True and False Wheat

Douglas P. McManaman
July 21, 2020
Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

If you pull up the darnel, you might uproot the wheat along with it.

The reason for this is that darnel is almost indistinguishable from wheat. Because of this similarity, darnel has been referred to as "false wheat". It is only when the ear of the wheat appears, at the end of the growing process, that one can distinguish between the two.

This is very important; for what Christ is calling attention to is a very important point about man's fundamental epistemic situation. The wheat of course refers to those who genuinely belong to Christ, and the darnel, the false wheat, those who only appear to belong to Christ, that is, who appear to be genuine believers. So, they are among us without question. But Christ is pointing out that we don't know for certain who's who. We think we know people, that we can "read them" well, but for the most part we don't and we can't. We very often rush to judgment, believing that this person is "the greatest thing since sliced bread", only to discover years later that they had us completely hoodwinked.

And the opposite is true: we infer that a particular person will amount to very little in the end, and yet they turn out to be a great success. We are very poor at making predictions, which is a kind of inference bearing upon the future, much more difficult than an estimate bearing upon the past on the basis of available evidence. For example, it was predicted that this very Church building (Our Lady of Grace, Aurora) would be finished and ready by Christmas, 2019, and it is still not even nearly complete (July, 2020). In other words, even experts in a particular field, like construction, have a very difficult time making accurate predictions; for there are so many contingent factors that we cannot account for, which is why our predictions are most often wrong. Christ commands us not to begin separating out the darnel from the wheat, because that implies we have the knowledge needed to distinguish between the two, and the fact of the matter is we do not. There is so much about individual human beings that is outside our purview.

According to Christ's explanation of the parable, separating the darnel from the wheat is an office that belongs to the angels at the end of time, which is fitting, for they are not subject to the same limitations that constrain human beings. The glory of man is not intelligence; rather, intelligence is the glory of the angels, who are inconceivably more brilliant than the most brilliant human being. They are pure spirits, unencumbered by time, space, and sense perception. Man's glory, on the other hand, is humility. We cannot outdo the angels in intelligence, but we can outdo them in humility, if we are willing--Mary's glory, which exceeds that of the highest angel, consists precisely in this, namely, humility.

At the risk of oversimplifying human affairs, I will say that the more I reflect upon history and the current state of the world, the more I am convinced that at the very roots of the world's problems are two simple factors: 1) the inability (or unwillingness) to moderate our passions, and 2) the tendency to believe that we know, when in fact we just don't know. Much of what is in our heads is not knowledge at all, but belief, and much of what we believe will, if we are honest, undergo serious revision throughout our lives.