“While everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds through the wheat.” It is significant that our Lord begins His parables about the Kingdom of heaven (Mt 13:24-50) with a reference to the enemy. Our Lord’s Kingdom is not easily established (indeed, only through His sacrifice). Nor is it easily defended. The evil one constantly prowls about looking to sow his weeds in the Kingdom. So the parable of the weeds among the wheat teaches us not just about the Kingdom, but also about how to guard it.
First, the enemy finds his chance “while everyone was sleeping.” We should hear in that reference to sleep not an allusion to the trustful sleep of a child or the peaceful sleep of the just. We should understand instead the sleep of negligence – the spiritual somnolence that afflicts the Apostles in the garden, Dante midway through his life, and our world today.
Sleepiness produces sloppiness. A drowsy guard lets in those he should not – and would not, were he awake. A sleepy thinker fails to make necessary distinctions. His precision suffers, letting things slip that in a more wakeful state he would have caught. In our Lord’s parable, sleepiness provides the enemy the opening he seeks. So also in the Church, our torpor gives the evil one an opening. Our sluggish thinking, our failure to distinguish, and our lack of clarity open the door to the enemy’s weeds.
So the parable calls us to vigilance, a virtue that should characterize the spiritual life of all the faithful. Each one of us must be wakeful and watchful, first of all for the Lord, but also against the evil one – lest he sow evil in our hearts and pollute what God has planted within us.
As regards the Church as a whole, however, the task of vigilance falls to the shepherds. They are to watch over the flock and the field, to be the watchmen spoken of by the prophets (see Jer 6:17; Ez 3:17). Unfortunately, throughout history we see this parable played out in the Church herself: evil gains an entrance due to lack of vigilance. In his day, Saint John Fisher grieved, “The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it.” Those words apply, unfortunately, to many moments in the Church’s history.
The parable also teaches us about an essential tactic of the evil one: confusion. This is his calling card. The Lord brings light and clarity. The evil one brings darkness and confusion. He divides what should be united and blends what should be distinct. In the parable, the enemy mixes bad seed with good. That sabotage was designed to accomplish one of two things. Either the consumers of the crop would suffer illness from the wicked blend, or the servants would harm the good in trying to uproot the bad.
The same evil tactic applies today. Confusion has been sown all around us. We call bad good and good bad. . .we even call man woman and woman man. The consumers of this confusion will be made ill indeed. They will suffer the sadness and pain that comes from our present confusion about marriage, sexuality, and the human person. At the very least, they will suffer the unhappiness of lives unmoored from any meaning or purpose.
And we servants, like those in the parable, are tempted to root out the bad too aggressively – and in so doing to harm the very ones we hope to help. It seems like a bad action movie in which the villain holds some good guys prisoner. We dare not strike for the harm that can be done. Indeed, we can do great damage when we seek to rid the Kingdom here of any semblance of evil, of each and every apparent weed. In the Church’s history, such imprudent zeal has spawned plenty of heresies and sects.
Notice that by this temptation the devil targets not the mediocre or lackadaisical but the zealous and faithful – that is, precisely those servants most concerned about the purity and integrity of faith.
Which brings us to another essential virtue for His servants: patience – the capacity to suffer while waiting for the Lord to act. Without patience we rush in and typically make a wreck of things. The servants must await the harvest – the end of the age – to see things set aright, as the householder promises them he will. Patience differs from the inaction of the unaware and unconcerned. It is not a shrug or resignation. It is the power (virtus) to wait for the Lord’s vindication.
Of course, “vindication” sounds cruel to the world, and perhaps even to many Catholics. It smacks of hardened hearts set on comeuppance and even revenge. But we ought to hope for vindication, else our Lord would not have promised it. Hope has certainty that our Lord will come and reveal His justice; patience peacefully waits for that day.
But it is the vindication of the Lord, not of our own opinion, position, or party that we servants await. By patience we center on Him. . .on His promises and power. It is such servants the Lord desires – those both vigilant for His Kingdom and patient for His coming.