One modern scripture scholar notes that “parables are figures of comparison that use stories to teach a truth or answer a question.” Two-thousand years later, as we read and listen to the parables of Jesus found in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), all of this seems clear.
However, as the disciples walked with Jesus, this was not the case.
In the Gospel of Matthew (13:10), they asked Jesus: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He responded by saying that “they look but do not see and hear but do not understand.” (Mt 13:13) And then, just before this parable given us for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt 13:24-30), Jesus reveals the privilege of discipleship: “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.” (Mt 13:16)
For the disciples, how much more blessed could they be than to be in the physical presence of the second person of the Holy Trinity! They saw and heard. And us? We are blessed that, in each moment of our lives, the Holy Spirit is there to open our eyes and ears so that we may come to understand Divine truth.
This past week, I found myself reviewing some jottings from an event that occurred ten-years ago, two weeks before Christmas. That evening, I received a phone call from my financial institution that my debit card had just been used to purchase a $250 gift card at a Macy’s store in Virginia. When I informed them that I was firmly planted in Michigan, they told me they had closed the card and would reissue a new one. After ending the call, I sarcastically thought: “How nice. Some soul in Virginia had just used my money to purchase a gift they will present to someone on Christmas Day.”
And at that very moment, this Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat entered my mind. My initial thought was that I was grateful to be wheat and not part of the weeds. But then, I was driven to another parable from Luke’s Gospel (18:9-14). You’ll remember these words from the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.”
In an instant, with the Spirit having convicted me, I came to understand the core meaning of this parable; namely, that this side of heaven, we are both wheat and weeds and that, with God’s help, we will have disentangled ourselves from most of the weeds that bind us before we meet Jesus— face to face.
One final image. As some of you know, I have Upper Peninsula (U.P.) roots. Due to a family tragedy, my mother spent the first several years of her life living with her grandparents in a town called Winona, located 33 miles southwest of Houghton, Michigan.
Now in its heyday, Winona was one of many thriving copper mines operating throughout the western part of the U.P. In addition to being a prosperous mine, it was also a company town with its own electric plant, housing, general store, and schoolhouse that, despite a current population of around 20, still survives.
In a documentary of the town, Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town, a local professor recounted how the town rose to a population of more than 1,000 in 1920 to its present predicament. For me, what is most striking is not the population loss after the mine ceased operations; for that would be anticipated. But rather, it is what happened to the abandoned town. A century later, the physical places that had once provided incomes and housed workers and their families are now barely distinguishable. Having been completely abandoned and devoid of upkeep, they have become covered by weeds.
Despite a world bent on marginalizing and covering Gospel values with evil, Pope Francis, at his July 16th Angelus, insisted that we should never tire of sowing goodness (and becoming wheat). The pope noted that “…each person has been given the freedom to accept or not accept the Word that is the seed. Jesus does not tire of sowing it with generosity. He knows our soil. He knows that the stones of our inconstancy and the thorns of our vices can choke the Word, yet He always hopes that we can bear abundant fruit.”
The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat should lead us to two observations and questions. First, that our world has been created by an all-powerful and all-loving God and that, in the end, God is victorious. And second, that Satan is the primary source of the weeds among us and that he actively strives to lead us astray sowing worthless values that will lead to our very destruction.
And the questions? First, how many and what sorts of weeds cover us? And secondly, how can we seek to increase the yield of wheat in our lives, families, communities, and world?