Geoff Wood Reflection for July 20, 2014

If a parable doesn’t make you pause and think,
you have not read it carefully.

              In today’s parable, when the farm hands ask the owner of a wheat field that has also been sown (by some enemy) with weeds, whether they should pull up the weeds and allow the wheat to breathe – the owner says, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat as well.  Let them grow together until harvest; then . . . root out the weeds . . . but gather the wheat into my barn.”  But doesn’t this create a problem for me and for you?  I mean, is there any less danger that pulling up the weeds at harvest time will uproot a lot of the wheat as well?

              But asking questions like that, analyzing a parable in that manner, misses the point of this type of story – for a parable properly done aims to make a single point.  Amid all its details there lies hidden a punch line!  And in the case of today’s opening parable the punch line, the salient point is: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat as well.”  In other words, by way of this parable, the early Church calls for patience amid the controversies, the party politics that have arisen since the resurrection of Jesus. 

              Patience instead of impatience!  I mean, look at what human impatience has wrought down through the centuries.  How often do the righteous (who might consider themselves the wheat) want to purge from their midst whatever they considered to be weeds, “evil” – immediately.  

              You can see such righteous impatience in the current purists in Syria and Iraq who want to return to the pristine, exclusive austerity of early Islam.  You can see it in the 20th century Fascist and Stalinist rush to rid the world of its “weeds” NOW – at great cost of life to themselves as much as to others.  (Think of the Holocaust.)  You can see it in the French Revolution, which exhibited a frenzy to rid the world of aristocrats, of monarchies, of the Church – efficiently by way of the guillotine.  

            You can see it too in Church history – the deporting of Jews from Spain by the Inquisition, the slaughter of the Catholic Irish by Oliver Cromwell, the silencing of theologians for coming up with fresh insights into theology and liturgy.  Even modern, seemingly liberal minded existentialists are not without an impatience to fix the world NOW – as expressed in a remark attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre: “Ah! How I hate the crimes of the new generation: they are dry and sterile as darnel.”

            And how often have the so-called weeds of some era turned out to be the wheat after all – a nourishing factor for future generations – as for example Jesus himself, whom many of his contemporaries (including religious leaders) purged as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.

            And so you see, parables are not that easy to decipher.  The ordinary reader might quickly identify himself with the wheat, feeling himself strangled by all those bad people around him – politically, ecclesiastically. In other words he will find in the parable an affirmation of his own possibly biased way of polarizing society, an encouragement to continue to judge others as the weeds that get in his way.  But the point of the parable is rather to make you think, to pause, to catch the essential message: be still, be patient, beware of your becoming an advocate of jihad in one form or another – liberal or conservative.  It’s a message about grace.

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