An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Sixteenth Sunday of Year A, Matthew 13:24-43, July 17, 2011
No sooner had former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seated herself in Malacañang than rumors, agitations, and even recruitments for mass actions, to dislodge her have abounded. The most scary came when the lumpenproletariat and the shirtless, reportedly on orders from political leaders, stormed Malacañang on May 1, 2001—and failed—in a desperate attempt to grab power on the excuse that the government neglected the concerns of the poor. She was the barely three months on her seat. In the months that followed, People Power IV became a mantra for several people wishing to change the political leadership. The same is true of P-Noy’s Presidency. He has barely finished his first year in office, but his rating has already plummeted; people feel nothing has changed for the better. Despite his anti-corruption agenda and “Tuwid na Daan” slogan, not a single case has been filed against the Arroyo government. On the contrary, they claim things are getting worse. Like a fetus being aborted long before it could be viable, the Aquino government is now being vilified for its “KKK” (“Kabarilan, Kaklase, Kakampi”) brand and for its “there’s–nobody-home-in-Malacañang” style of leadership before it could really come to its own shape.
This attitude that shows no tolerance and patience for initial imperfection or error, whether in the government or in the Church, is a theme of today’s Gospel (Matt 13:24-43). We already noted last Sunday that if we wish to know the mind of Jesus concerning the parable, we have to remove the subsequent interpretations given to it by the Church, and merely focus on the one point that the parable makes. In this case, then, we shall confine ourselves to the first part of the Gospel reading (Matt 13:24-30). And to understand this, we have to see its background. At the time of Jesus, there were some Jewish groups that delimited the Jewish community to those who were devout. The Pharisees, for example, viewed as members of the community those who observed purity laws, food tithes and the Sabbath, and did not associate with people who did not keep them, like the tax collectors and those known as sinners. The Qumranites were even more extreme. They considered themselves the true Israel, maintaining ritual purity, ethical probity and spiritual readiness to battle against the sons of darkness, expelling those who could not follow their rigorous ethic.
In protest against these communities, and those who had no patience for human imperfection and sin, Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The emphasis of the story is on the forbearance of the farmer. The farmer sowed good seed. At the first stage of growth, the darnel—the weeds—could not be noticed because, being botanically related to wheat, they were indistinguishable from it. When the wheat shoots came up, however, the darnel became visible. The slaves suggested to the farmer to pull out the darnel, but the latter refused because the roots of the darnel have become intertwined with those of the wheat so that one cannot uproot the one without endangering the other. Rather, he told them to wait until reaping time: “If you pull the weeds [darnel] you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest” (Matt 13:29b-30a). When harvest comes, that would be the appropriate time to separate the wheat from the darnel—the latter would be bundled for fuel while the former would be gathered into barns.
What is the meaning of the point of the parable? When confronted with evil, people usually do one of two alternatives. The first one is to flee from what they perceive as evil. Sects usually begin this way. They perceive that the society they live in is under the power of darkness, and so they create their own community that embodies the very goodness of God. This is what the Qumranites did. Having condemned the Jewish society as evil, they established a community near the Dead Sea. It was their intention to make their community the earthly counterpart of God’s Kingdom in the heavens. Of course, most of us do not behave this way. But while we do not make our own hermitage, we do flee from people whom we consider a liability to society by refusing to associate with them. At other times, we do confine them to a place far removed from what we consider the civil society—we may not imprison them, but prisoners are nearly their equivalent. The other alternative is to liquidate them. Since they were perceived to be the cause of the German defeat in the World War I, Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews. Josef Stalin, we know from the revelations of Nikita Kruschev, eliminated his enemies, real or imagined. In a past issue of Time magazine, we are told by Phil Zabriskie (“The Punisher,”) that Davao is “an oasis of peace in the middle of Philippines’ lush center of chaos” because kidnappers, bandits, communist rebels, drug pushers and other undesirables are made to disappear. It is almost on the same principle that certain people would engineer to unseat the present national leadership.
The point of the parable, however, has nothing to do with these alternatives. Rather, it counsels tolerance and forbearance. And this should be true of the Church, the seed of God’s Kingdom. The Christian community is a mixed bag of saints and sinners, and that has to be accepted. There should be no attempt to weed sinners out. Believers must be patient with them. For one thing, God alone knows what is hidden and what is in the heart of each one. We cannot play God. For another, like life, people are not that simple. The line that divides the good from the bad is so thin that most likely an effort to separate the one from the other will backfire. Today, certain people would like to see the Church purged of pedophile priests. That might be a logical thing to do, and the recourse that one must do to avoid entanglement with the law. But for a man of faith, it may not always be the evangelical decision to make. If faith can move mountains, it can also transform a darnel into wheat! In his book, Priesthood Imperiled, Bernard Haring tells of a priest who was sent to prison for perjury. During his incarceration, he became an apostle to his fellow prisoners. Later, his Bishop gave him a pastorate abroad in full recognition of the transformation that happened to him. In his new assignment, the parishioners—who did not know of his past—were thankful that they were given a saintly pastor.*