Disturbing Rustic Parable

Disturbing Rustic Parable

Sixteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Peter Clarke asks whether the parable of the wheat and the weeds has an application beyond the Christian community.

Jesus proposed that the Kingdom of Heaven was something like a field in which, as often happens, weeds were growing amidst the wheat.

To make some strong points about the Kingdom, Jesus introduces a strange conversation between the landowner and the servant. First, speculation from the servant as to where the weed has come from. Then an improbably reply – an enemy must be responsible.

The servant has a bright idea that would never occur to anyone who knew anything about farming – that the weeds should be uprooted. The landowner considered this foolishness – such zealous weeding would damage the wheat.

In the parable the Kingdom is like this total situation with the sower being the Son of Man, Jesus himself. The good seed is the subjects of the Kingdom; the weed the subjects of the evil one. The enemy who sowed the seed is the devil. Harvest time is the end of the world.

Again, in the parable the Kingdom of Heaven is the Christian community. It is each one of us personally. So much promising, wheatlike goodness co-existing with weedlike sinfulness.

Within the community there is speculation about the origin of sin. There is also zeal to eradicate sinners – misplaced zeal because in such a crusade many innocent people would be injured. In his own good time, the end of time, God will sort out the wheat for storage in barns of glory and weeds for destruction by fire.

What Jesus is advocating through this parable is entirely consistent with his own style of ministry. He was welcoming to everybody and did not purge from his presence those whom religious enthusiasts counted as sinners. He gave them the opportunity of being influenced by encoutering him.

The Christian community should exercise the same optimistic tolerance. Any attempt to expel those suspected of being out of step with the values of the community would inevitably result in many innocent casualties.

At times this is hard to live with, but it is possible. This parable becomes disturbing, for me at least, once it is applied outside Church structures with an accepted idealism. I have lived through the Revolution in the small island of Grenada. I am now living in the ‘post-11 September’ era.

There is a marked similiarity between the two – the Establishment determined to protect its internal security and stability at all costs. In both cases the policy of putting suspected subversives in security detention, for an indefinite period without justification for their incarceration being tested in the Law Courts.

Most certainly, in the case of Grenada, many innocent people were unjustly deprived of their freedom, their right to normal life within the community. I suspect there must be many innocent victims of today’s policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ of suspected terrorists.

In the case of Grenada there was local and international protest against the institutional injustice of security detention without trial. In the case of the present crusade against terrorism this same policy is accepted with complacency. Perhaps self-interest tempers one’s indignation.

So it would seem that the advocacy of the parable of the weeds and the wheat is reckoned as being too idealistic for the realities of the modern secular world. The imperative of removing suspected destabilizing weeds is paramount. At what cost to individuals, at what cost to the moral fabric of global society?

Does this parable have any relevance to these most pressing modern issues? Or is it only valid for the ordering of the Church community? And nothing more?

Readings:Wis 12:13,16-19 | Rom 8:26-27 | Matt 13:24-43

Fr Peter Clarke worked for many years in the English Province's mission in the West Indies. May he rest in peace.