Adam West died in early July, leaving a giant bat-shaped hole in our cultural fabric. His portrayal of Batman on that hit ’60s show is iconic enough that everyone knows the reference, and that’s not easy to pull off. In interviews, West said that he tried to portray Batman as having no concept of the affect he had on other people. His example was the time Batman went looking for an archenemy at a cabaret-type club, and the maitre d’ wished to seat him at a table close to the stage. “No thank you,” Batman said, in cowl and cape, “I don’t want to be conspicuous.”
West’s Batman had the unfortunate habit of not anticipating the machinations of his enemies, much to the peril of himself and Gotham City. You have to be really, really not paying attention to not see a guy in a question-mark suit coming. But I bet the farmer in today’s Gospel can relate.
“An enemy has sowed weeds among (his) wheat. The fact is mentioned without comment. Jesus’ audience understood this perfectly. Birth into a family means not only inheriting that family’s honor status and its friends but also inheriting its enemies.
“There are many reasons why families become enemies in the ancient world, but the consequences are always the same. A state of feuding develops and persists over a long period of time. One never knows but must always suspect that a feuding enemy is seeking to shame one’s family.
“In this story, the shame is planted soon after the wheat seeds are sown, but it does not become full-blown shame until the weeds have matured to the point where they are clearly distinguishable from the wheat. Now the entire village discovers the shame along with the landowner, and they begin to laugh.
“The laughter grows even louder when the landowner instructs his servants to allow the weeds to grow alongside the wheat until harvest. The peasants expect retaliation and revenge. Instead, the landowner appears helpless and bested by his enemies. Before the invention of electricity and television, such feuds provided entertainment for the village.
“But appearances are deceiving. The landowner is shrewd as well as being a savvy farmer. He knows that the wheat is strong enough to tolerate the weeds’ competition for nutrition and irrigation. After the harvest, the landowner will not only have grain for his barns, but extra, unanticipated fuel for his needs. Instead of shaming this landowner, the weed strategy has backfired and shamed the enemy. The landowner and his servants have the last laugh. The enemy bent on shaming others is shamed instead!”1
Don’t you wish it always worked that way? It doesn’t, of course, and one of the great pains of human existence is that most people, people of every station, have enemies. The greater pain is that so often those enemies come from those who should be our trusted friends, neighbors, and, unfortunately, family. Winston Churchill famously said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Conflict does come from standing up for what is right, but too often it comes from that one perceived slight, the joke or comment that landed wrong, and all of sudden we find ourselves pitted against others for no good reason.
That’s where our farmer comes in. Today’s Gospel is obviously not a lesson in agriculture, but rather a lesson in trust and godliness. In refusing to get even with his enemies, our farmer shows us that there is a better way; the unspoken words of the farmer are “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
Perhaps even more powerful is the farmer’s trust that God will provide blessings even in the midst of apparent calamity; that kind of trust is a powerful weapon against fear and suspicion, freeing the faithful from the cycle of pettiness and revenge.
Can we live like the farmer? Easier said than done, right? Thankfully we have a God who makes the wheat to flourish even amongst the weeds.
1John J. Pilch: http://liturgy.slu.edu/16OrdA072317/theword_cultural.html