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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"When the cure is worse than the affliction"

Weeds growing among the wheat

“Leave the weeds alone”

(Matthew 13:30)

In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew there is one interesting parable among the many that Jesus told the crowds. The story is quite simple, and in fact most if not all our Lord’s listeners would have understood it right on.  And, let me suggest it has something to teach us, as well.

There was this farmer that went to seed his field.  Eventually, as the stalks began to grow, his assistants noticed weeds growing as well.  So, they asked the farmer if they should go and weed out the field, but the farmer gave them a startling answer.  “Leave the weeds alone until harvest time.  Then, you’ll gather all the weeds, burn them, and store the wheat in my barn.”

From time immemorial family farming has not changed much until the 1800s when industrial agriculture began to develop.  But still, family or subsistence farming continues in many regions of the world even to this day.

Farmers seeded their family’s allotment, lived from their produce, and used the balance for trading and paying taxes.  Plots were far from being neatly squared away.  Boundaries usually followed the natural landscape – a little creek, rock outcrops, or other natural features.

After every harvest, the remaining stubs and the chaff were burned.  Burning allowed some of the nutrients to recycle back into the soil and had a sanitary effect as well.  After the proper rains, the farmer and his assistants would go out and scatter seeds all over the field.  There were no neatly planted rows for there was no land to spare.  Seed was scattered all over the plot. At harvest time, sickle or wooden flail in hand, the farmer together with his assistants harvested, cleaned, and stored the grain away.

Given such conditions, it is easy to appreciate the farmer’s wisdom.  Of course, weeds that grew near the boundaries might have been plucked out.  But even so, with plants so closely planted to each other, some good stalks may have ended uprooted.

Further, having the assistants stepping over good stalks to reach out the weeds in the middle of the field would cause more problems.  At harvest time it would be easier to separate the good seeds from the weeds.  Even if it was not nice to watch the weeds grow and to wonder how much grain could be lost, the damage caused by weeding would have been much worse.

In many ways, all human beings are involved in farming.  Certainly not in the literal sense, but a good part of our lives is dedicated to seed the good seed.  We guide our younger siblings, or we may teach our children.  As professional teachers some plant the good seed of education.  Others, in their respective fields, teach workers.  And I hope you will agree that more than once we may have said or done something that contributed to someone else’s betterment.

And like in the old farmer’s story, we may have found that the saying, “No good deed shall remain unpunished” finds its fulfillment.  Despite the best efforts, “weeds” sprout out of nowhere.  The “weeds” of unintended negative consequences, ingratitude, or the attachment of the most pervert intentions to just an action out of a kind heart, are not unusual.

In a more generic sense, even when one is doing his or her best and live at peace with God and neighbor, one may find aggressive “weeds” sprouting in our own lives.  Sickness, being laid off, a flat tire when one is in a hurry to catch up a flight, family conflicts over things unsubstantial, or a quarrelsome couple leasing our next door’s home, a sick child the day before going on vacation, all and much more suddenly seek to take over life.  Indeed, life – “weeds” – happen to all of us.

If eastern cultures are adept to play the long game of life, we, in contrast, in the West and in particular in our own American culture, doing nothing is counter intuitive.  “Don’t sit still!  Just do something!”, “The best defense is the offense” or “Sue them!” are the buzzwords that crop up whenever one finds “weeds” in his or her own life.  Being still is not an option.  Even when being still is a way to know that God is God.

Of course, sometimes, doing nothing is not an option.  Absolutely.  But isn’t it true that there may be wisdom in entrusting the “weeds” out to God?  No, it doesn’t mean one quits taking a medicine or clearing the air when there is a misunderstanding. 

But still, I like St Paul’s advice, “In what it befits you, be at peace with everyone.”  Unless one subdues others into one’s own version of the “Pax Romana”, one cannot force others to be at peace with anyone. 

And for reasons of their own there are people who will find every other reason not to like one – or the color of one’s skin, the place one was born or the way one dresses.  And so, just by showing up some people will see that one gets what in their own view one deserves – grief, “weeds.”

Like the farmer, it may be necessary to learn to play the long game, knowing that in the end, whatever one may try to do in the short term may cause more harm than good.  Paraphrasing St James, “Righteousness never is the outcome of human weeding.” Learning – like seeds sprouting into grain – needs time.  Learning to entrust God with the weeds may be a challenge.  But as it has been suggested, why don’t try God for size?

Fr. Gustavo

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