Outside of the parables of Jesus on the kingdom of heaven, we tend not to think (or write) that often about the kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is often thought of as the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of history. For some of the earliest New Testament writing – the early letters of Paul and Mark’s Gospel – the focus on the immanent Second Coming occupies much of their thinking. After the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) there was a sense that the coming of the kingdom was delayed, and Paul and John each offer insight into the reason for this delay. For Matthew, the kingdom of heaven has taken on a new dimension, one which is more distant and yet, strangely enough, even more immanent.
While we continue with the parable section we began last week, this week’s parables, still using agrarian imagery, take on a different purpose. Jesus turns his attention from challenging the crowd to become disciples to offering them the promise of the kingdom of heaven if only they would be his disciples.
This agrarian imagery is powerful, but for many of us it remains a mystery. Few of us can easily distinguish the various forms of flora that appear in our yards and fields. What makes a plant a weed or a flower, or a fruit, or a vegetable, is determined largely by the judgment of a culture and the use that they place upon it. Some of the most ubiquitous flowers in our fields are regarded as weeds.
A farmer had an enemy who sowed weeds among the newly scattered wheat. The farmhands wanted to pull out the weeds to allow the wheat to grow, but the farmer chose to have them grow together, and wait until the harvest to separate them. A practical decision for the farmer to make, it is applied to real life situations by Jesus as he linked it to the kingdom of heaven.
Planted in the same soil, with the same amount of sun and rain, the weeds and the wheat would have an equal chance to grow. In time, they are easy to separate, but as their roots are intertwined, to disturb one is to threaten the survival of the other. At the time of the harvest, there would be wheat and weeds in abundance.
This parable instructs us not to make judgments about others but to focus on our own place in this garden. Unlike the wheat and weeds we have the potential to reform our lives – the weed can become wheat and the wheat can become weed. We know, also from the parables of Jesus, that not all wheat is firmly planted.
While we are yet young plants in the garden, not yet distinguishable as a stalk of wheat or as a weed, we must continue to absorb nourishment and to grow stronger in faith. Like wheat among weeds, we must stand tall, even when we might feel like we are being choked off by the weeds around us.
While the kingdom of heaven sounds like something with which to be concerned only in the distant future, Jesus reminds us that the seeds of the kingdom are planted and growing within and around us at all times. Jesus subtly asks us the question do you want to be in or out of the kingdom of heaven when the Lord comes to reap the harvest?
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel