Stuck in the Middle
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world."
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear."
This Sunday's parable tells us about the beginning, the middle and he end of evil. It first tells us how evil had its beginning. The servants notice the weeds in the field and ask, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?" He answers, "An enemy has done this." Evil is not from God. Everything he sowed was good; he sowed nothing evil. Only later, the enemy came and sowed weeds in the same field. This is the devil, who rebels against God and tempts others to do the same, trying all he can to destroy the goodness of what God has made. Notice that the devil has no field of his own to sow his weeds in. All the devil can do is take the good that God has made and try to distort it.
Jumping ahead to the end, we see what will eventually happen to evil. At harvest time, the master will say to the harvester, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn; In the end, good and evil will be separated definitively, never to be mixed together again. We eagerly await this final end of evil when evildoers will be thrown into the furnace and "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
But for now, we live in the time ;in between. It is really the "middle" that is the focus of the parable, the time during which good and evil are allowed to grow side by side. The next question in the parable is a question we know well: "Do you want us to go and pull them up?" We wrestle with it too. We ask this question because it's hard to live in a fallen world. We want everything to be perfect, just the way we like it. And the answer is not always what we want to hear: "No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them."
The anger and indignation of fallen man is prone to doing more harm than good. When we see something we don't like, our tendency is to crush, destroy, exterminate, dismantle. In our effort to uproot the thing, at the very least we usually end up destroying whatever good or potential for good there was. This is called "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Or worse, we create a greater injustice than the one we sought to correct. We may seek "progress," presumable with good intentions, but we wind up only projecting our own interior brokenness out onto the world we sought to fix. As Francesca Aran Murphy, professor of theology at the University Notre Dame, one remarked, "If you're messed up inside, you'll have a messed up relation to progress."
When we try to take the place of God and do the uprooting ourselves - our own way - we make things worse. "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God," says St. James (1:20). In part, this is because our anger and indignation is all directed at the evil that is "out there." Meanwhile, we fail to see the evil in our own hearts. We tend to come up with our own criteria for who is good and who is evil, and thus who needs to be exterminated or whose system needs to be dismantled. Funny enough, we always seem to craft those criteria in such a way that we ourselves come out on the "good" side. It is not only that we want to condemn others, but even more we want to justify ourselves.
Within ourselves, there is an admixture of good and evil. It's a good thing that God allows good and evil to grow side by side. A world in which good and evil can grow side by side is a world that has space for you and me.