Wheat and Tares - St Bride's: Reflection

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Wheat and Tares

Matthew 13:24-30

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24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

27 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?

28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

30 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.

Wheat and Tares
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Opening the daily paper or watching the news on television these days can be a pretty depressing experience: yes, there are things happening that we can rejoice at or laugh and be happy about, but there's a depressingly large amount of bad news around too, ranging from the rise of militant Islamic groups in parts of Africa, kidnapping of school girls, the turmoil in the Middle East, to the bringing down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine with the loss of nearly 300 lives, and many other things too.

We live in a morally conflicted and ambiguous world, where the desire for good to prevail is frequently frustrated. Things were not that different in 1st century Palestine, and Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds to try to help his disciples to deal with situations of moral ambiguity in which good and bad people, and all shades in between, are found in the Christian Community and in the world, and there is frequently moral muddle.

So he tells a story, an agricultural story about Wheat and Tares, which are weeds, a poisonous weed closely related to wheat and looking very like it. The farmer had a field of wheat in which an enemy sowed weeds. When the extent of the damage was known the farm workers proposed that they should pull out the weeds, but the farmer overruled them, saying the best thing to do was to wait until the field had been harvested before trying to separate them. You can't always tell which are wheat and which are weeds.

Jesus uses this story to say to his followers - just as the farmer leaves the wheat and the weeds side by side in his field, so we must have patience with the mixed situation of good and evil that exists both in the church and in the world. Jesus must have had in mind those who wanted to purge the church of all considered not good enough, or who didn't believe the right things, or who didn't measure up. Or those who thought the world around them was such a rotten place that they wanted to hide away, separate themselves off from everybody else.

No, said Jesus; good and bad people can be as confusingly alike as wheat and tares, so we are not to judge other people because that is God's job, not ours. Jesus was and is right. Our best actions are often tainted with dubious motives, and so partly compromised; and our bad actions are sometimes mingled with good feelings and so are partly redeemed. So we are all of us a mixed bag, and the world is just the same, a mixture of good and evil and all the shade of grey in between.

Why are things like this? God has made things this way because it is only when we have to cope with sin and pain and the presence of evil, that we stretch our moral muscles and grow as human beings, and show the virtues and qualities (courage, compassion, altruism, honesty, love etc. ) that we believe are of the essence of human existence at its best.

Unless God, like the farmer, waits patiently until the harvest, when both weeds and wheat are fully grown, the danger is that both would be destroyed, the good as well as the bad. And amongst God's reasons for waiting patiently may be his desire to give us freedom of choice, so that we come freely to choose what is good.
Yes, we live in a morally confusing and ambiguous world, in which evil seems at times to be more powerful than good. But the parable reminds us that God does not intend evil to remain forever: there will be a reckoning.

Meanwhile, we are to let God be the judge, and to make our choices now, in our lives, to live as best we can, showing just those same qualities of love and goodness, honesty and compassion, that help to build a world of wheat not weeds. Jesus was fond of the imagery of sowing and reaping, and he assures us that some day there will be a harvest. At that time God will make all things right because of the good seeds we have sown: we are part of his plan. Let's sow good seed in our lives, and leave the rest to God. Amen.

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