Darnel is interesting stuff.
It’s also known as poison darnel, darnel ryegrass or cockle. Jesus’ listeners would know it well. Why? Because Darnel usually grows in the same production areas as wheat and was a serious problem until modern machinery could separate darnel seeds from seed wheat. It used to grow in wheat fields, and was called ‘fake wheat’ because it was so hard to tell one from the other. You could only tell which was which right at the very end. And Darnel is poisonous. And the problem is that as it grows its roots entangle themselves in and around the roots of the wheat. Darnel is only good for one thing. It makes excellent fuel for a fire. So what Jesus is saying makes perfect practical sense. Don’t rip up the Darnel yet – you’ll rip up the wheat as well. Then, after harvest, separate and burn. Afterwards Jesus gives us an explanation for the parable. Classically, it all looks clear. If you’re wheat, you’ll be fine. If you’re darnel, you’ll burn.
But let’s drill a bit deeper. Wheat and Darnel look incredibly alike. It’s almost impossible to tell one from the other while they’re growing. The thing that feeds you and the thing that poisons you look very alike. There are two aspects to this which should bother us today.
First of all, let’s apply this to the state of our souls. If we examine our consciences regularly, as we should, we will know that we aren’t perfect. We also know that we aren’t wholly evil either. We are capable of great good, and we are capable of harm as well. We give delight to God and those around us: we cause displeasure to God and to those around us. We have characters and personality traits which can keep us safe, or lead us astray. That’s because we’re human, and frail, the clay jars in which the gospel gold is found. We are wheat, and we are darnel, and sometimes it’s hard to know which is which. Our confusing and confused world often can’t tell the difference between the good and the bad. The concept of ‘fake news’ is part of the darnel of our times. We can’t be certain who to trust any more, and what is presented to us as Good News doesn’t always turn out to be.
How careful we must be! Our capacity to distinguish good from bad is under threat from a force which undermines the rock on which we stand, that of faith in Jesus Christ, and the church which he founded. How carefully we should seek God’s will in our prayers, and the strength to do that will. And this matters for the small things in our lives every bit as much as the large ones.
Secondly, this parable is a reminder that we can grow as a people, even when there’s bad stuff around. We can grow even when there are difficulties. We can grow in number, of course, something we are trying to do, something we are asking God to help us achieve for him, and which we will do as we ourselves grow in grace, in confidence, and in our acceptance of God’s promises for us which this Mass offers. Even when things are challenging, and we question our place in the world and wonder how we can serve this community with the Good News of Jesus – whatever the questions on our lips, and the difficulties which surround us – we can set our hearts to growth, to conversion, to greater intimacy with God in prayer, a greater love of him and of one another. Be encouraged, be joyful. For your homework this week take this morning’s second reading, and read it over and over again. Cut it out, put it on the fridge, and read it over and over. Learn it, like you used to learn poetry at school. Paul reassures us that even when our prayers are a total mess, we can be sure that good things are happening, because God is in fact praying in us and through us.
...when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.
In other words, God knows what our prayers are, even when we can’t say them properly. God knows our hearts, and the Spirit gives voice when we can’t. Trust, then, that God hears your praying, because He hears and knows all. And if we do that our trust in God will grow, even if we don’t see our prayers being answered (in fact they are answered – it’s just that sometimes God needs to say ‘no’ to us, because God is not Father Christmas.) We must trust that God knows what is best for us, even when other voices are saying that we know what’s best for ourselves. Usually we don’t, and need help, and support in our decisions. We find it in our prayers, we find it in the ministry of the church. It’s part of what the church is for. I took the opportunity last week, on the anniversary of my ordination, to remind myself of what was said to me twenty-two years ago by the Bishop of Knaresborough. Here’s a short extract from what he said to me.
You are to be a messenger, a watchman, and a steward of the Lord. You are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for God’s family, to search for his children in the midst of the world’s confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, you are to call your hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.
That’s my part of the deal. What’s yours? As you come to receive the body and blood of Jesus, crucified for you, what have you got to offer? In the midst of the weeds, it’s time for the wheat to stand up. The wheat grows in the midst of the rubbish. So commit today to grow – to grow as a follower of Jesus, to grow as God’s people, even in the midst of the mess. And we can do this, because we are about to be fed – with the finest, purest, most delicious wheat.
Preached at The Most Holy Trinity, Ettingshall on Sunday 23 June 2017