The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
We are in the 13th Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Many commentators divide this Gospel into 7 clearly distinct sections. According to that schema, Chapter 13 falls into the 4th section, the central one, whose subject is the Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven (chs. 11-13). In Chapter 13, 7 parables of Jesus are recounted. Like the parable of the sower we heard last week, today’s parable about the wheat and darnel has an explanation provided in private to the disciples: actually, 7 explanations of its details. Also echoing last week’s Gospel, we have again today a saying about how Jesus would only speak to the crowds in parables.
The story of the wheat and darnel, with the parables of the buried treasure, the pearl and the drag net are unique to St. Matthew. The other parables in this Chapter are found also in Mark or Luke or both. Typically of any parable of Jesus, this one is vivid, simple, evocative, without anything at all difficult in it: except, that is, its precise interpretation. And that is as it should be, because Jesus is speaking about the mysteries of the Kingdom, and he deliberately leaves his listeners to put their own interpretation on his words, as they will.
It’s amazing what a variety of interpretations, apart from the one given in the Gospel text, has been produced over the ages by good and reputable commentators. Just to confirm that we are still allowed to do that in our own day, we might note that the moral of the parable is that we have to wait patiently until harvest time. But that idea is not even mentioned in the supplied interpretation, which instead focuses entirely on the future judgement at the end of time.
Let me offer then now the first application of the parable that springs to my mind when I read it. God made the world good: he sowed good seed in his Creation. Where then does all the trouble, all the suffering, all the disorder in the world come from? “Some enemy has done this!” The enemy is the devil, and human sin. But the enemy will not finally triumph: at the end of time all will be made right again; sin will be no more; evil will come to an end, and we will see how in Divine Providence all things, however contradictory now, will be turned by God into good.
If we think of the sower as Jesus, then in the context of the Gospel, the natural interpretation would be that he sows good seed through his words and actions, as he proclaims and inaugurates the Kingdom. But his enemies do all they can to spoil his work. The first of these enemies was King Herod, who tried to kill him (2:13); then the devil himself tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (4:1); then his own people at Nazareth rejected him (11:20; 13:53). Immediately before the series of parables given in Chapter 13, we read in St. Matthew how the Pharisees finally resolved to destroy him (12:14). They sow darnel all over his work by telling people he contradicts Moses, and breaks the Sabbath, and consorts with sinners, and performs his works through Beelzebul. What does Jesus do about that? He could call down fire to destroy them, but instead he patiently endures them, waiting, hoping for the conversion at least of some.
In the context of the Church, the parable of the wheat and darnel would explain why it is that there are bad Christians, living side by side with good ones. St. Augustine was very keen on that truth. We are not a Church of the pure and the perfect, but a mixed bag of all sorts. As for the great separation at the end: there are many examples in St. Matthew’s Gospel of this theme. Already St. John the Baptist had spoken of how the one who is coming will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the chaff with fire that will never go out (3:12). Above all of course we think of Chapter 25, with its great scene of the final judgement: there the Son of Man in glory will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. But there are plenty of other examples: think of the parables of the unforgiving debtor, or the wise and foolish virgins, or the unprepared wedding guest, or the man who did nothing with the talent entrusted to him, or the drag net. So also: “Of two men in the fields, one will be taken, the other left” (24:40). Until the separation happens, though, Jesus tells us: do not judge; love your enemies; be like sheep among wolves...
I’d like to end by applying the parable in a moral sense to each one of us. Because we also find the confused mixture of good and bad within ourselves.
We are all painfully aware of downward tendencies that resists all our noble aspirations. These are manifested in the attraction of our sensual appetites, our selfishness, our laziness, our sheer badness. St. Augustine defined these two tendencies as a readiness to love God even to the contempt of self, and a readiness to love self even to the contempt of God. They will be separated out, finally, in heaven and hell; but in the meantime, they are all mixed up.
Why can’t we just uproot them all? Because the roots of our sins are natural and good: desires or antipathies we need in order to live. So we have to try to nourish the wheat and starve the weeds. We nourish the wheat by prayer, by acts of charity, by spiritual reading, by attending Mass, and receiving the Lord Himself in Holy Communion. And we starve the weeds by self discipline, by mortifying our appetites and passions, by the Sacrament of penance.
The parable ends by presenting us with the stark contrast between heaven and hell. Obviously we want to go to heaven, and avoid hell. We do that by staying with Jesus. As he says in St. John’s Gospel:
“Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch ... these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt” (15:6).
But of heaven he says:
“I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am” (Jn 14:1-3).