Parable of the Wheat and Tares, by Father Basil William Maturin

the enemy sowing taresHe proposed another parable to them. “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.”‘”

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.” – Matthew 1324-30;36-43

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In the Parable of the Sower, our Lord showed three causes of the failure of grace: superficiality, lack of perfect conversion, pre-occupation of mind, whether with pleasure or trouble. These either act as a complete barrier to the growth of grace or stifle and choke it.

But all these obstacles lie in ourselves; they are in one way or another the outcome of a lack of self-discipline or proper preparation. They are natural difficulties which should be met by proper precautions and with due care. True, indeed, we must look for help from God’s Holy Spirit to overcome them, but all that help would be absolutely useless without our own personal efforts. Prayer and Sacraments will not make a thoughtless person think, nor one whose mind is overburdened with trouble calm and trustful, without any effort on their own part. These must practise mental discipline, must use natural means, while at the same time they look to God. The mind, with which we do our daily duties, is, as we have already noticed, the same instrument with which we think about God and pray. If, in all the ordinary concerns of life, we are careless and slovenly and lacking in thoroughness, we shall never be able to perform our spiritual duties with earnestness and devotion. Men wonder sometimes that their religious life is so complete a failure, and they think that God deals hardly with them, but they have only to look at their natural life to learn the reason of these failures. They cannot pray, they cannot meditate, they cannot get any fruit from their communions for the very same reason that they cannot do their work accurately, cannot concentrate their minds even upon the things that are pleasant for them to contemplate.

There are then causes of failure that are purely natural, and they must be met by natural means; ‘Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.’ (Exodus 14:15)

There are not wanting persons who attribute all their faults and all their failures to the personal action of the Devil, but, in fact, it is possible that in many cases the Devil has simply to leave them to their own carelessness, or sloth, or worldliness, and the evil will work itself out. It was not necessarily the Devil who tempted you to that distraction in prayer; it was your own mind, which you had never taken the trouble to train, that fell into its ordinary habit of wandering whither it listed. It was not the Devil that choked that better aspiration before it bore the fruit of a good act; it was your own characteristic way of allowing the thought of some coming pleasure, or the pressure of anxiety, to take possession of your mind and to crush out the thought of better things.

There is the danger with many, in a lazy kind of self-defence, of attributing all their faults to the personal action of the Devil, but at the same there is a greater danger with others of ignoring the power and the work of the Devil altogether.

In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares our Lord shows us that there is a supernatural as well as a natural cause of the evil that is in us. The good seed is hindered not only by the unprepared condition of the soil in which it is planted, or upon which it falls, but by the Tares which the enemy may sow in the best and most carefully prepared soil.

‘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.’

There are, then, two sowers, the sower that goes out to sow ‘his seed’ and ‘the seed is the word of God;’ and the sower which is his enemy, the enemy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who follows in his foot-steps to sow tares in his field, that field of man’s nature which belongs to Christ

How often, as we look into our souls and wonder at the evil that we find there, do we not ask of ourselves and of others, ‘Whence hath it tares?’ How strange it is to see a child, well brought up and carefully guarded from contact with sin, showing one day an evil curiosity or the tokens of a bad knowledge which it has somewhere acquired. Its mother asks, ‘Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares?’ and she answers herself, ‘An enemy hath done this.’ She will not believe that that evil is natural to her child. She knows that it must have been planted in her by another, and that other the enemy alike of God and man, the sower which, like a dark shadow, ever follows stealthily on the footsteps of our Lord to supplant or to destroy His work.

How often we are startled at the sudden suggestion of evil that comes unbidden into our own minds, as clearly as if the words were spoken in our ears by another, or as if a picture were placed before our eyes. Such thoughts were not suggested by the surroundings. It may be in the most sacred surroundings that, without any warning, the evil suddenly darts into our mind. ‘I will not believe that these thoughts are my own,’ we protest; ‘an enemy hath done this.’ Saint Paul speaks of the evil of concupiscence, and in a certain sense personifies the evil within him as being distinct from himself. ‘If I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.’ (Romans 7:20) How much more can we say it of a vast deal of the evil that comes to us somehow quite independently of any action of our own will.

Thus we may consider the soul under three conditions: in its own natural condition of mingled good and evil; or as giving nourishment to the good seed of grace implanted in it by the hand of Christ, and bringing forth the divine fruit thirty-fold, sixty-fold, an hundred-fold; or as giving nourishment to the tares of supernatural evil, that evil which has been implanted in it by another sower – the enemy of Jesus Christ.

We have considered how the natural hindrances prevent the growth of the good seed. Let us now see how the supernatural evil works.

It is a seed planted in the soil. The seed is sown, and then the sower goes his way; there is no more that he can do. Whether that evil seed ever grows to maturity or not depends altogether, like the good seed, upon the soil.

