Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds ends with a strong, clear word. “At the end of the age,” God’s angels will separate the evildoers from the righteous. The former will be cast into a “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth,” while the latter will “shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” Passages like this can lead us to think of God as a harsh judge, quick to punish those who do not follow his laws. We might fear that, in the end, we will not measure up to God’s standards, and he will count us among the “weeds” to be cast into the eternal fire.

If we read the other readings and the Psalm for today, we will see that the truth about how God deals with us is very different. In the reading from the Book of Wisdom, the writer says to God, “your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all,” and “though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us.” Further on we read, “you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

Continuing in the same vein, the psalmist proclaims: “You, O LORD, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.… You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.”

These words describe to us a God who, although he is certainly powerful and just, is also very merciful and kind, always ready to forgive and have pity on all who turn to him. He has no wish at all to condemn anyone. He understands our brokenness and has compassion on us. Indeed, St. Paul assures us in the second reading that “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.” Even when we do not know how to approach God and ask for his forgiveness and healing, the Spirit is already interceding for us from within our hearts. This is not a picture of a God who is quick to judge and condemn. Rather, this is a God who does all he can to bring us back to himself, who rejoices to welcome the repentant sinner.

How do we reconcile this revelation of our merciful God with Jesus’ description of God separating the evildoers from the righteous and casting the evil ones into the eternal fire? We can begin by considering what weeds are and what wheat is. Weeds exist only for themselves; they do not feed others. Wheat, a symbol Jesus refers to in many parables, serves as food for others. Indeed, he speaks of the “grain of wheat” which “falls to the ground and dies,” and thus bears much fruit (Jn 12:24).

Considered in this light, weeds and wheat represent two ways of living in the world. Those who choose to live like weeds seek only their own good, doing all that they can to gather more wealth, honor, glory, power, pleasure, etc., for themselves. They are happy to use and abuse others if that will help them advance their own goals. They acknowledge no authority outside of their own will. In the end, if people persist in choosing this way of life, it is not harsh judgment for God to declare them “weeds” – it is simply the truth. Such people can never enter Heaven, nor would they even desire to do so. They would be surrounded in Heaven by all that they had rejected in life.

Those who choose to live as wheat, on the other hand, give themselves as food to bring life to others. They find their joy in love, in service. They rejoice to honor God as their Father and seek to follow the way in which he leads his people.

This description of the “wheat” does not imply that those who strive to live this way do so perfectly or without sin. We turn again to the readings and the Psalm and see that God knows very well our weakness and sin, and he is ever ready to pour out his mercy on us. We are assured that he is “good and forgiving.” St. Paul tells us that God “searches hearts.” He knows how much we long to be faithful to his ways, to give ourselves in love in imitation of Christ, and he reaches out to help us even before we know our own need.

The final separation between wheat and weeds, then, is not a separation of those who have followed God’s law perfectly from those who have not. It is rather God confirming to each person what he or she has chosen to become: either a person who depends utterly on God for the grace to give himself in love, who comes before God as a “little one” to beg his healing and forgiveness, or a person who seeks only his own advantage in all things.

Jesus makes it clear in the parable that God is patient. He gives each plant time to develop. Let us use the time that God has given us to turn toward him, repenting of any way in which we have rejected him and his ways, and begging his mercy and healing, so that we can one day be welcomed by him, to “shine like the sun” in his Kingdom.

When have I experienced the good and forgiving God in my life? What are the obstacles that can cause me to choose to be “weeds” and not “wheat”? If I choose to live as “wheat,” how do I give of myself as food to bring life to others?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.