That afternoon, after fishing, we all gathered in the house. Jesus’ visit to Cornelius, the Roman Captain of Capernaum, enraged everyone. For several hours we did nothing but nag him about it… My father, Zebedee, was the most vocal of all.
Zebedee: Wait till he comes. I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind, dammit, I’m gonna say things to his face which no one has ever told him. I can’t stand the shame that he’s caused us, and I’m not about to tolerate bootlickers of the Romans. The bootlickers are as filthy as the Romans, because they support their dirty tricks, damn!
John: Take it easy, old man… C’mon, relax….
It was already dark when Jesus peeped in the door…
Jesus: Zebedee… Zebedee… May I come in?
No one answered….
Jesus: I asked if I could come in…
Zebedee: Go to hell, Nazarene!
Jesus: As everybody knows, and I suppose you’ve already told him that I didn’t set foot in the Captain’s house. I didn’t enter his house. “I didn’t stain my sandals by stepping on the Roman’s yard”…
Zebedee: Who do you think you are anyway? Do you think you can just come and go with nobody ever questioning you? Or don’t you know who this Matthew is, that blood-sucking tax collector? And don’t you know who this Cornelius is, that damned Captain who’s possessed by the devil like all the rest of his kind? You’ve been staying with us in Capernaum for six months and until now, you don’t know these slobs? Now, answer me.
Jesus: I think I know them better than you do, Zebedee.
Zebedee: Oh, yeah? Better than I do? So, why don’t you join them in their hang-out and gnaw bones with the country’s traitors! I can’t provide shelter to chameleons who conveniently change their colors!
Jesus: Does this mean that I can’t come in?
Zebedee: Come in, dammit, come in… You can’t just stand there like a beggar… After all, I already lost my cool before noontime, even before this swine, Matthew, came to see you…
Jesus went inside the house and looked at everyone… Then he sat on the floor, with crossed legs. We were expecting an explanation from him, but he didn’t say anything.
Zebedee: Damn you, Jesus? Have you swallowed your tongue?!
James: Let’s make this clear, Jesus: We are here everyday trying to figure out how we can get rid of these Romans, and here you go to the house of their chief, Cornelius, no less. May the lightning strike him dead!
John: Once you said that the Romans are squeezing our necks and that things have to change; but now, the whole barrio has seen you with this traitor, Matthew, on your way to the Captain’s house… What’s the matter with you?
Zebedee: May the gates of hell open up and swallow you, Jesus. We can’t understand you! Well, ain’t you gonna speak up?
Jesus: Zebedee, this Captain Cornelius isn’t a bad man. Believe me.
James: He’s not a bad man, dammit, but he’s a Roman! That’s enough!
Jesus: Yes, he’s a Roman… so what?
John: The Romans are our enemies.
Jesus: Cornelius is a Roman. We’re Jews, and the others are Greeks… So what?… You don’t eat the skin of the fruit but the flesh inside, don’t you?… This captain has the skin of a Roman, but inside him is good fruit.
James: Then beware that you don’t choke on this fruit!
Zebedee: Nonsense, Jesus, this is nonsense… I think you’re getting to be scatterbrained. If we say we gotta get rid of the Romans, so be it! And that’s final!
Jesus: Well, look, old man. I think, what happened to Titus and Abdon will also happen to you.
Zebedee: What do you mean? And who the devil are they?
Jesus: They were Renato’s companions…
Zebedee: What’re you talkin’ about, dammit?
Jesus: Renato was a farmer who owned a small parcel of land, out there behind the hills of Nazareth…
Jesus: When the rainy season came, Renato planted all his land with wheat…
Wife: What now, old man? Are you tired?
Renato: Yes, I’m tired but happy, woman… I expect a good harvest this year, you’ll see.
Wife: And we’ll be able to buy sheep, won’t we?