It is a seed, small, almost imperceptible at first, yet it may be the beginning of the greatest sin. Wrapped up within the folds of the little seed there lies potentially the great tree that one day may grow from it, if only it is planted in a nourishing soil; and from the little seed of evil, a wrong thought or desire, a doubt, a look, a question, suggested by an evil curiosity, springs the great and manifold form of sin, which in time grows to such vast and unforeseen proportions. Many a man can trace back the sin which throughout his life has caused him the most bitter sorrow and the deepest remorse, to something that was said or done or shown him in his early boyhood, which he did not, perhaps, understand, but only had the feeling that all was not right, and which in time grew and laid more and more hold upon him till every power in his nature was sacrificed to nourish the seed which has ruined his life – ‘the enemy sowed his seed and went his way.’ The same evil suggestion may be made to another and may never be able to grow. For however great may be the power of development which the seed possesses, it cannot grow unless it fall into a soil that will give it nourishment

We are told that many of the most deadly diseases owe their origin to microscopic germs which float about in the air, and that while they are breathed in by multitudes of people, the disease is caught only by those whose physical state is such as to give nourishment to them. Some breathe them unharmed; others at once fall victims to their deadly effects. Pestilence is not whimsical nor indiscriminate; it knows its victims when it sees them coming. To some it means death; others it is powerless to hurt

It is just the same with the spiritual disease of sin. The evil sower goes out to sow his seed and some falls harmless upon a soil that from the first rejects it; others into a soil that quickly assimilates it, and it grows with a terrible rapidity. What a solemn thing it is to see a group of young men going out into life; to whom among them will it be life indeed, to whom will it be death? Whom will the fever seize upon and slay; which of them will be able to reject it and pass through its contagion in safety? The seed is ever being scattered by the relentless hand of him who fain would make human nature the soil to produce his poisonous weeds; but, thank God, there are multitudes into whose hearts the seed falls without response and harmless. ‘Two men walk through the vilest streets in our city, one of them has nothing in him but selfishness and low love of self-indulgence; the other is glowing with human charity, seeking perhaps some child of his who has wandered into that dreadful hell, or longing, it may be, to pluck out of the burning some man or woman’s life whose fiery iniquity makes those streets the streets of hell. Why is it that one man fills himself full of the iniquity through which he walks, steeps himself in its vileness, and the other comes out with garments all the whiter for the flame?’ In the one case the seed has fallen upon soil which is all too good and nourishing; in the other case it has fallen upon soil which has hardened itself against it. We might take in this Parable the different soils which are spoken of in the Parable of the Sower and apply them to the evil seed. We might thus see the evil seed fall upon the beaten or rocky or thorny or good ground, each soil being more or less adapted to give it nourishment

It is, then, with sin as it is with grace. The evil may be planted, but it can only be planted in its germinal state, the growth must depend upon ourselves. No power external to ourselves, no suggestions of evil, no atmosphere, however sin-laden or fevered with contagion, can make us bad. There have been men and women whose lives were lived in constant and close contact with sights of sin, but it never was able to take possession of their hearts; they kept themselves pure in the midst of it all. They are like those of whom our Lord spoke long ago. These signs shall follow them that believe: ‘They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.’ (Mark 16:18) The life that is within them is so strong that it keeps the disease of sin at bay. And there are others whose lives from the very first have been sheltered and protected in no ordinary way from contact with evil, yet who seem to have an instinctive aptitude for catching it and falling a prey to whatever contagion of evil may by chance approach them.

The circumstances and surroundings of life will not make us either good or bad; it depends upon ourselves. We must exercise our own free will in the acceptance or rejection either of grace or of sin. God cannot lift us up and sanctify us in spite of ourselves, nor, on the other hand, can all the powers of hell combined force us to commit one single sin against our will. They may suggest it, they may fill the whole air with vileness, they may make pictures of evil dance before our eyes; but it rests with ourselves whether we give them nourishment and let them do us any harm. To us, as truly as to Christ, Satan can but make the suggestion and wait for us to accept or refuse – ‘Cast thyself down’ – but never can he say ‘I will cast thee down.’ True, we may not know, we never do know in fact, the full consequences of our decision. We do not know all that is involved in the yielding to that first suggestion of evil. Who indeed would yield if he did know? It may have seemed at the moment but a very trivial thing; but we knew that it was wrong, and we knew that we had the power to decide one way or the other. The seed fell into the soil, we accepted it and dwelt upon it, and forthwith it began to grow. The more, therefore, we know ourselves naturally to be inclined to evil of any kind, the more unwearied we should be in watching, lest the seed should be planted which can grow with such rapidity beyond all power of anticipation.

