Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time-A
We are in the middle of our growing season in the northern hemisphere. Trained and untrained gardeners have already spent notable time weeding their gardens from unwanted plants. It is easy to tell the difference between a flower or crop you planted and the pesky weeds that inevitably find a place in your planter or garden.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers a parable about the weeds growing alongside the wheat crop. The farmer planted the wheat seeds, and we are told the enemy has seeded the weeds. His servants noticed the sabotage when the field came to full growth. Being a rural culture, the servants knew the difference between the wheat plants and those which were not. Unlike our knowledge, the weeds growing alongside the wheat plant look identical to the wheat during the growing season. It wasn’t until close to harvest did the servants notice the difference. The weed, called cockle, is a plant often growing in cereal crops in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even to the farmer’s practiced eye, it is impossible to tell the two plants apart until the stalks begin to mature, at which stage the cockle can be recognized by its slender ear and emaciated grain; it is toxic to humans, and if mixed with flour, it will ruin the bread.
The parable concludes with the master telling his servants to wait for harvest before uprooting the weeds for fear of damaging the good wheat plants. Further, they are instructed to take the cockle and throw it into a fire while the wheat is taken to the barn’s safety. Clearly, Jesus is explaining the eschatological (end times) realities of those whose lives produced fruit and those who did not. Fire is an unmistakable reference to hell, and the Kingdom of Heaven are the plants that are saved.
The contrast between heaven and hell could not be more apparent. Those who are destined for heaven are the type of persons who have produced good fruit in the course of their life. The non-producers, during their life, look just like the righteous in almost every way; they have jobs and families also, but the big difference between the two is that one is life-giving and the other is not.
So, it begs the question, what exactly does it mean to be life-giving? Here we can use the example of the wheat plant to understand the concept further. According to its nature, the wheat plant grows to maturity and produces grain to have the ability to reproduce itself season after season. The ears of wheat can also enrich other creatures, namely human beings. Wheat survives from year to year but also gives parts of its life to others for their survival.
Conversely, the cockle also grows to maturity and produces fruit to propagate its kind well into the future. The difference is that the ears of the cockle only serve to help the plant and cannot be used to enrich humanity. In essence, the cockle is only concerned about its own life and not the life of anyone or thing.
We can surmise that the Kingdom of Heaven will be filled with people who have cared for themselves while living lives benefitting others. Their purpose in life is the keen understanding that they have to give part of their life to others so they can live fully and satisfy the reason for their existence.
On the other hand, the kingdom of hell is governed by the evil one whose whole existence is to destroy life and convince people to do the same by focusing only on themselves and denying their natures.
Nothing mentioned so far is earth-shattering or even novel for a Christian. Now try and consider something you may have yet to think about. Being a person who is the source of life to others takes enormous effort and will on the giver’s part. To be life-giving means doing things for others when it is most inconvenient and when you don’t particularly want to.
For those who choose not to be life-giving, no effort is needed. There is never an inconvenient time nor a burden too heavy to bear when the end effect is focused on the self. Nothing to sacrifice, nothing to give, nothing lost. It’s easy to be selfish.
So why wouldn’t I be selfish? The difference is whether you desire the haven of heaven where you will be given an eternity of life or choose a continuation of death. Remember the line from Christmas Carol when the ghost of Marley, who is eternally suffering, appears to Scrooge about his abysmal and selfish life, saying, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard; I girded on by my own free will, and of my own free will, I wore it.”