Orthodox America

  Tares Among the Wheat

     Because we are surrounded by a visible, material world, we tend to base our opinions on what we see and hear in our limited personal experience. From this perspective we readily judge and criticize--especially regarding church matters, forgetting that our field of vision encompasses but a small fraction of the picture. And even this fraction is often distorted. As the Apostle says: "We see through a class darkly." To help us adopt a Christian viewpoint, the Lord gave several parables illustrating the hidden workings of the spiritual world. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field…. (Matt. 13:24 25)

In the first group of parables the Lord Jesus Christ set forth the divine teaching concerning the propagation of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, by which we are to understand Christ's Church on earth. At first it was comprised of the twelve Apostles and Christ's closest disciples. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, however, it began very quickly to spread to various countries, wherever the Apostles preached. By its spiritual nature Christ's Church cannot be limited--either territorially, nationally, culturally, linguistically or by any other purely external measure, for it penetrates the souls of men, illumining their mind and conscience and directing their will towards the good. In the parables those people who become members of Christ's Church are called "children of the Kingdom."

     Christ's Church on earth, by nature a spiritual kingdom, also has, of necessity, a visible aspect which helps it to guide the lives and behavior of its people. This task is made more difficult by the fact that not everyone becomes a Christian through strong, inner conviction and the desire to follow God's will in all things. Some become Christian simply by force of circumstance, as for example, those who follow a common tradition, or those baptized in childhood by their parents. Others, although they begin working upon their salvation with a sincere desire to serve God, later fall into spiritual languor; they become lazy and careless towards the work of saving their souls. For these reasons it is evident that there can belong to the Church people whose errant behavior and even grave sins cause censure to fall upon the Church as a whole.

    In the parable about the tares, the Lord speaks of the unfortunate fact that in this temporal life good and faithful members of the Heavenly Kingdom coexist with those whom the Lord distinguishes from the children of the Kingdom, calling them "children of the wicked one." The tares in this parable--found in the 13th charter of St. Matthew's Gospel--represent not only temptations often encountered in church life, but also those people who willfully engage in wrongdoings or who lead a disorderly way of life. Church history is spattered with all sorts of incidents which can in no way be attributed to divine initiative. Such, for example, are the outbreaks of numerous heresies, church unrest and schism, parish squabbles and intrigues, the scandalous behavior of some individuals --even among those holding positions of prominence in the Church. On seeing this dark side of the Church, a superficial observer is ready to cast a stone of condemnation at the very teaching of Christ. In this parable the Lord shows us that the true source of these ignoble activities is the Evil One.

    If our spiritual eyes were open we would see that there exist-in a very real sense--dark beings, demons, which consciously urge man towards evil, skillfully utilizing and playing upon his human weaknesses. As illustrated by this parable, those people who allow themselves to be used as instruments of this evil, unseen power are themselves not without blame: "While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares"; i.e., when people became careless and fell asleep spiritually, the devil came and implanted thoughts of evil in their souls.

     Why is it, one may ask, that the Lord does not simply destroy all evildoers? Because there is a danger that the gathering of tares will uproot the wheat--the children of the Kingdom. In this life relationships among people are closely intertwined--like the roots of a plant. Through multiple family and social relationships we are mutually tied to one another. A negligent father, for example, may have good and pious children, a worker's well-being may stem from an employer who allows himself all manner of immoral conduct in his private life, a weakly-believing ruler may be a wise legislator. To punish all sinners from the outset would be to disrupt the entire order of life. Furthermore, it happens not infrequently that a sin-loving member of the Church suddenly decides to mend his ways, and thereby "tares" may become "wheat." In this life no one is wedded to condemnation. Each of us is given the opportunity to save his soul. When, however, a person's life reaches the limit of its duration, it is "harvested," and there comes the time of final reckoning.

    The parable of the tares teaches us to be attentive to our spiritual state and not to rely on our own "righteousness," lest the devil take advantage of our careless self-assurance to sow in our hearts the seeds of evil desires. At the same time, the parable teaches us to look with understanding upon church affairs, knowing that in this temporal life the presence of darkness cannot be altogether avoided in the external side of the Church. Has wheat ever been seen to grow entirely free of tares?

    The Kingdom of God is not only a teaching which people accept with faith. It carries with it a hidden, grace-filled strength able to transform a man's spiritual being. In the parable of the invisibly growing seed, as recounted in the fourth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel, the Lord speaks concerning this inner strength of His Kingdom. Just as a plant passes through various stages of growth, so, too, a man who accepts the teaching of Christ begins to grow spiritually with the cooperation of God' s grace. Spiritual maturity, however, is not the same as physical maturity. It is a hidden process which is unique to each individual. We must learn, therefore, to look with compassion upon the weaknesses and failings of those around us, recognizing that none of us have reached perfection, and that what we perceive as an unsightly tare may one day turn into a fruitful ear of wheat.

Fr. Alexander Mileant
Holy Virgin Protection Church. Los Angeles