Watching the presidential inaugural festivities today, the parable of the wheat and tares came to mind. That parable, recorded in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, states:
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “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. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (New King James Version)
One may wonder what this parable has to do with a presidential inauguration. Hopefully the answer will be clear and persuasive. Like so many other parables attributed to Jesus the Christ, this parable is very symbolic. The seed is the Word of God. Those who plant the good seed are the disciples. The field is the world and the good soil is those who receive the Word of God. The tares are workers of iniquity. The enemy is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the barn is heaven while the burning bundles is hell.
The meaning of the parable is quite simple. The kingdom of heaven consists of a struggle between good and evil which must be fought daily but can never be won for ultimately it is the work of God which will bring this struggle to an end. There are always devils among us and our work must go on regardless of that presence. And therein lies the key – we emerge victorious not because we have the best of everything; we succeed notwithstanding the great hordes of evil which oppose us. And as John Calvin was forced to confess, it is no easy thing to identify the wheat and the tares which is why the Word of God must be preached to everyone for there are always “wolves in sheep clothes.”
In the context of today’s events, this parable stands for the proposition that the success of an individual, as well as that of a nation, depends not on having the best of everything nor does it depend on the absence of adversity. Success must come notwithstanding adversity and even when one has less than optimum tools with which to work.
Barack H. Obama became one of the few twice-elected presidents of the U.S.A. not because he is Black but notwithstanding the fact that he is Black. He became president not because the U.S.A. is free of racism, strife, and hatred; he became president notwithstanding the presence of those evils. To what then do we attribute that success? As the President said, we attribute it to the greatness of the ideals and values of the founding fathers as memorialized in the sacred documents of the U.S.A.
The people of the U.S.A., or at least a majority of them, rejected the tares of hate, racism, name calling, fear, and divisiveness and twice elected the first African American president of the U.S.A. – proving yet again that the true greatness of the U.S.A. lies in its good soil – its people. With his inauguration today, President Obama put to rest the making of excuses for failure. The circumstances of one’s birth, the color of one’s skin, whether one is born with a silver spoon or a plastic fork does not determine one’s success or failure.
Yes, there are tares/devils among us. Still, with hard work, rugged individualism, dogged determinism, and the help of God, one can overcome the tares and succeed. The President’s inauguration has raised the bar for all Americans, especially people of color and other minorities. It is no mere coincidence that this second-term inauguration should take place on Martin Luther King’s holiday. For surely the dream of Dr. King has been realized. There are no more excuses. What is needed now is for people to wake up and get to work.