17th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom. The weeds are the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
If we look at the parable of the weeds through a metaphysical lens, the Sower and the field are both the Son of Man, as the entire cosmos was assumed by the Person of the Word in the Incarnation. Both disciples and dissenters, saints and sinners find their origin in Adam. Seeds and weeds alike grow freely in the soil (Body) assumed by Christ.
There is no equal and opposite existence to rival the Uncreated Son. A rebel spirit exists through the Son but has freely chosen to withdraw its “I” from communion and sever its will from the Father. How free will can be both created and undetermined is an unfathomable mystery.
The rejection of divine love for the allure of shining alone ends in the furnace of ego-isolation, unable to glory in the union and communion of the heterogeneous splendor of unique and unrepeatable persons. Glory is neither self-centered nor other-centered, but One Many beyond logical, linguistic, musical, or geometrical “co-ordination.”
Weeds burn alone in the fire of their pride. “Hell” has no separate existence.
Matthew allegorized the parable for a primitive Church struggling with the newness of Christ in the midst of an unyielding Jewish tradition. They sought explanations for why some accepted and others rejected Christ. Matthew applied an almost one-to-one correspondence between symbols and their referents in his desire for clarity. Based on linguistic analysis, Joachim Jeremias wrote: “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the interpretation of the parable of the Tares is the work of Matthew himself.”1
Parables are not designed to provide clear-cut perspicacity. Lucidity concerning hidden mysteries is neither possible nor necessary for the journey. We can draw from parables of the kingdom that it is something worth searching for with all one’s heart, and that it is worth detaching from all earthly goods in order to attain it. What exactly that pearl of great price is, concepts cannot capture, but parables tell us it is worth more than our life, as demonstrated by Christ on the Cross.
As the Kingdom grows from a tiny seed and with it Christian consciousness, the mystery unfolds over the centuries as spirituality develops in every corner of the world. Saints envision the unseen world in a multitude of ways. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” in Matthew, for example, was conceived as the torment of divine love in the 7th century vision of St. Isaac the Syrian:
“Those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret.”2
St. Isaac’s theology envelops our prayer and action in the merciful love of the Trinity. Instead of speculating on who the wheat and weeds are (an impossibility), we pray and work to bring all into the harvest (leaving judgment to God). Evil viewed in the light of divine love enkindles pity rather than condemnation.
St. Isaac’s vision crucifies the heart and reflects the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Speculative and practical theology meet as one in the Heart of the Trinity.
1 Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972, pp. 84-85, referenced by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series,Volume 1, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 206.
2 Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, 2nd ed., Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011, 141-142.