July 19, 2020

Brief synopsis of the readings: In the Old Testament book of Wisdom (a book that only Catholics recognize) the writer speaks of a god who judges justly and whose justice finds its source in strength. God’s justice then gives us the roadmap to be kind to each other and have our sins forgiven. Continuing in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells a series of parables. In the first a farmer plants wheat but as it starts to grow but his “enemy” plants darnel (weeds) among the wheat. Seeing the results of this, the farmer’s servants suggested pulling the weeds but the farmer declined. He said that there was too much of a chance that they will pull up both weeds and wheat. Instead he instructed them to wait until the harvest when they can harvest both wheat and darnel and separate the two. In the next parable he described the kingdom of heaven as a mustard seed: though it’s the smallest of seeds yet grows into “the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree.” Next he describes the kingdom of heaven as yeast that gets measured with flour. Finally someone asks him about the parable of the darnel. He explains that the wheat represents subjects of the kingdom and the darnel represents the evil one. At the harvest the darnel will be gathered and burned “where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”

As many of you know I’ve been preaching for a number of years. After all these years there are weeks I’ll look at the readings and scratch my head looking for a starting point for the homily. Other weeks, like this one, confront me with too many starting points. And truthfully days like this pose a larger problem.

It’s both easy and tempting to talk about all three parables and randomly wander among them. And apologies to fans of mustard seeds and yeast, today I’m going to talk about darnel. And just like last week I have to admit that I know nothing about farming and I’ll confess to any rookie mistakes. I even had to google darnel to find that it’s a weed.

But I do know this: we don’t like weeks because they steal nutrients from the plants that we harvest and they provide nothing to us. All they do is rob from the wheat and make them weaker.

The end of the Gospel can sound chilling as it describes “subjects of the evil one” who will be thrown into the fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Generations of preachers have used this to terrify their followers.

There is even a joke about this: A pastor was preaching on this reading when he was interrupted by an elderly woman in the front row who asked what will happen to those with no teeth. He responds: “God in his wisdom has already considered this. Teeth will be provided.”

But I suggest we look at this parable with fresh eyes. Here is my first question: when the enemy plants the darnel, what does he get out of it? Perhaps he is a competing farmer who hopes to benefit from the misfortune of another farmer. I hope I’m not alone in seeing farmers who know and support each other and will lending a helping hand in a crisis. But the cold, hard facts are this: the value of your crop depends on many factors, but primarily the amount of the crop that’s harvested. If you do well and others don’t, your crop is more valuable. But this just seems like a lot of work for a small advantage.

Perhaps “the enemy” isn’t a farmer at all but someone who has a grudge against this farmer. But when Jesus talks about evil he never really talks about it on a personal level.

Maybe we should read something into this parable about the good farmer vs. the enemy. In our recent history we’ve seen examples of an enemy who wishes to steal from the farmer and they’ve done so by claiming to be the farmer.

In 1993 we first learned about David Koresh. He claimed to be a Christian and led a group of like minded people in Waco, Texas. He warned his followers that he was the good farmer and the rest of us Christians were the darnel. His craving for power led him to delude and abuse his followers, finally ending with the death of himself, four members of law enforcement, and seventy nine of his followers. He was clearly the enemy.

But we don’t have to be members of a cult to heed this parable. I think we’ve all had occasions when someone has tried to talk us into a belief or an action that advances his agenda and not God’s. Nearly every day we hear from someone who claims the mantle of Christianity and gives us a list of people they declare to be our enemies (and their mailings always include a return envelope).

Here’s my last question about the parable: why did the farmer instruct his servants not to pull the weeds? Every gardener I know spends hours pulling weeds. If they wait until they harvest their strawberries or watermelon, their yield will have diminished significantly. They don’t appear to worry about pulling up the good with the bad. Perhaps there is a qualitative difference between farms and gardens and any farmers out there can tell me if I’m off base.

Then again, maybe that’s hidden key. If the wheat and darnel are really those who follow Jesus and those who think they are following Jesus it gives the wheat the chance to communicate with the darnel.

If we look on this simply in terms of wheat and darnel it doesn’t make much sense. Wheat can’t convert darnel into wheat, nor can darnel covert wheat into darnel. But when we see someone we love wandering from values they used to share, we have the opportunity to do something.

Here’s a clear example: while most of us are heterosexual we all know those who identify as homosexual. Jesus’ call to love calls us to a place not just of tolerance, not just of acceptance, but to a place of love. Jesus doesn’t call us to a place of hating homosexuals, or to a place of “loving the sinner and hating the sin,” but to a place of truly loving all of us regardless of orientation.

Because by harvest time we can all agree that we look forward to the day when the wheat is harvested and their is not darnel.