“As you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them.
Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest.”
– Matthew 13:29-30
The parable of the weeds is a challenging parable from Jesus—but when are they not? The owner of a wheat field posits that the weeds that appeared in his field were planted by the enemy. “Should we pull them up?” one of his servants asks. The master shocks them by saying no. If they pull up the weeds, they might pull up some of the good wheat with them.
I was always confused about this parable until I made a retreat in 2013 at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario. The retreat house sits on a large active farm that grows everything from garlic to beets to carrots. There was a chance one day to help in the harvest so I volunteered and went out to the field with a group of farmers. We were harvesting carrots, but there was one problem – there were tons of weeds growing up around them. What I discovered was that as I pulled on the weeds, the carrots would come out with them. All of a sudden this parable made sense. The weeds, while bad and perhaps representative of sin and weakness, could not just be yanked out on their own. First, they need to be observed, not tossed aside so easily. This explains St Ignatius’ focus on sin in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius knew that to find the fruit of the spiritual life we first had to examine our sins, the weeds that were choking the good fruit.
While I was pulling up carrots I found that sometimes small carrots were buried in the dirt and roots of the weeds. You first had to search out the weeds in order to find the carrot, gently pushing aside the dirt and roots of the weeds. By digging through the weeds of our life we may find more fruit. It’s a paradox of the Christian life. As St Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more.” Of course this does not encourage sin; the enemy is the one who plants the weeds in the parable, without the farmer’s knowledge. But on the farm I learnt this: reveal the weed and you reveal the carrot. Pull up the weeds too soon and the carrots are prematurely harvested. Harsh reactions to the weeds can have a detrimental effect on the fruit. Similarly, beating ourselves up for our faults and never forgiving ourselves can have a detrimental effect on our growing into whole human beings. We oddly need the tension of good and evil side by side to grow. If we never had to deal with temptation, the chance to sin, mistakes, limitations, or personal flaws, we would likely never grow into better people. Even the Christian tradition strangely calls Adam and Eve’s sin “necessary”. The Easter Exsultet proclaims it a “happy fault” because it meant Christ would come.
Again, we mustn’t exalt sin, but in the mystery of God, the soil and weeds of sin, when brushed away and examined, we find good fruit. Because God makes all things new.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod