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The Wheat and the Tares – Rev’d Neil Phair

 

The parable this evening from St Matthew, is primarily about relationships between people. It’s about not judging and not assuming that you and I are wheat and others are weeds. When we judge others and dismiss their contributions and value, we ourselves become weeds among the wheat.
There may be something in this parable that helps us in introspection as well. Maybe it could help us survey our own inner landscape and evaluate the weeds among the wheat in our lives that perhaps need pruning, but not plucking out. That means that you and I ought not to criticize ourselves so harshly about our flaws and faults. Because, while there are aspects of our personality that shouldn’t be allowed to take over the whole field, however these flaws in the fullness of time may play their part in contributing to our life’s harvest and may make a useful contribution to the world.
The judgmental attitude of the weeders towards others, is a prime indication that their thoughts and actions have been sown by the “enemy” rather than by God. Jesus did not weed out Judas from the twelve, even though, according to some accounts, Jesus knew about the upcoming betrayal before it occurred. Jesus did not weed out Peter from the twelve, even though he knew about his upcoming denials. Jesus knew that all the disciples would run away — they all had their faults. They weren’t producing the fruit that was expected — but he did not weed them out of the fellowship. If Jesus were to weed out all the imperfections, who would be left?
Jesus says the enemy sows the weeds. Ironically God probably finds it easier to deal with his enemies, as his friends can be more difficult to control. The theologian Karl Rahner put it this way: “The number one cause of atheism can be Christians themselves. Those who confidently proclaim God and then deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable.” Perhaps the best defense of God would be to live like He told us to. The gospel would then have such power and attraction that we wouldn’t have to worry about defending it.
A sense that there is an enemy is common to many societies and even the religious. It is almost as though we need an enemy, an other, against whom to define ourselves. A perfect example of this were the Jews in Hitlers Germany. This need can maintain the important concept of the enemy, by creating enemies for survival. Paranoia keeps some people going and gives their lives meaning, Stalin was a prime example. There’s ‘them’ and there’s ‘us’. The simpler, the better. And Religion doesn’t escape, it can be exploited to keep prejudices in place.
The psychologist Carl Jung would have approved of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jung explored the nature of the unconscious “shadow” that lives in each soul. The shadow gets filled with all the things that we repress because we don’t want to know them. It is the rubbish bin of the soul where we try to throw out our unexamined greed, narcissistic selfishness and all other things which we find difficult to rid ourselves off. Out of site, this garbage rots and pollutes, and unconsciously drives our actions. We think we have rid ourselves of our junk, yet it controls us behind the scenes of our conscious thought. Jung believed that we needed to learn to recycle our waste. By acknowledging our junk and knowing it is always there, we are better able to understand ourselves, to grow and to act with true compassion towards ourselves and others. Just as we are learning to recycle and to compost, so our waste isn’t such a big problem, examining our shadow side, is healthier than trying to pitch our sins into a huge bin bag. This metaphor of junk and recycling is a modern translation of wheat and weeds. Whether we are talking about weeds or garbage, the danger is that our quest for purity can lead to the wrong result when we ignore the unrecycled issues what is within our own souls.
This theme can also be seen in Shakespeare’s early plays, where all issues are settled in the play. In later plays it is not so, even though divine intervention occurs at the end to adjust inequities. But when you read the great tragedies, such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, the problem becomes too complex to bring closure at the end. The problems are pushed forward to the next world, till the final harvest.
This parable warns us against making premature judgments until the final judgment is to takes place. After all, doesn’t this parable take its meaning from within our own lives? C. S. Lewis notes that he once had considerable difficulty in the saying that one should “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It didn’t seem to make sense to him until one day it occurred to him that it was within himself that the saying showed its truthfulness. Did he not “love himself” while at the same time he “hated the sin” that so dominated his life? Is this not a reflection of the words of St Paul when he speaks of the great distress created within himself, when he did the things he did not really want to do, while not doing the things he very much wanted to do? St. Theresa of Avila prayed, “Oh, God, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you.” Do we not recognize ourselves in reflections like these? The great physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will, what he wants to will.” He spoke for all humankind, did he not? This recognition of the weeds in our lives and how they can suffocate the wheat of God’s grace that’s planted within us.
Ultimately this parable teaches us that sometimes there is not much, if anything, that we can do about the weeds amongst our wheat. Here Jesus teaches us that there are situations in life where the weeds and the wheat are so tangled up together, that they can never be separated in this world. There are knots which no mortal can untie. Thankfully at the final harvest, God will remove the weeds from us and will gather the good wheat that is in us. Amen.

Rev’d Neil Phair, Rector of the Benefice of Cherbury with Gainfield, Oxfordshire
18th November 2012