Ox Training

Here’s a helpful video on training young oxen.  We have two young dairy oxen that we’ve kept for working and we’ll be training them this year.  I’ll try and post anything I find helpful along the way.

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Plough Monday is January 12th

While most people are settling indoors for the winter, traditional farmers know that January 12th begins the Spring plowing season.  “Plough Monday” is the first Sunday after the 12 days of Christmas, which end Jan. 6th (Epiphany).  In the past, the Church blessed farmers and their plows and farm communities hosted games to mark the beginning of the new farm year.

Time to get the horses in shape and the plows ready.

percherons

Jonathan (14) and David (11) taking our Percherons–Jake and Elwood–out for an exercise run on Thtursday, Dec. 18th, 2014.

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It’s a Girl!

anna_katherine_michael

After five boys in a row, our family received a long awaited, and desperately needed girl.

Anna Katherine Michael was born on 12/14/2014 at 4:30am at home in perfect health, weighing 8 lbs.

Thanks be to God for an amazingly healthy pregnancy for my wife, Dania, and a perfectly safe delivery.  Mommy and baby are in perfect health.

Merry Christmas!
William Michael

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Simplifying Small-Farm Business

When I hear folks talking about selling farm products, I usually cringe.  There’s just no reason in thinking that the land was given to man to pimp for cash.  The products, if they are the right products, are worth more than any cash that could be obtained for them.  Let’s face it, cash is much more efficiently gained by other means than farm work.

So, I’d like to share my thoughts about what to sell and why.  The goal of my farm sales is simply to allow my family to obtain its needs at no cost.  Here are some examples.

Laying hens require 1/4 lb. of feed with water to efficiently produce eggs.  Let’s say we have 60 hens laying and can expect 4 dozen eggs per day in exchange for 15 lbs. of feed.  If a 50 lb. bag of layer feed costs $12.50, then 15 lbs. daily would cost $3.75 per day.  So, we’d get 4 dozen eggs for $3.75.–a pretty good deal.  However, we can do better.  If we sell one of those dozen eggs for $4.00, we will have 3 dozen eggs per day for free, which is better.

Pigs will give an average of 8 piglets twice per year if managed gently.  The mother pigs (sows) will eat an average of 4 lbs. of good swine feed per day, which costs $10.00 per 50 lb. bag.  So, that means feeding a sow will cost us about $0.80 per day, or $292 per year.  So, if 2 week old piglets sell easily for $50, then if we sell 6 of them each year, mama pig eats for free.  The rest we can raise for the butcher.  However, if we sell 12 of mama’s piglets, that additional $300 will cover the cost of one pig’s butchering meaning that 300 lbs. of pork is free for the year.

Anyway, you get the idea.  If we keep the produce and let sales simply pay for our costs, we eat for free on the farm.

God bless,
William Michael
Michael Family Farm

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Why Christians Divide

***
Note:  Pardon any typos or minor writing mistakes.  My posts are personal and meant to foster edifying discussions among readers, not win any awards.  I’m a busy husband and father with no time for editing these days…
***

I will candidly admit that I find it very hard at times to be happy as a Roman Catholic.  At the same time I will confidently assert that I will never be anything other than a Roman Catholic because what makes it hard to be happy as a Catholic is my own unwillingness to be the kind of Christian Jesus wants me to be.  I am thankful, however, that the Lord has helped me to understand that there is only one true Church, that which Our Lord Himself founded 2000 years ago and every group that has split away from it has done so because of men’s unwillingness to follow Our Lord’s teachings about true Christian living.

Our family is currently reading through the Gospel of St. Matthew, and has just finished the “Sermon on the Mount”.  There is a theme in the teachings of Jesus that is very hard to miss and it’s this:  “Do not be like the hypocrites.”   Now, in His day “the hypocrites” were public religious people–the movers and shakers in the synagogues and while, in God’s providence, they were the influential, visible people in the “parish”, they weren’t necessarily models of what God wanted His people to be.   This caused confusion among many and there were different “sects” among the Jews–Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.. When Our Lord came and dwelt among them, He, being the embodiment of the truth, didn’t fit into any of their groups, and consequently made them all upset.

As Jesus taught “the Way”, which was the actual fulfillment of the Law that the different groups all claimed to follow, He explained to His hearers that if they received His teaching, they would suffer persecution.  That persecution would not necessarily come from Roman soldiers, or Greek philosophers.  It would come from the religious leaders around them, their own synagogues, their own countrymen, their own family members.  Jesus told them,

“Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’ s enemies shall be they of his own household.”

So, the Christian life is not going to be easy, and the desire people have for “peace”, that is, adult popularity, is not one that Jesus told us would be fulfilled.  Christ’s commands are going to cause difficulties between us and our closest friends and relatives.  They are going to isolate us at times and make many situations awkward.  There are going to be many times when following Christ will require us to do good deeds in secret with absolutely no motivation except for the knowledge, rather the belief, that God is watching and will reward us.  Jesus explained to us the nature of these actions:

“But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.”

and

“When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.”

and

“When thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee.”