For our Lord says, the seed was planted ‘while men slept’ One moment’s thoughtlessness, and the evil may be done for a life. The hand of the enemy is stretched out ready to scatter the seed; one half-hour’s conversation, one visit, one unguarded look, one question asked and answered, one look into that bad book, and the seed is sown, and the enemy goes his way, content to bide his time; but he knows full well, if we do not, the fearful vitality of evil, and perchance he knows better than we do the soil in which he has planted it

Ah, yes, what would we not give to obliterate from our life and memory the evil learnt in one day, in one hour perhaps; but we cannot It seems a terrible punishment for a moment’s thoughtlessness, or even for one act of deliberate sin, that it should thus grow and spread and bear fruit and shed seed, and cover not only our own nature, but ruin others also. Yet this is not God’s doing; it is but the working out of a natural law. God’s warning against all tampering with evil has, from the very first, ever been the same and the wisest for men: Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ‘ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’ (Genesis 3:5) It is in the midst of the garden of life, intruding itself upon our thoughts, forcing itself upon our notice. It lies, it may be, upon the road that leads to the Tree of Life; but God’s warning is clear. He bids us keep away from it, feed ourselves upon all the other fruits of the garden; eat of the Tree of Life and so have no appetite for the forbidden fruit It is easier to guard against the knowledge of evil, however wearying the watch may be, than to undo its effects. It is better to keep a sleepless vigil while the footstep of the evil sower is heard, than in a moment’s sleep to admit him to sow the seed which a lifetime cannot uproot To remedy the consequences of that first act of evil curiosity committed in Eden, nothing less than the Incarnation and the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was needed, and even that mighty remedy, how ineffectual it has proved for many.

Yet it is the one longing which the penitent has, at least at the beginning of his conversion, that he may be as though he had never sinned. Later on, it is true, as he grows in grace he grows in patience, and is more willing, yes, even thankful, to be permitted to bear the consequences of what he has done; but at first, the one longing of his heart is at once and at any cost to pluck up the tares which have been left to grow so long.

The servants said unto Him, ‘Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?’ – may we not destroy them and have done with them? So does the soul feel when it awakens to the sense of its sin, and often it thinks it can be done, that by a great effort of the will and an earnest struggle it can root out the evil that has grown there, and in time be as though it had never sinned. It is only as years go on and the struggle- increases and penitence deepens, that it learns the full, deep meaning of those words of our Lord: He answered to the soul’s longing to be rid of the consequences of its past acts, ‘Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together till the harvest.’ The secret of recovery is, therefore, by struggling, by suffering, and by endurance. Temptation will go on perhaps to the end of life; the two seeds have been sown in the same soil, and each is struggling for the nourishment necessary for its growth, which can be drawn only from the soil of the soul. This struggle must go on, the memories of the past, the desire for evil, the awakened passion hungering for its indulgence, nature craving after the forbidden fruit which it has tasted, all this must go on. He who has known sin can never be in this world as though he had not known it Desires have been stirred up in him that other men have no knowledge of; his penitence now must be tested, and the growth of the soul secured by the resistance to those temptations which have been indulged in the past I will not tell the drunkard that if he turns to God in penitence he will ere long be as the man who never was a drunkard, or the sensualist that soon he will forget or hate his sensuality; I will tell him something better and more inspiring than that, I will give him a more manly hope. I will tell him that he may perhaps be tempted all his life, that he will have to avoid things that other men might do with impunity, that he will see evil where other men may see none, that at times the old passion will waken in all its fury and cry for food with an insistence and an energy that seem at times impossible to resist, that he will feel its cravings like the cravings of one dying of hunger or thirst, that at times he may have to endure agonies both of mind and body to keep himself from a relapse, but that all this is the condition and the earnest of recovery and of final success. He might have lived without ever knowing this fearful struggle; but now he cannot By this means his sincerity is put to the test, and his will is enabled to recover from the weakness with which it baa been prostrated by reason of past sin.

This is what our Lord teaches in His answer to the servants who longed by one strong decisive act to root out the growing evil. It cannot be done. You will pluck up the wheat with it The habits, both good and bad, that form the character are too closely interwoven; they cannot be destroyed in a moment: there is but one remedy – starve out the evil, let it die for want of food, give it no support, no nourishment, no place for fresh roots to spread; surrender all the powers of your nature, memory and imagination, thought and feeling to the support of the good seed; the tares will die off, and at the time of harvest will readily be separated from the wheat.

This is the hope, the strength of the penitent This must be his one endeavour, to let no power of his soul or body give a moment’s nourishment to the evil that once he delighted in. And this he must do in two ways: first by constant effort against those sins, keeping out of the way of temptation, refusing to let his mind dwell upon that evil upon which in the past it had been in the habit of feeding. But this is not all. It is but poor encouragement to tell a sinner he must not sin; he must do something if he is to refrain from evil; he must ‘do good,’ he must fill his life so full with good things, good thoughts, good hopes, that there is no time to dwell upon evil. If ‘his eyes are to be turned away lest they behold vanity,’ he must also be ‘quickened in God’s way.’ He must feed upon something, he must have occupation for his active nature, and so he must use his powers to the full in the service of God. Penitence discloses itself not merely in the desire to be rid of sin, but in the effort to do good The victory over sin cannot have any assurance of permanence except by the growth in holiness. Bad habits can only be conquered by the formation of good. The reformation of life begins with that interior revolution which consists in ‘yielding ourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God.’ (Romans 6:13) Let evil be supplanted by good, let the soil of nature give its best gifts to the support of the seed of grace, ‘then in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares and bind them in bundles to bum them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Then the dead, dried-up stalks of the tares that disfigured the field will be plucked up and destroyed, and the soil will be completely restored, and the effect of past sin will be remedied. ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;’ the garments, once so stained, will be spotless in their restored purity; ‘these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.’ (Revelation 7:14)