The longer version of this week’s Gospel includes three parables about the kingdom of God. Most English translations use the term “kingdom” in these parables. Many Scripture scholars, however, tell us that it is more accurate to speak of the “reign” of God. The word “kingdom” too easily comes to be identified with a place. Jesus is not talking about a place. He is talking about a manner of life and existence. With this caution in mind we now can talk about the parable of the weeds and the wheat.
The farmer of the story sowed good seed, but an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field. His servants show dismay when both the good seed and the weeds begin to sprout. They want to uproot the weeds immediately. The farmer instructs them that such action would destroy both the good plants and the weeds. So, he advises them to let both grow together until harvest time. Then they will harvest first the weeds and then the wheat.
The simple parable has a profound lesson concerning the manner in which God operates or reigns in this world. God knows that there is much evil in the world. He also knows that his followers have to work out their salvation in the context of all this evil. Consequently, believers live alongside unbelief and evil.
It is in this situation that we find out that Jesus is talking about a way of living in our present world that allows for both good and evil to exist side by side with the eventual triumph of good. Even though Jesus uses the image of a field in the parable, the physical place is not important. What happens in the field tells us about God’s characteristic patience with evil until the final harvest. The good grain is harvested for food that nourishes, and the weeds are harvested only to be burned. The reign of God in this parable is exemplified by the fact that the good grain is saved despite growing among the weeds. The reign of God is about our salvation.
The parable uses the image of an astute farmer. Since the farmer does not want to harm the good plants, he patiently waits for harvest time to separate the good grain from the weeds. The judicious farmer can be taken as an image for God or for Jesus as the Son of Man. It illustrates how patiently God deals with us as we strive to enter the reign of God. God knows that it is difficult to lead good lives amid the horrible occurrences in our world. Like the good farmer who lovingly tends his plants, God consistently nourishes us through word and sacrament as we grow closer to him. The reign of God is about God’s care just as the farmer’s plan is about good agriculture.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.