Jesus put a 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 fulfill 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!’
Like Jesus’ disciples many of us struggle to fully understand the meaning of the Parables. They do however convey a message that is both universal and ageless. For this message to be fully discerned they require reflection, best achieved through Lectio Divina. In this way Jesus speaks to us as he did to his disciples two thousand years ago.
Of the three parables presented we are most familiar with that of the mustard seed. Commonly found in the Middle East, the Mustard Tree is a huge tree with sprawling branches, providing a great canopy of shade. Ironically, it grows from the smallest of seeds. In a sense it can be paralleled to our own faith, for even with a small measure of faith great things can be achieved. Many will be familiar of course with the saying “faith moves mountains”. Jesus was fully aware of the doubts that often beset his friends and disciples and so he wanted to assure them that even with the smallest seed of faith they could endure hardship and persecution.
The World Youth Day celebrations can also be paralleled to this parable. Today we belong to a Church that has spread the Good News to all of the world’s continents; a Church community that has in excess of a billion members. And yet this great community of believers started out so small in fact, as small as a mustard seed.
Within our world and within the Church we have both the darnel and the wheat. Like the farmer however we should not remove the darnel until the time of harvest. That is, we should not remove, isolate or marginalize those who fail in our eyes, only God can do this. We must leave their ultimate judgement to God. We should not stand by however as people live idle and at times evil lives. Rather we should pray for them; challenge them to live a life of commitment, truth and goodness and be witnesses to this ourselves.
If we seek to convert others by our own example the darnel will die a natural death; the wheat will flourish and the harvest will be rich.
Anthony Cleary: Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation