Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Weeds in the field

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 16, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky This time of year a drive through the countryside – especially through that gorgeous section of Washington State we know as the Palouse – offers clear evidence that harvest time draws nigh. Somehow after all that rain last spring and now the heat of summer, the wheat, barley and oats crops have grown to substantial size. Those billions of heads stand proudly at attention, letting the sun toast them to a golden brown, eagerly awaiting the mechanical thoroughness of the combine.

The fields which embrace so many of our cities and towns in Eastern Washington are a familiar sight: disciplined rows of grain stalks; luscious bounty waving freely in the gentle breeze. Every once in a while effects of an angry swirl of wind can be seen in a patch of matted stalks. And yes, of course, here and there are the ever-present snarl of the thistle or the deceitful yellow of the unwelcome mustard weed.

For the better part, our grain fields are a testimony to clever genetic manipulation of plant size and product. The triumphs of technology have made the planting, fertilizing and harvesting of crops a truly awe-inspiring sight. The advances of modern technology, however, have created a certain challenge for us to be struck by the power of the Gospel. So many of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God are rooted in the atmosphere of rural Israel. He speaks of fig trees, vineyards, and, yes, wheat fields. If we are not attentive, we may be tempted merely to transpose our world of advanced technology into the Scriptural scene – and miss the point.

Take as a prime example the parable of Jesus which anchors itself in a farmer’s struggle with weeds. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like the man whose enemy sowed weeds among the wheat crop in the middle of the night. Surprised by the abundance of weeds in what was supposed to be a bountiful crop, the man’s servants want to pull them up. For the contemporary farmer, the request is reasonable. Get out the Roundup, hook up the sprayer, and attack those beasts!

Easy enough in our day. But not so easy in the time of Jesus. The weeds that were sown so dastardly were likely the dreaded darnel of the Middle East. The enemy knew full well what he was doing. Darnel cannot be distinguished readily from wheat, especially in its early stages of growth. Like a vetch, it snarls its greedy hands around the struggling wheat stalks. The farmer in this Gospel parable is no scientist, but he does know Rule No. 1 of farming: Pulling up the weeds means pulling up the wheat. Just wait. With time, the wheat will grow taller, showing its gleaming heads above the darnel, ready for harvest. The weeds can be trashed. Obviously, Jesus’ concern is not the exercise of improved farming skills. He is disclosing the Kingdom of God in a language which everyone of his day and time could easily understand.

The application of the parable should be obvious to us, even with our 21st-century technology. There’s not a one of us who does not vie with a sneaky snarl of weeds (selfishness or sinfulness) that struggles to destroy our intended goodness as sons and daughters of God. Likewise, there is plenty of evil in the world to make us question our own beauty or the eventual triumph of good. Sometimes the weeds are there in overwhelming and surprising abundance. God, the Farmer, did not plant them, but they are definitely a part of our experience. To make matters worse, it is not always easy to tell what is good and what is evil. What is darnel? What is wheat? The temptation – especially in relationship to others – is to jump to hasty conclusions and actions. Pull ’em up! Get out the Roundup! Kill!

Is it possible that Jesus is admonishing us to patience and perspective as we become part of God’s harvest? The focus of our attention cannot be killing and destruction, but faithfulness to who we are supposed to be: fruitful sons and daughters of God. We shall stand tall in the end. Weeds may be a part of the reality of growing. Sometimes it may appear that “an enemy has done this,” but we are to be above it. It takes time for a crop to grow. Only with time can we recognize what is good and what is bad in us and for us. Jesus assures us that our future is inclusion in the harvest of God’s kingdom. Jesus came to encourage us to pay attention to the wheat. Time is on our side.

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Moderator of the Curia, and pastor the parishes in Tekoa, Rosalia, St. John, and Oakesdale.)

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