Wheat, Weeds And The Harvest
On the day that I decided to sit down and write this column, the Gospel for the weekday Mass was Matthew 13:24-30. It is the story of the man who sowed good seed in a field; but as he slept, an enemy came along and sowed weeds in with the wheat. When the man’s slaves saw that weeds were growing amidst the wheat, they asked him if he wanted them to pull them up. The sower wisely replied that if they pulled up the weeds, they might destroy some of the wheat as well. He advised them to allow the weeds to grow with the wheat, assuring them that at the time of harvest, the two would be separated. The wheat would go into the master’s barn and the weeds would be burned.
In my younger days, I used to think this parable was about good people and bad people. The good people were the wheat and the bad people, the weeds. I thought that this parable was a reminder of the coming Judgement Day, when the good people would go to heaven and the bad people would burn in hell.
But it has been many years since I stopped sorting people into “good guys” and “bad guys.” My many years of interacting with my fellow human beings – and my many hours of prayer, meditation and mindfulness practices have taught me – that if I am patient and look deeply enough, there is good in every person and there is bad in every person. Instead of thinking of the wheat and the weeds as good people vs. bad people, I now see the field itself as the symbol of a human life. I am convinced that if we are brave enough and patient enough to look deeply at our fellow human beings without prejudice, we will always find that there is a combination of weeds and wheat, of good and bad, in every human life.
I see the sower in the story as a symbol of God, who plants, deep within each person, seeds of pure love, goodness, beauty and positive potential. But then, in the course of life, the enemy comes along and sows weeds in with the wheat. Enemies come in many forms; and some people, through no fault of their own, end up with more weeds in their lives than others.
Some children are born with inherited mental illnesses. Some children are born to parents who are struggling under the weight of addictions, ignorance or poverty. None of us gets to choose our DNA or genetic inheritance. None of us gets to choose whether we are born in a war-torn country, an inner- city ghetto or a peaceful suburban neighborhood. None of us chooses which religious tradition we are born into, if any; and none of chooses our domestic conditions – whether we will be nurtured, protected and educated, or neglected or abused during those crucial, formative, early years of our lives.
We say that every person has free will, and this is true; but the will to reach our full potential – the will to be a good person who contributes to society – is a lot stronger in a person whose life is free of the crippling effects of mental illness, violence, poverty, ignorance, abuse and other curses. A field with fewer weeds is going to yield a greater harvest; but no field chooses whether or not to have weeds in it, just as no field chooses how much sunshine or water it receives.
Who are we to say that a small harvest from a field overgrown with vicious weeds pleases God any less than an abundant harvest from a field with fewer weeds – a field that was watered regularly and generously blessed with sunshine?
At the end of our human lives, when we are all finally separated from the diseases, addictions and other curses that have caused pain to us and to others, do you think we will be able to tell which of us came from a bad lot and which came from a good one? Once the weeds are burned away, does the wheat all look the same?