Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Revised Standard Version)
See also: Matthew 13:37-43
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Fifth Sunday following Pentecost, Feast of the Discovery of the Box of the Mother of God), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
The parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (also known as the parable of the Tares or the parable of the Wheat and the Tares) follows the parable of the Sower and precedes the parable of the Mustard Seed. The weeds referred to in the parable (որոմն) are a grass called darnel. Until modern technology enabled darnel seeds to be separated from wheat seeds, this weed grass was a serious threat to the growers of wheat. In fact, in New Testament times, the Roman law prohibited the planting of darnel seeds among the wheat. A kind of imposter, darnel mimics wheat, bearing a very close resemblance in its early stages of growth until it matures, at which point the difference between the two is apparent. What makes darnel such a threat is its toxicity. In fact, the Latin name for darnel, Lolium temulentum comes from the word for “drunk,” referring to nausea that comes from ingesting the plant. If the seeds are ingested, it can cause dizziness and nausea, and a large enough dose can even be fatal. As a result, farmers would take special care to separate the darnel from the wheat at the final harvest.
St. John Chrysostom preaches about the sinister scheme with which we are daily confronted:
For indeed this also is a part of the devil’s craft, by the side of the truth always to bring in error, painting thereon many resemblances, so as easily to cheat the deceivable.
A Wakeful and Mature Faith
The difference between those who belong to the Kingdom of God and those who do not, is not always apparent. We all know people who seem to have the same values as Christians and their absence of faith in God seems to have no rendering in how they live and their level of happiness. Some of these individuals may even be integrated into the life of the Church. So what is the Church to do? At this moment in the epoch of God’s Kingdom and the Church, it is too dangerous, and also not our place, to judge and uproot what seem to be weeds. Jesus, therefore, tells us to wait until the final harvest when he will send his reapers to rightly separate the weeds from the wheat.
Since it is not obvious as to who is the wheat and who are the tares, perhaps we should make it a practice to often ask this of ourselves. How do I know whether or not I am wheat or a weed? It should be easy enough, right? The children of the wicked one (the weeds) don’t believe in God, they live without any reference to him, they place priority on their own comfort rather than others, they are indifferent to the existence of God, anything to do with the Church is insignificant and irrelevant, they don’t pray continuously, and they don’t forgive their enemies. Are we sure that never describes our own lives at times? As a parish community or global Church?
Perhaps the danger is not the inability to distinguish weeds from wheat, but the refusal to mature into wheat and remain as such. Thankfully, we have a Lord who defers his judgment until the final harvest, patiently waiting for us to return to him no matter how many times we turn our backs. Gratefully, we belong to the Church, the Body of Christ, who offers the opportunity of penitential healing through repentance and the saving sacrament of Holy Communion. Not until the age of maturity can the darnel be distinguished from the wheat, and so God is looking for a mature faith, but also a faith that is awake. After all, the enemy sowed his seeds while the men were sleeping. St. John Chrysostom preaching on this parable said,
And these things Christ said, instructing us to always be wakeful. Sleep occasions our ruin, and so there is need of continual watchfulness. And how is it possible not to sleep? Indeed, as to natural sleep, it is not possible, but as to our moral faculty, it is possible.
Similarly, St. Gregory Nazianzus, in his oration on Holy Baptism warned his listeners,
Only be not ignorant of the measure of grace; only let not the enemy, while you sleep, maliciously sow tares.
What does it mean to be asleep? It means not living according to faith, but being apathetic, compromising our faith with things that distract us from the Lord, turning our back to him and thus, rupturing our divine communion with him, cutting ourselves off from his peace and healing. Preferring anything more than God and his love for us.
What does it mean to be awake? It means to be sober, not intoxicated as a result of ingesting the darnel seeds. It means to not be deceivable, which means to cling as closely as we can to the Truth, Jesus Christ. As St. Paul warns the Church in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:6-7), “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Being awake means being in prayer, always. The night Jesus was betrayed, he instructed his disciples to,
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
And this warning from St. Peter’s first letter:
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. (I Peter 5:8)
Unless we remain awake in our faith, alert, sober, healthy, take in the right nutrition (Holy Communion, Scripture, prayer, reading the Church Fathers, asking for the intercession of the Saints, confession of sin), always repenting, forgiving, never giving the enemy a chance to sow tares, we will become lethargic, willingly accepting the seeds sown by the enemy.
