After speaking to the crowds in parables, Matthew’s gospel today tells us, Jesus enters a house where his disciples ask him: “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”(Matthew 13:36-37) Why do they want an explanation of the parable about the weeds in the field before any other parable, we wonder ? What’s so important about it?
The parable immediately follows Jesus’ opening parable of the sower in Matthew’s gospel. It’s about a man and his servants who plant wheat. Once the wheat was planted, they rejoiced and went to sleep. All was done; they had only to wait for a good harvest.
But an enemy comes and plants weeds in the wheat field. You can hear distress as the man’s servants become aware of it. They weren’t expecting this. Their immediate response is to go and pull the weeds up.
The servants seem to match the rocky ground Jesus describes in the parable of the sower. They hear the word and receive it with joy, but “when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word” they fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21) They’re overwhelmed by the sight of the weeds.
Jesus’ disciples would seem to be like them at this point in Matthew’s gospel. Then, the pharisees were bent on putting Jesus to death. They’ re joined by the Herodians, the followers of Herod, who ruled in Galilee. The cities that first received Jesus with joy are rejecting him now. His own family wish him to abandon his mission.
His disciples were expecting a wheat field, but at this point their world looks like a field of weeds. And so their first request to Jesus is: tell us what this is all about?
It’s not just Jesus’ immediate disciples who wonder about what they see, others do as well. In our celebration of the Feast of Apostle James recently, Matthew has the mother of James and John appealing to Jesus for a privileged place in his kingdom. She had the same dreams as her sons. Could she represent the many others in those Galilean cities where Jesus first ministered, who abandon him when they see a field of weeds instead of the wheat field they were hoping for.
Does Matthew also have in mind the Galilean world of his day, a world where the disciples of Jesus seem to be overwhelmed by a resurgent Judaism led by the pharisees? And to take it one step further: In our part of the world today, as we see a church in decline and a society split into factions, do we have a similar vision of things? We’re living in a field of weeds!
Parables call us to questions and answers. The parable of the weeds and the wheat proclaims, first of all, that God is confident in the seed he has sown. No need to be afraid of the weeds. Our world will never be a perfect wheat field. We live in a world of weeds and wheat, don’t forget. No need to try to eradicate every evil we see. As today’s reading from Matthew teaches: we have to leave this world to judgment of God.
The parable calls us to question the way we look at life. Just weeds? No wheat? Or do we see both. Do we trust in the Sower who has sown wheat?
We read this parable at Mass today. The Lord came to us as wheat. I believe it was Ignatius of Antioch who said “I am God’s wheat.” So are we.