The Scripture scholar Elizabeth Johnson is helpful with some background to the familiar parable before us this weekend. She comments:
“A bit of botany is helpful in understanding this parable. Matthew uses the Greek term zizania, which in modern botanical terms refers to the genus of wild rice grasses. What Matthew most likely refers to, however, is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature, and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.
It seems that there are two groups of people in the world — children of the kingdom and children of the evil one, wheat and weeds. Jesus says that at the end of the age, the angels will “collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin (skandala) and all evildoers and will throw them into the furnace of fire.”
This is hyperbolic language, of course, meant to jar us into recognizing the seriousness of anything that leads us or others into sin. It seems to suggest that a skandalon may be something within a person rather than the whole person. We know that it is not really our hand or foot or eye that causes us to sin. Sin comes from the human heart (kardia) which in Greek refers to the inner self, the mind and will. No human is able to pluck out the inner self.
Perhaps when Jesus says that the angels will collect all skandala to burn in the fire, he means that everything within us that causes sin will be burned away.”
The danger for each of us is that sometimes we too can become that overzealous gardener, failing to see that, mysteriously, its in our weaknesses and failures that the mercy and grace of God can grab a hold of us. Let’s continue to self-reflective about both our strengths and our weaknesses – and prepared to acknowledge that God is at work in both.