Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Knowing your wheat

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 21, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Growing up in our family, we knew when we had come of age. Not by gaining permission for a walk alone to the city park. Not when we got our driver’s license. We knew we had come of age when we could tell the difference between a weed and a vegetable plant. Having passed the test, we were assigned our rows of work in the family garden! The task was not too complicated but it did require some gardening know-how. (You knew you had really climbed the family social ladder when Mom would let you weed her flower garden – where plant and weed were much more difficult to distinguish!)

Nowadays the members of our family merely go to the store somewhere to buy vegetables. But in the days of your youth knowing the difference between weed and plant was a matter of family survival. Pull up the vegetable plant instead of the weed – or even along with the weed – and a little future harvest was denied. Multiply that ignorance by X number of plants and one can see why coming of age was important.

Jesus may or may not have had a vegetable garden in a side yard of his home in Nazareth, but he was very familiar with the details of planning and harvesting. Several of his parables and discourses in the Gospels reveal a familiarity with such things. They all give us food for thought and, more importantly, challenge for our spiritual growth in the way of God’s Kingdom.

One of Jesus’ parables, indeed, did anchor itself in the matter of knowing the difference between weed and plant. Now, mind you, Jesus had no intention of teaching people how to be better skilled at taking care of the garden or the farm. He didn’t have a desk at the local Extension Office. But he did take very common scenes from the life of peasant farmers and engaged them in explaining the mysteries of the Kingdom.

In one of his well-known parables, Jesus observes that the Kingdom of God is like the man who sowed good seed in his wheat field. During the middle of the night the guy’s dastardly enemies broadcast a different kind of seed in the same field. As the crop begins to grow, the farmer’s workers keenly spot the work of enemy hands and alert the master, seeking his permission to yank up the unwanted weeds. It is obvious that the workers had not “come of age.” The particular type of weed sown in the farmer’s field was darnel. Such a nasty deed done to him! Darnel was far more threatening to a crop than mustard weed or thistles can be to contemporary farmers. When it is sprouting and growing, darnel looks very much like wheat. By the time a keen eye can spot it, it’s too late, since it is much intermingled with the wheat. The master’s observation is correct: pull up the darnel and you pull up the wheat along with it.

All seems lost. But with wisdom and knowledge of nature, the farmer advises his workers to wait patiently until harvest, when the separation between mature heads of wheat and the unwanted darnel will take place. The wheat will go into the barn, and the darnel into the fire, where its future is nothing but ashes and smoke.

It is encouraging to recall that parables like this one are spoken to us disciples of Jesus to give us insight into how to live in the real world where our faith is challenged daily. Does this parable not reflect what it is like for the one who tries to live in the kingdom of God? We have to deal with the bad that exists right alongside the good. Whether it be people or situations, evil is a fact of life. Jesus does not try to explain it away. Least of all does he try to justify it. But he does teach us how to deal with it in faith.

One of the greatest challenges to our Christian faith is the seeming triumph of evil around us: the wicked neighbor or fellow worker who seems to receive all the “blessings” in life. Those whose corrupt lifestyle seems to go unchecked – and even appears to be rewarded. This kind of challenge is not unknown to Jesus. The point he makes by means of his parable of the weeds and the wheat is simple but quite exact: His followers need the attentiveness of good workers who indeed can spot the evil around them and name it for what it is. Moral truth is not just relative to opinion and personal preferences. Immoral living is immoral living. Evil is evil. And the closer we grow to the way of God, the more obvious evil becomes, both within ourselves and in the world around us. It is frustrating to live in world where evil appears to triumph – or at least, seems to flourish. We often want to respond with violence. The workers in the parable had the equivalent of agricultural road rage. Get out the Round-Up and blast those weeds! The result would have been the destruction of the very thing they were to save.

Disciples of Jesus must be conscious of the evil around them, but above all we need to act with the dignity and integrity of true sons and daughters of God. Vengeance (which is a form of punishing violence) belongs to God alone. Jesus does not advise us to keep our mouths shut in the face of evil, but he does caution us against any form of verbal or physical violence which destroys both its target and our own Christian dignity.

Disciples live in the kingdom of God with a sense of perspective. They know that contrary to appearances, time is not on the side of moral evil. In God’s good time the harvest will come as weeds and wheat show themselves for what they truly are. But it is God’s harvest, not ours. Jesus assures us that evil will not triumph in God’s plan of salvation. The good harvest will be gathered into the barn of God’s kingdom. On the other hand, although they seemingly have had their day, the weeds will receive what they truly have produced and what they merit: nothing.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Rosalia and St. John, administrator of St. Rose Parish in Cheney, and is the diocese’s Moderator of the Curia.)

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