When I was in high school, I decided to take Latin as my foreign language because I was
planning on going to seminary where it was a requirement. I assumed that taking Latin would certainly include some religious aspect because, after all, Latin is the “official
language” of the Catholic Church and I was sure I would find spirituality and proficiency in the language. I was mistaken on both counts!
I realized after only a couple weeks that I was in the deep end of the pool and if I was
going to pass the class at all I would have to work. The issue wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn Latin, the issue was that I didn’t know enough of the technical things about
English to make any sense of the Latin. I didn’t know a verb from an interrogative, and when the teacher talked about making specific case endings—nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, etc….I was completely lost. This was supposed to be easy because I was Catholic, and now I just wanted to drop the class!
One day the teacher said something to the effect that we were approaching the end of the
drop period for the class, and that it was time to separate the wheat from the weeds. I got the reference to the Gospel parable right away and worse, I knew that I was one of the weeds to whom she was referring. Separating the wheat from the weeds means getting rid of what is bad, wrong, or undesirable, in order to keep the good stuff pure and uncontaminated from outside influences.
People do this all the time, actually. We seem to have a natural inclination to categorize people according to who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ And of course, we’re the ones who are always ‘in’. I’ve been a Catholic all my life and I’ve seen this happen a great deal in the Church. We speak some high sounding words about loving all God’s children as our sisters and brothers, but when it comes right down to it, we are pretty selective about who we treat with love. It’s easy to love the nice people, the lovable and humble ones. It’s easy
to respect the respectable. But, here is the part that sucks: the lovable, humble and respectable make up only a tiny percentage of God’s beloved children.
In larger parishes where I’ve been a member, there were hundreds of people around me each Sunday with whom I never wanted any further contact outside of Mass. They looked different, foreign, poorer than my family was, less clean, etc… I felt that if I associated with them, I would be lowering my standards and diminishing myself. This is exactly what the Church does. We want to keep the church clean, safe, and pure. We don’t want to have to worry about things distracting us from the important business of praising and serving God. We want to keep our church as a haven away from all the troubles of this earth, a place we can go to escape from everything else for a while. We want to keep the church untainted by the world and pleasing in God’s sight. We want to separate the wheat from the weeds.
Maybe, as the Christian denominations continue to lose membership by vast numbers, we
should reconsider this attitude. By trying so hard to remove the weeds that have been sown in the world, we’re uprooting the wheat, as well. When we’re so busy pointing out the weeds, aren’t we really saying that we ourselves are not the weeds, that we are the precious wheat?? Maybe we don’t really get this parable in the first place.
Let’s go back to the story. The wheat gets planted and grows. The weeds get planted
and grow. That’s it. They’re both doing the same thing. They may both struggle
for the same soil and moisture, but the farmer isn’t worried; he’s confident that his wheat will survive to the harvest because all they have to do is grow. Our first problem is obvious: we are not the wheat or the weeds in this story, we are the servants!
What was the servants’ reaction to seeing weeds growing among the wheat? They question their master, wanting him to assure them of his actions and intentions. And when they
hear that an enemy has done this while their master slept, they immediately want to fix things. Why? You might say that weeding a garden is a good thing and that the servants were just being diligent, but it’s more than that. If they had been interested only in good gardening, they would have just weeded the garden and been done with it. But these were no ordinary weeds, and the servants knew it and they were afraid. They were afraid that their master was not in control. “Did you not sow good seed in your field?” they ask
him. “Where, then, did these weeds come from?” They want to know why the master
let this happen in the first place.
I’ve heard many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, struggle with the question of
why God allows such suffering in the world. Why does God allow terrorism? Why
does God allow genocide? Why does God allow war? Why does God allow sickness?
Why does God allow earthquakes, and tornadoes, and hurricanes, and tsunamis,
and flooding? Isn’t God in control? And if He isn’t, then what??
The servants in the parable are facing the same existential questions so they try to take
control of the situation by offering to eradicate the evil by force. If the master didn’t have the power or the energy to even prevent this weed business, then, by God, they would take care of it themselves!
Welcome to the History of Christianity 101. The same community that formed around the Gospel of Jesus Christ has embraced violence throughout its history. Jewish converts
argued with Gentile converts. The Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Church in the West. The crusades were fought to exterminate the Muslims, but just as often exterminated other Christians and non-Muslims who were simply in the way. Efforts to reform brought church trials, burning of heretics and eventually a division between Protestants and Catholics. In the last century, six million Jews were killed in the name of one man’s perverted Christianity, while the rest of organized Christendom was complicit by its silence. Christianity continues to splinter to the point where Lutherans won’t pray with each other if they’re not the right “synod”, and Catholics won’t recognize the ordinations of any of the other denominations as legitimate. All of this stems from our efforts to separate the wheat from the weeds. We’re trying to second-guess God and it’s not working. Duh!
It’s just as the master in the parable predicted: “In gathering the weeds, you will uproot the wheat along with them.” When Jesus’ disciples ask him for an explanation of the parable, he tells them about the great, final harvest, but he’s not telling them that to frighten them into making sure they’re wheat. It’s not a statement about what will happen to us later so much as it’s an instruction to us on how to live now. God will send his angels to reap. It’s their job, not ours. All we are called to do is serve God without violence directed against anyone, wheat or weed. As for who is wheat and who is a weed, our
roots are so entangled that it’s impossible to tell where one starts and the other stops.
We’re not called to “save the world” because Jesus has already done that. Nor do we need
to save the Church by trying to persecute those with whom we have disagreements. The Church isn’t ours to save and if we just look at history, whenever we’ve tried to save anything through violent means, we only bring more misery and division and violence. Instead, God is calling the Church to share the teachings and presence of Jesus Christ through the sacraments and through engagement with the world. Those things alone will provide a solid foundation for us so that we can, at last, begin the work of loving the
unlovable, helping the proud, and respecting the disrespectful. God trusts us
that much. All we need to do is trust God that much.