Monday, July 21, 2014

Wheat and The Problem of Evil - Homily for the 16th Sunday in OT

Enemies sowing weeds in another person’s wheat field… It was a passive aggressive revenge not uncommon in Jesus’ day. But the revenge is more sinister than just the annoyance of weeds. The weed which was sown was called “cockle.” Cockle was a weed that even the trained farmer’s eye would be unable to tell from wheat—there was little difference between the two—until the grain, or the fruit, began to show. The grain of cockle would be emaciated whereas the wheat would be full and healthy. The grain of cockle would be worthless, bitter, and—here’s what is so sinister—it would be poisonous to humans. Thus, an enemy who would sow this weed in a wheat field would not only weaken the wheat crop, but he would also poison the food supply. And given that bread was a huge staple—so huge that Jesus warned that one cannot live by bread alone—sowing such weeds would really be disastrous to life itself.

Thus, this parable isn’t just about weeds and wheat. It’s about good and evil, where they come from, and how it all affects our life.

In our modern era (as in the past), there are many obstacles to faith, one of the biggest being the problem of evil. People ask: Why is there evil in the world? If God is a good God and he made everything good, then why is there evil? In other words, where have the weeds come from?

Jesus answers this question. He says, An enemy has done this.

“An enemy.” When Jesus explains the parable, He says the enemy who sows [the weeds] is the devil. Here is the answer to where evil comes from. It comes not from God, but from the devil.

But this does not answer the question of why. Why is there evil in the world?

We must answer this by another route, by considering the nature of evil and by asking how the devil went bad—that is, how did he become an enemy?

Here, a lot can be said, but we must be brief. What it boils down to is that the devil chose to be separated from God. Evil is the result of that separation. This makes sense, for if God is goodness itself and the source of all goodness, then to be separated from God is to be separated from what is good—which is to say, evil. Look at the trees: a branch cut off from a tree is no longer part of the tree; the branch no longer participates in the life of the tree; the branch cannot receive any of the tree’s nourishment. In fact, such a separated branch is no longer identified as part of that particular tree. It is just a dead branch. So too, persons separated from the God who is goodness itself cannot pretend to call themselves good—they are evil—precisely because of the separation that they have chosen. Evil is a carving out. Here we realize that the devil became an enemy by choice, not by creation. God does not create enemies. Enemies create themselves.

So, the really deep question to the problem of evil is this: why does God allow us to choose?

The answer lies in the nature of love. Love cannot be forced; love cannot be imposed. It must be chosen. Otherwise, it isn’t love. Love, therefore, allows a space for that choice—a space whether weeds or wheat can grow. God sows for the growth of wheat; the devil sows for the growth of weeds.

Once again, we are placed face to face with the foolishness of God. Why does God allow this space? Why would God allow evil to grow alongside holiness?

To answer these questions, we again must take another route and consider the nature of God’s kingdom and ask: why don’t we just kick all of the sinners out of our church and make it pristine?

Jesus starts us on our way. He says, because, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. What does this mean?

Firstly (and obviously) it means that there is a connection between the weeds and the wheat.

So, on the one hand, there is a connection in their appearance. As we mentioned earlier, even the discerning farmer may not be able to distinguish between the cockle and the wheat. He is going to have to wait and see for the fruit. So, notice the emphasis on you: if you pull up... If you judge your brother as being a weed, you actually might uproot the wheat [which he may be or may become!]. We may think we have a good grasp on the difference between the wheat and the cockle-- and maybe we do. But Jesus uses this to show that, really, we can’t be the ultimate judge; another’s heart is deeper than our ability to harvest it.

Jesus will pull up the weeds and the wheat at harvest time-- at the end of time. Until then, we have to wait. Wait for the fruit to show.

So, does this mean that we simply co-exist? simply tolerate each other? Wheat and weeds holding hands together until then?

Notice that Jesus uses other parables within this one to describe the kingdom. So, for example, within this very discourse he interrupts himself by telling us of the parable of the yeast: that the people of God are like yeast that are supposed to grow and affect the culture of the dough, not by simply living within the dough and keeping it stagnant, but by living in it in such a way that it makes the culture rise and become something greater than itself.

Only in light of the totality of the parables can we see the meaning of the weeds and the wheat; the other parables round it out, if you will.

The key to unlock all of this is when we consider that Jesus is the Kingdom of God—that Jesus is the bread of finest wheat. Not the bread of cockle; not the bread that doesn’t rise. Jesus is the bread of finest wheat; he is the bread that rises. So too, then, is his kingdom!

If God should allow the holy to live among the evil it is precisely because God wants the holy to be in union with Him who Himself became wheat among the weeds, He who loved the weedy sinner so much that He should dwell among them—and not just simply to walk among them and co-exist with them, but to suffer for them and to make them rise!

If God should allow the holy to live among the evil it is precisely so that the holy, by being in union with such a Love, may as well pray and live and suffer so as to make the culture rise! And, in so doing, the wheat would grow, and grow and mature in love, and then… then bear fruit!

Now we can clearly answer why God allows evil in the world. First, we can say that he allows evil so as to provide a space for the choice of love. Second, we can say that God does not make the world pristine but allows holiness and evil to grow together precisely to offer humanity a chance to grow in that same kind of love that he had for us: a love that dwelled among us and suffered for us so that we may rise.

There will come a time for the harvest, when the world will be made whole and prestine-- the burning of weeds and the rejoicing of the wheat. For now, there is time... time which exists precisely for the growth in love.

All of this, like an ear of grain, is pregnant with hope.

If God had no hope for us, he would have just burned the whole thing up. The very fact that God creates a space for such a choice and for such living itself bespeaks the reality that he has hope for us—hope that we will choose well, hope that we will bear good fruit.

I hope this strengthens our faith. I hope it strengthens our patience with ourselves and others—for God has not yet pulled up the weeds and wheat—so why should we?

I hope this increases our resolve to ask the Lord to give us growth and to turn our soul into the kind of soul that bears good fruit in the world.

I hope this increases our desire to be carried into the heavenly kingdom at harvest time….

I hope it turns our hearts away from the enemy, but to God...


  1. What a beautiful homily and a blessing you are to the church!

  2. Father - this is an insightful and concise view into a parable I have heard for many years, but never understood it's full meaning. At first glance, it might seem God is harsh, throwing the weed into the furnace. Yet, you have invited us to look at this in a different way, in which God chooses to live among us, a chance for all sinners to rise with him. Thank you, Eric Smith