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The parable of patience

· ​Meditation ·

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus recounts that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who has sown good seed in his field, but his enemy came in the night and sowed a bad, invasive weed, darnel [formerly called tares]. The servants wanted to uproot it but the householder restrained their zeal out of fear that in gathering up the darnel they would also uproot the wheat. “Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mt 13:30).

Anna Ancher, “Harvesters” (1905, detail)

Here Matthew reports his Church’s experience. Jesus has sown his word, the Apostles have continued sowing with their preaching and yet in Jesus’ community, in Matthew’s community, in the Church, there is darnel, there is evil. Why? Where does it come from?

In our Christian communities which must be a prophetic sign for the world, salt of the earth, a lighted lamp to set on the stand, a prophecy of love, of the peace of the Kingdom, how much injustice there is in the world, how much overbearingness, what a superabundance of backbiting, of nasty looks, of the condemnation of others! And doesn’t the same thing happen within us, in the field of our hearts? Why? In the parable of the weeds among the wheat there is no answer to this question. Before the mystery of evil in all its forms, before this force which we also well know and experience both within and outside ourselves, our questions are lost in silence and another question reaches us: “You, how do you react to evil? Before the darnel, the evil and the suffering, how do you live this ‘good hope’ (Wis 12:19) which the Father has placed in his children’s hearts?”.

Federico Rossano, “Wheat Field” (1868)

Despite all our infantile illusions the reality in which we live is wounded, missing something and disappointing. Indeed, the more we desire in our hearts the good seed, the more we see that invasive darnel which at times seems to suffocate every tender plantlet and seems to declare the uselessness of any effort to cultivate the field. Jesus’ teaching does not focus on why the weeds sprang up, but on how to behave when faced with these weeds. “No” : it is an order that disconcerts us, that contrasts with what we consider the best part of ourselves, our desire for justice, truth, holiness and radicalism, namely that zeal which we all too often believe to be good zeal but which in reality proves no different from the zeal of those two Apostles, James and John, the “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17), who on seeing Jesus refused by the inhabitants of a Samaritan village ask him: “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54). They had not understood much of their Master’s teaching! And yet how frequently over the course of history have we felt authorized to light fires at the stake to burn those who, in our opinion did not accept Jesus! There is a will to uproot evil by uprooting the sinner which is not God’s way. The Church is not a sect of pure people nor are our communities the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus tells this “parable of patience”, of God’s patience first of all: God is patient, he is in no hurry to judge, to separate the good seed from the darnel, he waits patiently; with the patience that each one of us must have with him- or herself, in watching the wheat and darnel growing side by side in the fields of our hearts; patience with each other in the community, in the Church, forgoing division, discrimination and condemnation, showing patience with one another, bearing and carrying one another’s burdens, putting up even with the darnel in others.

It is true that a few chapters earlier, in Chapter 18, Matthew spoke of the need to recall forcefully and also publicly those who do not live in accordance with the Gospel, but this fraternal service must be done charitably, always remembering the log in one’s own eye: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt7:5).

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