He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened."
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.
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 13:24-43
One of the beautiful things about Jesus’s parables is that they can operate on different levels at the same time. On the first level, we have the story itself. This week, the majority of the Gospel is focused on the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. In it we hear about a farmer who sowed wheat seeds in his fields, but when it came up he discovered that someone had sown weeds among the wheat. Rather than risk uprooting the wheat by pulling the weeds, he tells his servants to wait until harvest time and then separate the weeds from the wheat. The parable works at this level because it forms a coherent story, but if we leave it simply at this surface level and never dive deeper into it, we lose the meaning behind it and the reason Jesus shared it with us.
On the next level, we find the explanation given by Jesus to the disciples. At this level, the parable operates as an allegory – each aspect of the story stands for something else. In this parable, the events represent what will happen during the Final Judgment at the end of the world. At this time, Jesus will send his angels to separate the faithful from the unfaithful. The faithful will be allowed into heaven and the unfaithful will be cast into Hell. It is a reminder that we need to be ever vigilant in our faithfulness and be aware that the Devil will plant weeds among us to lead us astray.
It would be understandable if we stopped at that second level of understanding. After all, that is the level at which Jesus Himself stopped. Yet it is possible still to dig even deeper into the parable. At this third level, we find that, not only does the story represent what will happen to the world as a whole, it also represents what happens within each person’s life. At this level, we find that the wheat represents the virtues we each try to grow in our lives while the weeds represent our vices and temptations. In every person’s life, these vices and virtues grow alongside each other, and it is our task to separate them out so we can eliminate the vices and strengthen the virtues. In this interpretation, the harvest comes not at the end of our life, but whenever we examine our conscience and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is through this Sacrament that we are able to separate our wheat from our weeds so that our souls can produce a bountiful harvest of faith, hope and charity which will spread to all those around us.