Matthew’s gospel contains a rare interpretation of a parable. When Jesus taught in parables, he typically required the listeners to ponder the stories on their own. (See Mt. 13: 13-14, 34-35). Here, the parable of the weeds among the wheat seemingly shows the patience of the Master of the field, who did not want the workers to pull the weeds prematurely lest they uproot the good wheat, too. However, Jesus chose to emphasize the end of the growing process, when weeds are collected and burned and the harvest of good seed is gathered in.
I understand the image of collecting and burning weeds to prevent their seed from being established. We do this with thistles and other noxious plants, which might otherwise gain a foothold among the grass, clover, and alfalfa we grow for our cattle. If weeds become too extensive, the field must be tilled and replanted in order to eradicate the weed population. But of course, this also eradicates the good plants along with them. Even modern chemistry is not foolproof on selecting weeds from desirable plants.
Weeds remind us of the curse that befell our ancestor Adam. They exemplify sin that corrupts and harms. Sin is so pervasive in our world; even within ourselves. As the hospital for sinners, even the church is not safe from these effects. Saint Augustine saw the church as containing weeds and wheat, too. His greatest concern for new converts was not the influence of the pagan world, but the influence of bad Christians! So we can all read this parable and Jesus’ explanation of the final judgment with a little uneasiness. We know that without the grace of God, none of us can produce a harvest worthy of being gathered in by the Master. Moreover, we are all liable to being choked out by weeds. God forbid that we might be weeds rather than good plants; recall that the weeds were sown by the enemy, not by the Master!
But there is more to this story. Fortunately, there is an end to history. We are not abandoned to an endless cycle of struggling with evil; that struggle (within and outside) continues only for a time. God is in control of the harvest and the fire. While part of me reacts sometimes like Jeremiah, fearful of rejection, I am also drawn with confidence to the mercy and love of God, who demonstrated His love for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus is the sower, he is also the seed who died and brought forth new life in us, and through Him alone we are allowed to bear fruit. Like the Psalmist, we cry out for our redemption and look forward to giving thanks together, as one people, freed forever from the power of evil and curse of death by God’s great love. Hallelujah!
By Edward Morse