St. Gregory of Narek installs himself into the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, personalizes it, as should we, and honestly reprimands himself:
And now, your store of iniquities,
the accumulated wages of your wicked ways,
my soul, are enough to condemn you twice to death.
Seeds sown by the enemy upon the grain fields
of the world, which you willingly accepted in yourself (Prayer 45)
Evil, heresy, and false teaching will exist alongside us until the consummation of the age, until the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. Jesus warns us to be ready for evil seeds to be sown among us, to be awake, mature, and distinguishable, and so our faith entails a sense of urgency. The Church is called to be the guardian of the world, a voice of hope to the world, the love of Christ to the world, always alert, mature, and vigilant. God has entrusted us, the Church, with his work. His mission is much too vital and important for lethargic faith. We can’t afford to be caught sleeping, allowing judgment, gossip, division, and secular values and priorities to enter and dominate the Church, overtaking the mission given to us by God. What impact does this parable have on our personal lives, on our parish community? Do we reflect Christian maturity in order for the angels of God to justly distinguish us from the weeds? If we are weeds, are we willing to obey and be transformed by Christ into wheat?
Until the Final Harvest
It’s not straightforward how the Kingdom of God grows, and there is no direct answer in this life of how God rules or judges, how he sifts the weeds from the wheat. Baptism, as important and vital as it is for salvation, is not a badge or guarantee. It is the beginning of the journey of faith and the process of salvation. God is looking for a mature faith, one that is distinguishable from an immature or imposter faith. In the meantime, God tells us to patiently wait as we anticipate the full outworking and consummation of the Kingdom of God, at which he will reconcile all things. Judgment is up to the Sower of good seeds – Jesus. He will defeat and confront evil.
This is why the parable of the Weeds also explains why the Church neither condemns her nominal members nor judges those outside the Church (see I Corinthians 5:12-13). The seventh century Armenian Church Father, Stepanos Siwnetsi, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, explains why the Good Sower allows the tares to remain among the wheat:
They are left to grow until the harvest or the destruction of the tares in the event they change and become wheat.
The final harvest leaves room for all of us to repent and live penitentially, it gives us time to practice our faith, mature in our faith, to convert from a tare to wheat, and to convert others as well.
What can the Parable of the Weeds tell us about the art of evangelism, even within our own community? Are we quick to judge, or do we leave judgment up to God and let the Holy Spirit and the teachings of the Church bring conviction? What does this parable tell us about the patience of God and how we should reflect that same kind of patience toward others, including unbelievers?
The Box of the Mother of God
Of the 8 feasts dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, this Sunday in the Armenian Church is the “Feast of the Discovery of the Box of St. Mary,” which is always commemorated on the fifth Sunday following Pentecost. Since the body of St. Mary was assumed into heaven after she died, her personal belongings soon became holy relics to be venerated within the Church. According to holy tradition, the box, which at one time housed a veil with the image of the Holy Mother, was discovered by two Greek princes on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
As is the case with many holy relics, many cures and miracles were attributed to the box of St. Mary. To our modern minds, this may seem extraordinary, but St. Gregory the Enlightener taught something that is very unique to the Armenian Church, that each person has his or her own “Park” (Փառք), which means glory, surrounding them. A person’s Փառք, the character or quality of who that person is and what they do, is an actual thing or substance, and after a person dies it remains in a person’s bones, as well as with items that person touched. A Փառք can also be passed on to others. The objects, of course, point to and give glory to God, but one can see why relics carry such an importance in the Armenian Church from ancient times.
As pure and holy as the Mother of God is, cures attributed to the box of St. Mary should be of no surprise. We also see examples of the power of personal items associated with holy people in Scripture:
And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)
One of the many strange yet powerfully fascinating stories from the Old Testament involves the bones of the prophet Elisha, who the Armenian Church remembers during the sixth week of Pentecost. We read in the book of II Kings (13:20-21),
So Elisha died, and they buried him…And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet.
The holiness contained in the Box of St. Mary is a reflection of her ultimate humility and trust in God. Just as she responded to the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38),” may we learn from her example as we entrust our lives into the hands of God, and pray for his holiness to overshadow us. Ponder your own Փառք, the wisdom, and grace that God has granted you to live for him. What else makes up your Փառք? How can you add to it? How will it be inherited by others? Do our lives invite others into the Փառք (Glory) of God?