Buckwheat Harvest: Summer, Millet, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. Matthew 13:25.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
If you have ever tasted a Breton buckwheat pancake (or galette), you know how delicious it is, and here is a Millet painting of its harvest, with the crop being cut, then threshed to remove all the inedible parts, and, for our purposes today, the weeds harvested with it as mentioned in today’s gospel, being burned with the chaff in the background. Jesus of course lived in a world entirely dominated by basic agriculture. A very small percentage of the people lived in towns and cities; almost everyone was needed in the fields to grow enough food and raise cattle for themselves, their families and, with the tiny surplus they could manage to produce, to sell to the people who were not farmers – and to pay their taxes! Hence the abundance of farming imagery in his parables; everyone would immediately know what he meant. So today’s story of “the enemy” deliberately sowing weeds among the anticipated crop would be scandalous, criminal even. The Master’s instruction to let both types of plant grow was practical. It would be easier and possibly safer to wait for the harvest so that it was evident which was the weed and which the precious crop. But, as ever, Jesus was making a very important point, which has nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with being a child of God.
Weeds destroy crops as they compete with the water and nutrients needed for the crops. Now translate that into possible human experience. For example, let’s say you are starting out in life, finishing up high school, but are unable to get a place in any of the universities of your choice. So you find a job, and start night school to improve your academic credentials. You are full of hope and your expectations are high that a good future, although challenging so far, is attainable. Mid-year you get another trove of rejections from good schools, but an acceptance to a community college. So you take it; after all, this one is a college with a link to a university and with extra work, you may be eligible for a university degree. A colleague at work learns about this as you so excited you tell everyone your plan to start the new program in the fall. He points out that a community college is a pretty poor substitute for a university; that you will probably still be rejected if you fail in your night school, and is there any point in really trying that hard especially after a year of trying and likely to fail again? You are disheartened, dismayed, crushed as this person is an older man who has been through the early adulthood struggle and emerged with an attitude which is poisonous but seems horribly realistic. He is a weed among the potential harvest. I think that is the kind of person Jesus is talking about today. Instead of congratulating you for trying your best to optimize your talents and creating a program to cultivate them so that they become skills, with which you can serve God and others, that you would not have otherwise, he is doing the opposite. He is tearing your enthusiasm down and crushing it, and that’s where the angels weep. Enthusiasm is special. At its root, it includes the Greek word for God, θεός, or Theos. It is God-given and God-directed. So our duty is to encourage such a spirit in others, foster it, help it grow in ways God would wish. That is, I believe, what is at the heart of today’s parable.
Now, as I mentioned last week, what if we can identify with the destructive older man in my story today? Can we come to a realization that we are a destructive weed, squeezing the life out of others and not giving a damn? The parable says we are destined to be thrown onto the fire and destroyed, an action presumably for all eternity. Is it too late? In another place remember the words Jesus uttered from the cross itself to the crucified criminal next to him, who had ruined his own life: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is never too late to turn to God for forgiveness and redemption. The staggering depth of remorse that will fall on us will be enormous, but deserved. But we will be surrounded with God’s overwhelming love and welcome. But we do have to come to that self-deprecating realization on our own and make that move away from self towards the light, towards The Other. That is what the angels will be praying for! I wonder if that man in my story came to that self-knowledge and apologized for his insensitivity and brutality. Let’s hope so.
More, Not Less, Forgiveness, Florida Counseling Centers.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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