parable: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. Removing the tares carries the greater danger of losing the wheat as well, and then there will be no harvest at the end, no souls to take to heaven.

What does this look like, in practical terms? Remember that the wheat and the tares look very much alike. Unless you are a seasoned farmer, you very likely would confuse the two. The idea here is that, in excommunicating a bishop for heresy, for example, during an age of the Church when most people are not very theologically knowledgeable, you may lose entire congregations of the lay faithful who love and are loyal to that bishop. Or perhaps you excommunicate a popular politician for promoting the use of contraception during a period when there is widespread confusion about the morality contraception. You may lose an entire country. What Jesus is telling us here is that it is better that only a few are lost, than all. Of course, that's not a callous disregard for those few souls that do become lost. We know that Jesus desires all souls to be saved. Nevertheless, in administering His Kingdom, and allowing us our freedoms within that Kingdom, He exercises practical judgments.

But who are the children of the wicked one? In His explanation, Jesus says "they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity." So, Jesus gives us two broad categories: scandals and workers of iniquity. A scandal, generally speaking, is an immoral action that has one of two outcomes: 1) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the immoral action is actually good, or at least amoral, or 2) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the organization (in this case the Church) that the person represents is an evil organization. It should be noted that someone who causes scandal doesn't necessarily intend scandal, and may not even realize what he is doing is wrong. A worker of iniquity is someone who deliberately sins and does wickedness.

This is a severe warning, in my opinion. Why? Because it means that it is incumbent upon us, the faithful, to ensure we do not cause scandal. If we are lackadaisical in our Faith, and don't ensure that what we are doing is virtuous and just, or that we are teaching the true teachings of the Church, and we, even inadvertently, cause scandal because we're doing something immoral, or passing on false doctrines in error, then we will be bound up and burned along with the doers of wickedness at the end of time. It is our duty, our obligation, to ensure that what we shine forth is only the goodness and truth of the Gospel. For, being Christians, we represent always, in everything that we say, and in everything that we do, Christianity, and the Lord Christ whom we serve.

There is, however, another aspect of this parable that I think needs mention. Jewish hearers of this parable might have been reminded of another story from the Tanakh: the story of Job. I will assume for the sake of brevity that you are familiar with the story of Job. During Job's trial, he defends himself, asserting strongly that he has been just in all things he has done. In chapter 31, Job begins listing curses that should be laid upon him, if he be found guilty of a number of various sins. The chapter ends with "[38] If my land cry against me, and with it the furrows thereof mourn: [39] If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, and have afflicted the soul of the tillers thereof: [40] Let thistles grow up to me instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley."

Remember that in Job's time, it was commonly understood that if you were a virtuous man, then God blessed you with wealth and a large family and good health, etc., but the immoral man was cursed by God with disease and poverty and loss of kin, etc. Job had suffered great loss, which is why he was on trial. His neighbors believed he had sinned greatly, but he was adamant he was an innocent and just man.

I will say two things about the Job connection to this parable. First, keep in mind that the external appearance of a man does not reveal the worth of his heart. A man, whether he be a cleric or a lay person, should be tested against the truth of the Faith, and not by whether or not he's healthy, or rich, or popular, or accomplished, or well-traveled. Second, if we are living in a time when the field is filled with tares, keep in mind that, though it was the enemy who planted such seeds, God may very well have permitted this as punishment for our own unfaithfulness to His Gospel.

If you want my opinion, the ravages that have swept through the Church since the Second Vatican Council reveal to us that perhaps the faith didn't run so deeply in the hearts of Catholics than we might have supposed it did. I see, however, that the envisioned renewal is indeed taking root, especially among many of our young people.

The field is awash with tares right now, but Jesus revealed to us 2000 years ago, in this very parable, that He is still in control of the harvest. Rejoice in the Lord of the Harvest!