Jesus put another parable before the crowds: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’
He put another parable before them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’
In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:
I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.
Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’
Jesus continues to teach us the ways of the kingdom, how things are where God is king. ‘Thy kingdom come’, we pray, without perhaps remembering that the coming of the kingdom brings judgement. The judgement of God is unlike the quality of judgement we visit on each other and we are invited to reflect on the kind of judgement we expect for ourselves, and that which we deal out to others.
The Wisdom reading tells us that God’s judgement and justice has its source in God’s strength. It tells us that God is lenient to all, that God exposes the insolence of those who question his sovereignty, that he is mild in judgement, and that the virtuous one must do the same in the hope that after sin, we will find repentance.
The Gospel reading teaches us again about God’s judgement and about the quality of our own understanding of it. We are told that God allows things to take their course; that he does not judge prematurely lest the good be destroyed as well as the bad. He warns not to fall asleep but to be vigilant, lest the seeds of evil take root in our lives. There will be a time of reckoning but we must not pre-empt it by demanding instant judgement. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine’.
In the parable the farmer is interested above all in saving the grain. He does not agree with his servants’ initiative because he wishes to give the grain every possible chance. Life is seldom straightforward, divided into clear categories. Good and evil are found together, not just outside but within each of us. The reality of Original Sin teaches us that each has the potential within us for both greatness and badness. Because of this ambiguity within us, judgement must not be forced. The harvest will separate the weeds from the wheat.
The Gospel tells us to be patient, to practice the difficult task of discernment before rushing to judgement, to appreciate the complexities and ambiguities of life and of people.
A small seed of goodness, though seemingly lost and without potential, may grow into something great like the mustard seed, and give shelter to many others, like the immense tree of the kingdom. The one who practises these virtues of patience, right judgement, and mercy will, Jesus promises, ‘shine like sun in the kingdom of their Father’.