The wheat and the darnel always sprout up together
(Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)
Introduction to Mass
In the gospel passage this Sunday Jesus tells his followers to expect to find both good and evil influences at work within the Christian community. He wants them to leave final judgements to God and to avoid self-righteousness. Within each individual the wheat and the darnel grow up together, and we should concentrate on our own weaknesses and self-serving motives rather than luxuriating in condemning the sins of others.
To begin Mass we acknowledge our tendency to find fault with other people while being lenient towards ourselves, and we ask God for his pardon and healing.
The gospel today is another section of St Matthew's gospel that consists of Jesus' teaching about the kind of outlook his followers should have and how they should conduct themselves in terms of their everyday moral behaviour.
And this Sunday the passage has a practical application to Christian believers both as individuals and as the community of disciples, as the Church.
Christ warns his followers not to fall into the trap of cultivating an exaggerated sense of purity about themselves, an exaggerated sense of their own righteousness. He warns them to expect the Church community to be made up of all sorts of people, the good the bad and the indifferent - and that that's not something they have to fret about. It's something that God will sort out in his own good time.
As individual believers, in our own relationship with God, in our moral attitudes and our motives for doing things, we're all made up of a mixture of the wheat and the darnel, the good crops and the poisonous weeds. Jesus came out with a lot of parables where he compared people's spiritual growth and their moral development to the long, slow, and uneven growth of a plant or some kind of seed, and that's what he's doing again here with this parable.
Human beings don't start out at their full stature, morally and spiritually. They mature gradually, the way the wheat develops, from the original planting of the seeds to the final harvest of the fully-grown crop.
The fact that on occasions we tell a lie, or we say something hurtful or take somebody's dignity away in some way; the fact that circumstances can make us closed-in on ourselves and indifferent to the welfare of other people - or much worse things than that - doesn't mean for Christ that human beings are a lost cause. It means that we're not perfect, that we're flawed, and that we're capable of both great generosity and great selfishness.
Jesus, of course, wants his followers to carry on growing and forming their characters under Godís influence. But he also wants us to recognize that we'll do that a lot more easily if we have a realistic picture of ourselves and a realistic picture of our frailty and weaknesses.
As a matter of fact, one of the most important things about this advice of Christ's is that when we do get an accurate picture of our own grey areas, we extend that to our judgements of other people as well. We can identify with them and show a bit of understanding and compassion. That's what links up the gospel to the other two readings this Sunday, where the whole emphasis is on God's leniency and his mildness in judging people.
In Jesus' teaching, holiness doesn't come from cultivating the sort of moralistic attitudes that the Pharisees held, no matter how upright the might have been in their religious observance. It comes more from a deeper understanding of human nature and human relationships, that help to make us lenient and mild the way God is.
It was a favourite idea of St Paul's, hinted at in the second reading, that it's only when we acknowledge our own imperfections, and give up the pretensions that we often have of being in control and directing our own lives that God can find an opening and start to get to work on us and change us.
That's how the imagery of this parable of Christ's applies to us as individuals. But of course even more, the parable applies to the Christian community as a whole, and not just to the individuals that belong to it. In the Church as a whole, the darnel grows up alongside the wheat as well, and to think otherwise, Jesus is saying, is to fall victim to a dangerous illusion.
There's a story about a town in the United States where in one street there's a church called The Church of God. A few yards away there's another church, which had split off from the first one, and called itself the True Church of God. Further down the same street there's another church that split off from the second one - and they called themselves the One True Church of God.
That kind of tendency is the essence of fundamentalism - defining our own group as the only true, pure community of the saved, while everyone else is corrupted and compromised and somehow un-saved. What's wrong with it is that it's too ready to apply God's holiness and perfection to a collection of human beings. It's too ready to take over the job that only belongs to God - the job of making judgements about who's saved and who isn't.
It might be true that when the members of the Church look around the world - or when they look at the way the Church is within itself - they can feel indignant if all they can see is injustice and dishonesty, ruthless, self-centred people getting everything they want while the good people get treated like doormats. But Christ wants to stop that feeling of indignation from turning into self-righteousness and a "them-and-us" attitude.
After all, when it comes to "bad things happening to good people" nobody knew more about it than Jesus himself. Despite the tactics of his enemies and his opponents, Christ never gave into bitterness or the desire for revenge. He was completely confident that at the end of time, God would reverse the existing order of things, and welcome the virtuous into his company, and remove the evil.
So his advice to his disciples was to show the same confidence - not to take the place of God and try to anticipate his judgement. Christ's advice is to be patient, to trust in God, and to wait for the harvest at the end of the world, when God will make sure that good and evil will finally be separated.
That's the attitude Christians have to adopt if they're going to avoid fretting about the presence of evil in the world, or in the Church, or even worse, separating themselves off with the false belief that they can treat sin and human frailty as something that always lies outside of themselves.