Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-43)
The parable that we see in this week’s Gospel is easy to understand, but exceedingly difficult to uphold. In the parable we have something good (the wheat) that has been intertwined with something bad or evil (the weeds). To the dismay of the servants in the parable, there is a danger of the good being corrupted and destroyed by the bad. In seeking to simply uproot the bad that sits alongside the good, they hope to restore what pure goodness originally existed so that it can flourish unhindered. Their master responds, however, by enjoining them to wait, warning that in their haste to remove that which is bad, they also risk uprooting and destroying that which is good in the process. The weeds must be left alone until the harvest when they will be finally uprooted and burned by the harvesters.
It is a challenging parable because it touches upon one of the greatest challenges to our faith: our ability to continue believing the goodness of God in the midst of evil. Peter Kreeft observes “in all of human history there have only ever been two great, respectable, logical arguments against the existence of God, and the first and most important one is the problem of evil”. Evil exists in our world in abundance, but it is not just out there accumulating in some corner of the world. It is active; it is expansive; and it is among us, seeking to destroy those things that are Good, True and Beautiful. And yet God, who we hold to be both all-Good and all-Powerful does not simply annihilate its source. He allows evil to persist and even, as this parable teaches, enjoins us to not uproot it and destroy it ourselves, lest in doing so we also destroy the good.
A couple of thoughts may help us better understand this deeply challenging teaching.
First, consider the words of a recent post from one of my favorite theological blogs: “Beauty cannot be destroyed by ugliness; rather, ugliness (i.e., evil) makes us see beauty all the more by contrast.” So often the evil and ugliness that surround us seem far more salient and powerful than beauty and goodness, but the contrary is true. Goodness and beauty find their source in God, who is eternal and all-powerful. Evil and ugliness, by contrast, are the consequences of rebellion against His Divine Order. “Demons,” he says, “by their very existence, are a manifestation of God’s justice, a proclamation that the law of God is not violated without consequence. He who violates this law deforms himself…Such is the case with the demons. They are a terrifying proof of the divine order.”
And yet, their existence does not ultimately detract from the beauty or goodness of that divine order. As Fr. Fortea goes on to observe, “While it would have been better had sin and evil never entered creation, their presence can point the way to what is good, true, beautiful, and holy. Even a majestic cathedral, with its high towers and sculptured beauty, has its gloomy crypts.” There is a mysterious balance which God, for a time and for purposes often unknown to us, has permitted in which evil is allowed to coexist with good, and even threaten it. But evil will not have the final say. God will. Beauty will, for His justice will prevail in the harvest. To interrupt this divine order is to say that we know what’s best for ourselves and those around us (which is frighteningly untrue); it is to say that we have a wisdom that surpasses God’s.
Second, when confronted by evil, remember that evil only prevails when it prevails in us, meaning that by our own sin, we have succumbed and become inhabitants amongst the weeds. In the same talk by Peter Kreeft referred to above he makes a proposition: Imagine you are in a dream, and you are being chased by a dragon. The dragon (clearly something evil) wants to hunt you, eat you, torture you, and destroy you. This is a horrible dream. Now imagine that you are the dragon. Which dream would you rather be in? If we can agree that being the dragon is worse than being chased by it, we can agree that the evil that we commit is much more grave than the evil we suffer. It is easy to point outward to the sin and evil and surrounds us and decry its magnitude, but we must realize that it is also within us, and we are called to counter its growth in our hearts by actively choosing the good, the holy.
To make a more practical analogy, if you have a coworker that breathes fire—they are abrasive, impatient or overbearing—the right response is not to replicate that behavior, but balance it with kindness, love, and patience. It is strange, perhaps at a glance, to think of this as the kind of behavior that we carry into the workplace, but this kind of active resistance, even in the form of our deference, is the means by which we resist the threat of the weeds, so that the goodness in ourselves and in our neighbors is able to grow.
This patience, this perceived non-action, is often the holiest action we can take. It is the outward expression of our belief in God’s infinite goodness and justice, that even as darkness thickens and contracts upon us, there is an enduring light manifest in the grace of God and “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
This parable is a powerful reminder that we are called to steadfastness in the face of darkness—a steadfastness rooted in our confidence in God’s goodness and the hope that he will work all things for the good of those who love him, just as he promised. But as in all things, growth requires nourishment and protection. We, the wheat can only grow if we feed on the source of Life and Peace through our prayer, discipline, worship and obedience to God; and we must be cautious about those things we allow in our lives that may choke out this growth.
In its search for life and light the wheat struggles upwards through layer upon layer of thick, dark soil to reach the radiant, life-giving warmth of the sun. The challenge then is to see the way ahead, to push past the darkness that seems to be enveloping us, and pursue according to God’s direction. In time, when we have grown to our fullness, God will have stripped us of the weeds that have clung feebly to us, and freed us to nourish him and his kingdom.
Logan Amster is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an Author and Speaker