Renato: Not one but four, woman. We’re gonna buy a goat too… It’s gonna be a good harvest, you’ll see, you’ll see…
Jesus: But Renato had a troublesome neighbor who was envious whenever things went well with his neighbors. One midnight, this neighbor got up and slipped onto the land where Renato had sown wheat…
Neighbor: Ha!… I’ll sow bad seed on the farm and will destroy his harvest…. Then I’ll die laughing seeing the expression on the stupid man’s face, ha, ha, ha!
Jesus: So while everyone was sleeping, the evil man sowed bad seeds on the land of this poor man, Renato… After a few days, the seeds began to sprout and the land began to clothe itself with a green mantle of young blades. The wheat and the bad seed began to grow together… When Titus and Abdon, friends of Renato, passed by and saw the disaster, they ran to their friend and told him…
Renato: Hey, what’s the matter, huh?
Titus: Open the door, Renato! It’s us!
Renato: What seems to be the trouble, pals?
Abdon: Don’t you know?
Abdon: There are weeds on your land! We looked closely and saw a lot of weeds growing…
Renato: That can’t be. I chose the seeds very carefully. I sowed wheat seeds of good quality.
Titus: But the whole farm is loaded with crab grass.
Renato: Hell! Who would’ve wanted to cause me harm?
Abdon: You can figure it out for yourself… Everyone knows him.
Renato: Do you think he’s capable of doing such a thing?
Abdon: Why, of course man. He’s capable of doing it and more. This neighbor of yours is evil.
Renato: How I wish I could squeeze his neck and…!
Titus: Take it easy, Renato. There’s no need to worry. Tomorrow, Abdon and I will give you a hand. The three of us will rid your farm of the weeds that are growing and your problem is solved.
Renato: Thank you, my friends, thank you. I’m counting on you.
Jesus: The following morning…
Renato: Hey, wait a minute. What are you pulling? Let me see…
Titus: This is bad grass, look…
Renato: No, man, no. That’s wheat.
Titus: Look closely, Renato, these are weeds.
Renato: Don’t be silly, Titus, I tell you, these are wheat stalks!
Titus: What do you say, Abdon?
Abdon: Let me see… I don’t know, they look the same to me…
Titus: I swear by Abraham, this is bad grass, Renato!
Renato: And I insist that it’s good grass, Titus, and you’re uprooting my wheat!… Pff!! One problem after another. That neighbor of mine destroyed my land and now you’re killing my harvest…
Abdon: Okay, Renato, what do you want us to do then?
Renato: Look, friends, please pardon me. I’m grateful that you’ve come… but, let’s leave this for another day. Will that be okay? Since we can’t see the fruit yet, it’s too difficult to distinguish wheat from weed. Let’s wait for them to grow together, until we can separate one from the other. After all, the harvest won’t be damaged. The only problem is that in the end it’ll involve more work separating the good fruit and throwing away the bad ones.
Titus: You’re right. It’ll be worse to pull out the wheat thinking it’s bad grass. It’s too soon to know.
Renato: I’ll let you know when it’s harvest time. Then we’ll burn the weeds while we put the wheat in the barn. Is that okay?
Abdon: Sure, it’s okay, Renato.
Jesus: So the days passed by, and the wheat grew together with the bad grass. When harvest time came, Renato and his friends separated the wheat heads from the weeds easily. This time, they were not mistaken. They learned patience and committed no mistakes.
Zebedee: So I’m likened to Titus and Abdon, Renato’s friends, huh?
Jesus: I think so, Zebedee. You said: “Cornelius is bad grass, so out with him! He’s got to be pulled out.”
Zebedee: Yes, I said it, and I’m saying it again, hell!
Jesus: Well you see, God isn’t that way. He’s more patient, because He knows that people are like trees: we are known by the fruit. If a tree yields good fruit, then it’s a good one even if it has an ugly skin. But if the fruit is bad, the tree is bad, notwithstanding its good appearance. What matters is the fruit, Zebedee. C’mon, tell me, have you ever seen a vine with thorns bearing grapes?
