“Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (NRSV, Matthew 13:30)
The Parable of the Weeds (Tares and Wheat) – the first of the great parables of the Judgement – was told by Our Blessed Lord while he was still in Galilee. The plant referred to is the bearded darnel which attains a height equal to that of the wheat and barley. The inner coats of darnel seeds often harbour poisonous fungal growths which, if eaten by humans or animals, cause vomiting, dizziness and sometimes even death. (1) Eventual separation of the darnel seeds and wheat is therefore essential.
In the early stages of growth the darnel and wheat are almost indistinguishable; it is only when the ears are formed that it is possible to see the difference. But usually the plants are left growing together so as not to disturb the roots of the wheat which are intertwined with those of the darnel. (2,3)
In the parable a farmer was informed in the early spring by his servants that, in spite of his having sowed clean seed in his field, an exceptional crop of darnel weeds was growing up with the wheat. He realised at once that an enemy had provided himself with a quantity of darnel seed and, under cover of night, had sowed the field with it and then departed as secretly as he had come. The servants asked the farmer if he wished them to weed them out right away, but the farmer told them that, in spite of the high proportion of darnel plants, he would follow the normal routine, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (NRSV, Matthew 13:30).
Our Blessed Lord, in response to his disciples’ request, explained the meaning of the parable privately to them afterwards. Although, through the agency of the Devil, God’s Church would contain bad members as well as good, yet God does not intervene and separate them now but is content to wait until the Day of Judgement when his holy angels “…will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (NRSV, Matthew 13:41,42,43).
Thus the teaching of this parable, like that of many others, hammers home the inevitability of that decisive separation in the Day of Judgement when everyone shall be allotted his or her final destiny.
Yet although this separation of the bad from the good within the Kingdom of God necessarily belongs to the future, it is quite otherwise with the separation of the bad from the good within the individual soul. Indeed, it is true to say that the righteous who shall one day shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father are those who in this life have been making headway in eliminating their sins and the effects of their sins from their souls.
Heaven is nothing less than the sight of the all-holy God, and, as Our Lord has told us, it is the pure in heart – or more literally the purified in heart – who shall see God (Matthew 5:8). Indeed, it is only they who will want to see him. And the way we purify our souls may be compared to the regular use of the hoe in the elimination of weeds. In other words, to get rid of our sins systematically at regular intervals by means of repentance. Before any soul can be admitted to Heaven it must be clean, like the field in the parable was clean at harvest-time. For the wheat, and only the wheat, is stored in the Father’s barn: the weeds – all that is sinful or unworthy – have no place there.
This process of purification, though it has to begin here, is not completed here except in the case of the Saints, those rare souls who even in this life reach a union with God so advanced as to be beyond our powers to understand. For the penitent and faithful soul, this purification is continued and finished in Purgatory where the last remaining weeds of self-centredness are uprooted and burnt in the fires of penitence. It is then that the righteous shall shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father, for all the dark shadows in their souls will have been finally dispersed.
And what then? That shining life of Heaven is something which we can only guess at, and know all the time that our guess must fall short, far short, of reality. For Heaven consists, not in the absence of all that spoils this life, but in the visible Presence of God whose infinite love and goodness and beauty supply all the needs which he himself has implanted in the human soul.
To the soul who truly belongs to God, it will be the fulfilment of every hope and the never-ending source of every joy. And joy is the one quality above all others which characterises the life of Heaven and of the blessed Saints; not a dreamy happiness but an active and conscious bliss vividly portrayed in the words of Holy Scripture, “…they will shine out; as sparks run through the stubble, so will they…” (Jerusalem Bible, Wisdom 3:7).
This theme runs through the Scriptures, “In your presence there is fullness of joy…”, says the psalm (NRSV, 16:11, our emphasis). And the Gospel echoes it, “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God…” (NRSV, Luke 15:10). And the same is true of Our Lord himself, “…who for sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (NRSV, Hebrews 12:2) and it is Our Lord’s own joy that the faithful are called to share, “…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21). And so Jesus pictured the climax of his work of salvation as a marriage supper with himself as the Bridegroom and his Holy Church as his Bride, each rejoicing in the other.
God has made human beings in his own image to share his eternal glory, and when individuals enter into that glory they have found the ultimate secret of life. For all who truly seek after Our Blessed Lord shall be rewarded by him for so doing; and the reward is to find and to keep him whom they seek.
Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever”. (4)
1. Walker, W. (1958) All the plants of the Bible, London: Lutterworth Press.
2. Walker, W. (1958) All the plants of the Bible, London: Lutterworth Press.
3. Hastings, J. (editor) (1908) A dictionary of Christ and the Gospels Vol II, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
4. © Archbishops' Council (2000) Common Worship Collects and Post Communions in Contemporary Language. Ordinary Time. Available from:
http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/collects-and-post-communions/contemporary-language/postwhit.aspx (Accessed 02 December 2012) (Internet).