Merciful God, 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 our Lord. Amen.
JESUS follows the parable of the sower in Matthew’s Gospel with another agricultural parable, describing weeds maliciously sown in a wheat field. The Gospel-writer faces the technical challenge of making free-standing stories appear to be part of the same narrative sequence in which Jesus addresses “the crowds” in Galilee.
Twice, this time of storytelling is interrupted so that a privileged explanation can be given to the disciples (Matthew 13.10-17, 36-43). The end of the sequence of parables might also belong to this set of private tutorials (Matthew 13.51-53). Next week, we will return to the short parables framed by the weeds and the wheat, and to this final statement.
Meanwhile, the weeds and the wheat, and the explanation of the parable (Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43) are intriguing chiefly because they are not an exact match. Where the story allows for mature judgement, and for care not to damage what is good by dealing prematurely with what is bad, the interpretation is an uncompromising scheme for the final judgement.
The implication is unmistakable: behave righteously, and the judgement of the Son of Man will be merciful; behave in a way that threatens the life of the Kingdom of God, and the end will be the “furnace of fire” and “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 18.41-43).
Brendan Byrne notes the wisdom of the householder, who lets both weeds and wheat grow up together. This is not a naïve hope that the weeds will turn into wheat, but a prudent decision to allow all the growth to become sufficiently strong to allow easy identification and separation.
He is not entirely bleak about the interpretation either, reminding us that the field is the world which God’s children share, and that evil can come close even to holy places. Although the fact of evil delays the coming of God’s Kingdom, it can be dealt with. That is what should give the audience hope (Lifting the Burden, Liturgical Press, 2004).
The Church is to be found unselfconsciously singing that hope, mainly at harvest festivals in the verses of Henry Alford’s hymn “Come, ye thankful people, come”. Harvest is not usually an occasion when we pause to wonder about the question of salvation; and, if wondering meant congratulating ourselves on being “wholesome grain”, destined to be stored in “God’s garner” while the tares were thrown into the fire, it is probably better that way.
On the other hand, both parable and hymn invite us to think about God, who gathers and saves, and here the picture presented in Wisdom 12.13-18 shows us measured judgement, fairness, and gentleness. The portrait’s own context should not be forgotten; for it is part of an assertive justification for Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Wisdom 12.3-18).
If anything, that makes its description of divine restraint in the face of Canaanite wickedness even more remarkable. The writer believes that the Canaanites are beyond redemption; yet God does not enact sweeping punishment, but instead gives them an opportunity to repent (Wisdom 12.9-11).
Paul continues to encourage the Roman Christians in their hope of salvation (Romans 8.12-25), reminding them that they live because Christ was raised from the dead, and that Christ’s Spirit continues to live within them (Romans 8.10-11).
What it means to be the dwelling-place of the Spirit is now explored further. Paul suggests that the cry of believers to the God whom they recognise as “Abba! Father!” is the sign that they have received a “spirit of adoption” (Romans 8.15). They are on their way, thanks to their baptismal share in Christ’s suffering, to sharing Christ’s inheritance of glory (Romans 8.17).
This inheritance extends beyond the community of the faithful to the whole creation, which hopes for the children of God to be made visible (Romans 8.19) and for its own liberation from bondage. In fact, it is hard to separate the two; for the groaning labour pains of creation, as this new humanity is born, are echoed by the groans of those who, having received the Spirit, wait for their own adoption, and for the destiny of the body, which is discussed in more detail elsewhere (Romans 8.22-23, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 3.21).
Christopher Tuckett urges readers of Romans to trust that Paul means what he says when he indicates that the embrace of salvation is wide. The Christ-event, he tells us, is much more than Adam’s sin and, therefore, much more in its life-giving effect than the effect of death. If some are “perishing” or “condemned” at the present time, “this is not God’s final word. The ultimate hope is that, in the end, all will indeed be saved and that God will be all in all” (“Paul and Universalism” in Revealed Wisdom, edited by John Ashton, Brill, 2014).