THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
"My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old" (Psalm 78:1–2)
So wrote a Psalmist of Israel who foresaw a teacher of great knowledge, one who would bring understanding to ancient and hidden wisdom. In the Gospel appointed for this fifth Sunday after Epiphany we learn that Jesus is the One of whom the Psalmist wrote, the One who teaches hidden truths through parables. In the words of our Lord, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We must always remember that divine truths can only be apprehended by the spiritual, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).
Perhaps you are familiar with St. Anselm’s maxim: “Faith seeks understanding.” By this saying, Anselm didn’t intend to replace faith with understanding, rather, he understood faith as the necessary volitional disposition: understanding that love for God is the prime motive to act as God wills. Ultimately, Anselm hoped for the salvation of those who did not believe, his proofs for the God of scripture were given not only to strengthen those of faith, but to convince unbelievers as well. Jesus also desires the salvation of every man, woman and child. “Therefore,” Jesus said, “speak I to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” Here is the merciful motive of our Savior who presented truth in parables, in a form accessible to the senses, which would at the same time serve both to conceal and to reveal truth, according to the state of the hearers; that they might understand and believe. But again, spiritual truths are only discerned by the spirit. This morning, through the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus teaches important truths about the Kingdom of Heaven as it pertains to the administration and government of his Church. For the church in which we live out the Christian life is comprised of both wheat and tares. But, it is also a church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Good Sower.
St. Matthew begins,
ANOTHER parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
Christ’s church is a mixed church. Now, what we learn is that the mixed character of the Church is not due to Christ, Who sowed in His field the good seed of His life and example, of holy teachings and ordinances, watering it with the blood of His Cross and the dew of His Spirit. But in spite of all He taught, did, and suffered, there is, as He Himself foretold, evil in the Church, for as we learn in this parable, there is also an enemy sowing his own children. Now in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus describes the devil as a father of lies, and tells those who are opposing him that they’re not truly children of Abraham, our father in faith, because his word had no room among them. Rather Jesus said,
you belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a manslayer from the beginning and does not stand in truth because there’s no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
But the lies the evil one sows at night, in a darkness that hates the light, are not so outlandish that they can be easily spotted. In fact, they seem like truth, they seem like good seed. The weeds Jesus is describing in this parable initially look very much like wheat. As they sprout from the soil and begin to grow it’s almost impossible, even for farmers, to distinguish them from the wheat. It’s only later, when they’ve grown sufficiently, that you can tell the difference, but by that point their roots are so intertwined with the roots of the wheat that you can’t uproot the weeds without destroying the wheat, so farmers need to let them grow until harvest time and then go through the laborious process of separating the wheat from the weeds by hand.
Similarly, at the beginning, many of the lies of the devil seem credible. We see this in the garden with Adam and Eve. We see this in so many of the temptations we face in faith. The devil is a crafty sower. Outright lies and deceits plainly seen as evil loses power over hearts that are made to seek the good. But oftentimes it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the seeds of good and evil, the tares which grow in such a way that their roots become firm in us and it’s very hard to get rid of them. And, as we look out across the field of this world, there seems to be more weeds than wheat. Like farmers we are tempted to lose hope for a successful harvest, or, we brace at the sheer amount of work it’s going to take to separate the wheat from chaff.
But Jesus doesn’t seem to share our same fears. When the servants ask him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? The Master replies, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” The servants were so worried and obsessed about the weeds. The Master was not. He wants the attention of the good servants away from the tares and redirected on bearing fruit, on doing good, rather than on the eradication of evil. This is a very important lesson for us. Too often we obsess on the problems of others’ not practicing the faith, on challenges which arise from a mixed field, about the vast multiplication of tares in our part of the vineyard or in other parts of the field that we can fail to bear fruit. These weeds, in many respects, become like the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed, where the thorns eventually choked the growth of the good seed. Jesus is saying “focus on doing good and let me worry about the field.”
He tells us this because we can’t see all that he sees. The parable indicates to us that in the early days, we can’t tell who the good seed is and who is bad; who are truly children of the kingdom and who are children of the evil one; who is living according to the truth and who is living according to half-truths. Most of us, if we’re honest, have a Christian hubris that presumes we are the children of the kingdom, that we’re the true wheat, and that others are the tares, but our eyes are incapable of truly seeing that. If we had started our deracinating work too early, just think, we would have lost St. Peter, whose first words were that he was a sinner. We would have lost the Apostle Paul, who’s previous occupation was tormenting Christians. We would have lost a young and lustful St. Augustine.
We ourselves, at so many times in our life, likewise, would have been uprooted and thrown away. But as the Lord said to Moses I am a “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” You see, the mercy of God extends for a thousand generations, far greater than the three to four generations that our sins can damage. Therefore, I urge each and every one of us to be patient; wait to see the true growth, to see what happens in the seedbed of the Lord’s mercy. When we focus too much on eliminating weeds it becomes easier for them to envelop us. Our first and primary task is to allow the seed of the Word of God to grow in us, to allow that fallen grain of divine grace to develop in the soil of our hearts so that we may become fruit-bearing wheat. To be that good seed which the Sower can plant in the midst of the world, scattered amidst the soil of others hearts so that they in turn, may grow up to be true wheat as well. God wants the children of the kingdom to shine like the sun in the midst of a dark night, so that those walking in darkness may see the children of light and follow them into the radiance of the day: a day that will know no sunset. Let us leave to the Lord the sifting that will be necessary to do later and focus on the fields of the world which are ripe with harvest.
The Lord Jesus Christ is that divine and heavenly seed which has been implanted in our hearts for the purpose of bearing fruit, the fruit which grows from loving and faithful union with him. The fruit which serves as a testimony to the Good Sower who saved us from our sins, must first grow and multiply at home; evidenced in the way we treat one another; how we love each other:
PUT on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, mercy and compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him.
Mercy, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness… In other words, let “Christ dwell in you richly…” Nurture and preserve the word which was implanted in your soul. Let it conform every fiber of your being. Let it your mind become as the mind of Christ, your speech unto godliness, and your wills directed toward all that is good and lovely. And above all, says the Apostle, “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” By such as these are the wheat known. Beloved, let us love one another in the church (even if that means we may love a tare or two) as Christ loves us. Let us be directed onto charity and good works; not judging too quickly, but patient, long suffering, and full of grace. And by our love for others, may the world come to know our savior Jesus Christ: the sower of good seed. Amen