Jesus: And have you ever seen a bush of thistles with figs on their branches?
Zebedee: I still maintain that Cornelius is a Roman wolf. Tell me who your friends are and I’m gonna tell you who you are!
Jesus: Of course, that one is easier. We point an accusing finger, we put a label on other people’s foreheads saying: You’re the bad ones, we’re the good ones. “My God, send forth your fire from heaven and destroy all these scoundrels!”… But the Lord simply smiles and says: Hey, how can you tell wheat from bad grass? “Because this is Roman, and that one is Jew, and this Pharisee’s a pious man, while he’s a rebel zealot, and this Saducee’s a traitor, while this man is a priest of the temple!”… God takes away all labels they carry and burns them in the garbage. Show me the fruit and then we talk. Don’t you think, Zebedee, we should focus more on what one does than on the label one has?
Zebedee: There is only one thing that matters to me, Jesus…!
Jesus: What is it, Zebedee?
Zebedee: That the captain is a Roman! And just the sight of him makes me throw up! That’s why your having gone to his house was in poor taste indeed! It’ll always be so for me until the end of the world!!
John: Take it easy, Papa… You might faint… be calm….
Jesus: When that day comes, perhaps you’ll understand everything, Zebedee. It’s only at the end when we see things clearly. The matter of separating wheat from weeds belongs to God, not to us.
My father, Zebedee, kept on grumbling. And so did my brother, James, and Peter, and I. We spent several hours arguing with Jesus. Not one of us understood the story of the wheat and the weeds then.
The nationalism of Zebedee, his children, and certainly the majority of Jesus’ disciples, was one of intransigence which afforded them much prejudice. In Zebedee’s case, it was especially political prejudice against the Roman authorities and collaborators like Matthew. The biases of Jesus’ friends were not of the moral or religious kind, on account of their social condition, but they were intransigent in political matters. Understood in a strict sense of superiority or power, nationalism can be a very dangerous feeling and it may run counter to Christian universality. Jesus’ gospel is a message that tends to do away with barriers among nations in favor of a profound solidarity among all people.
In the face of this intransigence, Jesus narrates a parable to his friends. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is a call to understanding and tolerance. Jesus makes them see the hazards of prejudgment and the value of patience until harvest time. In Palestine a type of weed grows into the so-called “poisonous weed,” which is bad grass and is very similar to wheat. When it grows, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other. If – as told in the parable – there is much of this kind growing in a field through the fault of the bad neighbor, it is dangerous to pull the weed out prematurely. The roots get entangled under the ground with those of the wheat. It is better to wait till harvest time to pull the weeds out from among the bundles of wheat. This way, one would not be mistaken. It is a common practice among farmers to make use of the weeds by drying them and using them for fuel. Palestine is a land that lacks forests and therefore, combustible material is scarce.
In this parable Jesus wants to tell us that no one is empowered to dictate who is who, to put on labels, and therefore to discriminate against others. People cannot read hearts, and the wish to classify others as “good” and “bad” may cause them to commit big blunders. Only in the movies – (which are not usually the best) can it be clear right from the start, who is good or bad.
The parable refers likewise to judgment day when God will proclaim the harvest at the end of history, during which the chaff will unmistakably be separated from the grain. When Jesus talks about judgment, he also talks of God’s patience. God is patient because He is good and gives every opportunity to people. He is patient as He is wise, and does not fall into the trap of appearances: He judges people according to their actions, not by position, nor the garments worn, nor the function people discharge.
For a long time we Christians have avoided concrete commitment in history, hoping to have a clearer understanding of who are the good people and the bad ones. This manner of behavior is not only indicative of a lack of realism but pride as well. We want to be “gods.” Only God is capable of differentiating wheat from bad grass; and only at the end shall he separate one from the other. Meanwhile, everything is together in the course of history. Those who do not commit to anything by considering themselves pure sin the most. Certainly, they have not done anything sinful, but they have not accomplished anything either – big or little – and therefore, shall be accountable.