This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 13:24–43:
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Unfortunately, this weekend did not give me much opportunity to prepare for this week’s reflection. In fact, I have been spending most of my weekends this spring and summer doing something I have rarely done … clean out the clutter in my house. Just to give people an idea of how unusual this is for me, I have sent pictures of the various areas on which I’ve worked, and they have replied, “Who are you and what have you done with Ed?”
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that some of these areas haven’t been this clean since we moved into the house 22 years ago. A few weeks ago, I started with the garage, throwing out a vast amount of junk, and only salvaging a few items I had stored there. I built new storage shelves so that I could clean out other areas of my house and get anything really worth keeping out from the inside and put away efficiently. The laundry-room subbasement was next, which took me most of a week to accomplish, although there is still a small amount of organizing left.
This weekend, it’s the office. This one will take me several weeks to truly organize, and it might just be the end of me. I don’t know if I can truly exist in a clean office. Some of my former bosses might turn over in their graves if it comes to pass, even the ones who are still alive. That’s how bad it gets.
What got into me this year? In part, it’s the COVID-19 spring fever, but only in part. This year I felt a great need to purge, finally catching up with my long-suffering wife who felt this need years ago. In some way, though, there is a spiritual sense to this work, and today’s Gospel captures this for me.
The parable of weeds among the harvest has a core meaning that is readily apparent. It talks about the encroachment of sin in the world, and how it saps the strength from the wheat. Unfortunately, it accomplishes that theft by tying itself so closely to the goodness of the crop that to kill the weeds would mean to kill the wheat, too. The Farmer Himself could choose to do that, but He loves the crop and wants to keep it safe, and so waits for the harvest to cull the weeds while helping the wheat to survive.
Sin is like this for us, too. It binds us by binding itself to our very natures, so much so that an intervention to end all sin would damage us, probably eternally, if we are not prepared for it. This is the role of the scriptures and the apostles — to help us to separate from sin as much as possible, and to love and rely on the Good Farmer to help us along the way to that final harvest — salvation.
The parallels of this process to my 2020 project has occurred to me from time to time as well. I ask myself, How did I collect and keep all this junk, to the point where it interferes with my life in this house? And the answer is that it was just too easy to toss it aside than to make the real choices necessary to clean up.
Sin is like this as well; it is part of our nature to be predisposed to sin and disobedience. If we do not make a concerted effort to dispense with sin, it collects all around us. When it does, it becomes our new normal. Sin is the weed in our own lives, not just in the world as in Jesus’ parable, and the more weeds we allow to grow around us, the harder it is to resist the process of getting choked out from them. Even worse, being surrounded by the weeds of sin can make us forget our true nature and convince us that we are nothing but weeds ourselves. We have to constantly try to reject the weeds and keep ourselves strong as children of God, to be the good wheat.
The longer we wait to do this, the tougher it becomes to clean out. It is very easy to look at the task ahead in those situations and simply despair, just as it was in each phase of my clearing-out project. In the case of sin, however, the good news is that it’s never too late to get started. As long as we live, we can recover ourselves and our true natures in the Lord, because the Good Farmer will give us the grace and love necessary to reject the weeds and strengthen ourselves for His service.
It’s never too late, and always the right season, for a good spring cleaning in our hearts. As for my office, well … hope to see you next Sunday in this same space.
The front-page image is a detail from “Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee,” Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-11. On display at the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.