‘Do you want us to go and take out the weeds?’ asked the servants. ‘No’, said the farmer, ‘because when you take them out you might pull out the wheat with them. Let them both grow, till the harvest!’ It will be at that time, Jesus says interpreting the parable, that separation will be made between the grain and the weeds, the good and the bad, the true and the false disciple.
While this response may have dissatisfied the servants as lacking integrity on the part of the farmer or lack of due care for what is good, it does recognise that separating those plants, separating what is good and bad, is not always easily done and can cause more damage than good. We can see this even in the church’s own teaching through the centuries: heresy itself can have its grains of truth and true teaching can contain wisps of error. Separating, distinguishing, good from bad can be difficult even in ordinary life and, today, as regards the moral choices people have to make, regarding for example the beginning and end of human life, right and wrong action are often not clear. The complexity of moral discernment is the field of Christian conscience. We should not be too hasty in our judgements. But this is only one way of understanding the main parable in today’s gospel.
A second interpretation sees it applied to the community of disciples. It recognises that all its members might not be what they are called to be, lay and clerical alike. Indeed we can notice a wide spectrum of witness or so-called witness, life style, values, options of one kind or another within the varied body which is the church. The church, this ‘field containing grain and weeds’, is nonetheless recognised as the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in the world; we welcome it and are welcomed into it as the place which enables us to grow and enter the kingdom of God. The eternal intersects with human history in the church, a motley group at best.
The other two parables of today’s gospel offer further insight as to the true nature of the community of believers. The mustard seed, which we are told is ‘the smallest of all seeds, becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches’. In other words its potential and its grandeur as a home for birds, for people of every feather, remains as yet hidden. It has a glorious future.
And the disciples, both individually and as a group, have effects in the world well out of proportion with their size, like the yeast the woman kneaded into the dough. We all have a part to play; small as it may seem, it is more important than you think! It is the responsibility of each one of us to play his or her own part in the community.
And, thirdly, the kingdom of God is also like grain and weeds growing together because that is the way it is with each one of us! This interpretation of the parable, is that of Origen of Alexandria, one of the early ‘Fathers of the church’. According to him the growth of the kingdom of God is all interior. He writes: ‘those who pray for the kingdom of God pray without doubt for the kingdom that they contain within themselves’; and continuing he says ‘in every holy person it is God who reigns. And if we want his kingdom, if we want God to reign in us, then sin must not be allowed to reign.’ The basic idea is clear: the kingdom of God is located in a person’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space. This is reflected in what we heard from St Paul in the second reading about the indwelling Spirit: ‘the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresss our plea in a way that could never be put into words’.
So, three insights from the parable about the kingdom of heaven: the complexity of moral choice, the church as a motley group of disciples, and the indwelling of God in each individual. But this parable (of the grain and weeds) also reveals something about God: his gentle husbandry of our souls, patient and long-suffering. As the reading from the Book of Wisdom says: ‘there is no god, other than you, who cares for everything….. your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all…. you govern us with great lenience.’ It is because of this that He will not endanger the young shoot, that He bears with a motley church, a church of sinners as we recognise ourselves to be, and that He comes to make his home in each of us. This is perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt from the parable of the grain and the weeds.