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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (23.07.17)
Satan, The Master Tactician
Satan works tirelessly to lessen people’s awareness of his presence. He is a devilish master tactician as can be read in Matt. 4: 1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. These passages are commonly referred to as ‘the temptation of Christ’. It is worth a moment to reflect that the title may lead people, mistakenly, to liken Christ’s encounter with Satan to their own experience of temptation - an inward desire to commit sin. Christ’s human nature, unlike ours, is sinless. In the Judean wilderness, when his forty-day fast had depleted his physical strength, Jesus is exposed to Satan’s ploys of a plausible, less painful, but false way for Jesus to achieve his goals. In His rebuttal of Satan, Christ remained sinless. He therefore remained the perfect sacrifice, able to assimilate the entirety of humanity’s sin and make atonement for it on the Cross of Calvary.
In Matthew’s Gospel extract (13:24-43) for this 16th Sunday, Jesus reveals three distinct parables which, while carrying a message to three distinct groups namely, farmers, those with little or nothing and homemakers, can nevertheless be shared by everyone.
The profundity of The Truth in Jesus’ parables does not reveal itself to the half-hearted or casual reader or listener, or to the person ensnared by habitual sin. Satan’s tactic is always to divert us from The Truth by the substitution of false truth or a reduced truth, as he attempted with Jesus in the desert.
One of Jesus’ parables, this 16th Sunday, provides a classic example of Satan’s contemporary tactical approach to confusing and/or reducing our access to The Truth. Jesus’ parable tells of a farmer who grows wheat. One translation of the Bible gives us this:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”
Another translation gives us this:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
Another translates the same text as:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.
The words highlighted are ‘weeds’ and ‘tares’. People will understand the generic term weed as encompassing the multitude of uninvited intruders that invade our gardens and cause us endless work! They may be less familiar with tares.
The translation in The New Jerusalem Bible has this:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, then the darnel appeared as well.”
The word highlighted, ‘darnel’, will be less well recognised and its import therefore overlooked.
It is fair to deduce that, at some unknown stage of editing these translations, those involved decided to substitute ‘weed’ for ‘darnel’ and ‘tare’. Maybe those who made the substitution had the idea to make the text more readily understandable for 21st century readers. To the casual observer or reader of the Gospel text it may not appear a matter of significance, but in fact it is.
‘Darnel’ is the noun that most authentically describes the activity of the farmer’s enemy that Jesus wanted to convey. But it is not a noun in common usage today. An editor might well strike the word ‘darnel’ from the text and substitute the word ‘weed’ for pecuniary not literary reasons. Publishers employ editors to ensure a profitable return on the publisher’s investment. Therefore publishers want a text that appeals to the widest audience rather than one with specialist language that requires the reader to do some research. Satan’s ploy has worked! The substitution means The Truth is less evident to so many readers.
Darnel is a form of Eurasian ryegrass. You may well have one of its derivatives in your garden as it is commonly found. Jesus’ audiences worked the land. They feared darnel and with good cause. Jesus’ parables intentionally featured what was familiar to his audiences so that The Truth would be more readily anchored in their minds and hearts.
Bearded darnel, in its early stages of growth, so closely resembles wheat that it is impossible to distinguish one from another. By the time the darnel can be identified, that is when the new wheat has sprouted, the darnel’s roots will have entwined themselves with those of the wheat! Any attempt to pull the darnel out of the ground will bring the wheat out as well! Jesus in choosing the word ‘darnel’ is word-painting the darnel-sowing enemy as a calculating, malevolent and, ultimately, to be feared opponent. Jesus is describing Satan!
The wheat and the darnel had to be separated at harvest because the darnel grain is slightly poisonous and causes dizziness and sickness as well as being a narcotic. The time spent separating the wheat and the darnel after harvesting, as well as paying for the labour to do so, would have had serious implications for the livelihood of the landowner and his family.
Those who listened to Jesus when he spoke would have known the precise implications of his choice of the word ‘darnel’. Today, for many, the word would not register unless a homilist explained it.
The choice of the title for this article, ‘Satan, The Master Tactician’, is meant to alert us to Satan’s infiltration and manipulation of daily life in so many subtle ways. His aim is to reduce our spiritual sensitivity to The Truth. Substituting ‘weed’ for ‘darnel’ becomes important if it obscures the depth of The Truth that Jesus wanted his audience then, and us in the 21st century, to grasp.
Your may have heard of a Scottish poet, novelist and translator called Edwin Muir. He wrote ‘One Foot In Eden’ in 1956. It’s a poem that permeates much of Muir’s work namely, ‘Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden’. Muir saw it as a journey repeated time and again throughout human life. ‘One Foot In Eden’ is included in the religious poetry for the Divine Office for Holy Week. It is a highly appropriate accompaniment for Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the darnel this Sunday.
“One foot in Eden still, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world’s great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time’s handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
The armorial weed in stillness bound
Above the stalk; these are our own.
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in.
Yet still from Eden springs the root
As clean as on the starting day.
Times takes the foliage and the fruit
And burns the archetypal leaf
To shapes of terror and of grief
Scattered along the winter way.
But famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.
The parable of the wheat and darnel reminds us that though we are exiles in the kingdom of Evil, God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, has taken root in our world. Through his suffering, death and Resurrection, Jesus has broken the hold that the Evil of Death had over us.
For as long as we live here there will be a daily battle between good and evil. The recent very painful history of the Manchester bombing of young people illustrates the evil of, so called, religious fanaticism. Our Church, let along society, has shown us how such destructive Evil can lurk, hidden for far too long, behind even the clerical collar and the bishop’s mitre. God help us for being so judgemental with our labels of ‘good’ and ’bad’ without being aware of all the facts. But think, too, of the loss that farmer would have suffered if the reapers had had their way and pulled out both darnel and wheat!
Like the reapers in Jesus’ parable we, too, must be alert to the every-changing ploys of The Master Tactician.