Of wheats and weeds

Published July 18, 2020, 11:00 PM

by Fr. Rolando V. De La Rosa, OP



Scott Peck, in his book, People of the Lie, wonders why people often ask: “Why is there evil in the world?” For him, this question presumes that we live in a naturally good world unfortunately contaminated by evil. But if we consider the daily barrage of horrible things happening in the world today, Peck thinks that it makes more sense to presume that we live in a naturally evil world that allows only a sprinkling of goodness. So, the more logical question to ask is: “Why is there good in the world?”

Peck challenges us to examine our standpoint as regards good and evil. Do we see an inherently good world contaminated by evil, or do we see a thoroughly bad world without any redeeming good in it?

Perhaps this should also be the way we understand the parable about the Kingdom of God in today’s gospel (Matthew 13:24-30). A man plants wheat in his field. But when the wheat begins to grow, weeds grow with it as well. So his slaves ask him: “You only planted wheat, where did the weeds come from?” He answers: “An enemy has done this.”

Surprisingly, he does not ask his slaves to investigate the matter and look for his enemy, nor does he ask the slaves to pull out the weeds. He simply advises them to let both the wheat and the weeds grow until harvest time.
To understand the message of this parable, we must consider the word used by St. Matthew for “weeds.” The word he used refers to a noxious plant that looks very much like wheat. Since it is difficult to distinguish the wheat from the weed, any attempt to root out the weeds will cause more harm than good, destroying the very crops that will be harvested. The parable is not telling us that good and evil are a compatible pair — like opposites that need each other to exist. Rather, it is often the case that we cannot tell which is which.

In the moral realm, the good may indeed appear to us as evil, and evil can take the semblance of good. We cannot deny that there are really evil people out there, sociopaths who want to rape, abuse, and murder other people. But the parable tells us that even those whom we consider as evil incarnate still have a redeeming good inside of them. The beauty of Christianity is that it does not believe human beings, for all their imperfections and criminal tendencies, to be hopelessly incorrigible. As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

Besides, we should not be too keen on praying for their destruction because we ourselves do not have a monopoly of goodness. We might consider ourselves faithful and obedient Christians, but sometimes, when we are confronted with unexpected moments of temptation and extreme trials, we act in a way we wouldn’t want others to see us doing. As this poem puts it:

When somebody yields to temptation
And breaks one of God’s laws,
We don’t look for any good
in his make-up,
But oh! how we look for his flaws!
We don’t care about
how he was tempted,
Nor do we praise
the battles he’s fought;
His name becomes food for the jackals
— For us who have never been caught.