Now, Jesus does not say, “When thou dost  ______, do it in secret, and the Church will repay thee.”

This is where everyone tends to mess things up.  It seems we read the the commands, “Be perfect”, “Do this”, “Do that”, and those of us who are eager to be holy and obedient to Christ do the works and then desire to receive from the Church, or from the parish priest, or from the parish council, or the parish school board some recognition and applause for doing so.  We seek the parish to embrace those “secret” virtues that we practice that our secret life may be rewarded with public benefits.  Yes, the “secret” works are desired to become the public works of the Church.  When our secret sacrifices are not rewarded by those around us, even though we pretend that we do them in secret for no earthly reward, we begin to grow frustrated because doing them is very difficult when the only motivation is true Christian faith.  Our faith is challenged and our weakness exposed.

After teaching us the secret life of obedient Christians, Our Lord also taught us the right frame of mind for those who live that secret life of almsgiving, prayer and fasting, and His teaching explains all of these problems that develop in us.  He said:

“Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.  For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” makes for a happy holiday movie…but George Bailey’s surprising Christmas Eve is not what Jesus teaches us will be experienced in this life by His disciples.

Yes, this was the context of those words in Our Lord’s teaching.  He was not talking to ungodly men of business–the Potters of the world–and telling them that their lives were bad and the lives of the Baileys are good.  In fact, the warm, fuzzy Christmas movies cater to the hypocrite spirit as George Bailey gets his reward in this life for selfishly chasing after the good things of this life, which makes us happy as we watch it.  “Yes, that’s what I deserve–rewards from my boss, from my community, from my family members for my good works.”

If we’re honest, though, the story of George Bailey doesn’t even make any sense.  He’s a man of no religion who is forced by his father’s death, to continue his father’s work in a town he wanted to leave.  He continues that work and is led by his troubles to desire to kill himself–the ultimate act of selfishness.  Yes, that part is pretty realistic.  The life of a man who does good deeds with no spiritual life to support those works would end up in despair.  Poor George Bailey, not allowed to run off and “build skyscrapers” or enjoy his harems in the far-off lands of National Geographic magazine.  He’s stuck helping his family in a “shabby little office” fighting over “nickels and dimes” all day.  He has to settle down and get married and have a family in a “drafty old barn” that he complains about every day as he goes about his “virtuous works”.  He calls his uncle a “silly old fool” when he loses money, runs to Potter (not God) when he’s in trouble.  He is ultimately trapped by his adversary and has everything against him, takes it out on his wife and kids and then runs off to get liquored up and kill himself (!)–until by a literal deus ex machina–that is, an awkward divine intervention that solves a story going nowhere on its own–Clarence the wingless Irish angel comes down from heaven to show him that without him everyone would be miserable.  Yes, no one else would do anything good and the entire town would be a mess.  Everything in Bedford Falls  depended on George Bailey, and without his coerced life of public service, the whole place would be a disaster.  Look, I enjoy the movie as much as anyone, as it provides me with a moment of year-end emotional catharsis in which I silently pat myself on the back for my own good works, but can’t we laugh at how ridiculous this story is and how silly we are for enjoying it as we do?  This isn’t a Christian story at all…let’s be honest.  (If anyone should be honored in the movie, it should be George’s father and his wife.)

No, Jesus was talking to the people who would be his disciples, most of whom were already decent, spiritually-minded people (that’s why they were following Jesus).  He was teaching them how to prepare their hearts and minds for the life He was teaching them–and living before their eyes.

Notice that he explains, “Where thy treasure is, there’s thy heart also.”  Thus, when we are not rewarded by men for our good deeds (which are supposed to be done for God’s pleasure alone) if we become frustrated, it reveals that something is wrong in our hearts that is going to prevent us from following Christ.  Despite our talk of spiritual things, we still, secretly, desire earthly rewards–rewards that satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life–for actions that bring no such rewards.

Christ is telling us that to follow Him a complete change of mind must take place in us.  We must quit this world.  We must put our bodies to death, with all their desires.  We must despise all human approval and popularity.  We must set God’s rewards after this life as our only desire and live so as to merit as much of those eternal rewards as possible.  We must expect and seek no repayment in this life for our Christian works.  We must study Christ’s words and obey them for His sake and let that be that.

Now, because of the difficulty of this self-sacrifice, going happily to Church becomes difficult.  When we see an obese priest who is obviously not fasting the way we are, seeing his public approval in the Church, and visible church status, causes us to feel that our fasting is in vain–and we get frustrated.  Seeing a bishop asking for (or demanding) financial support for a new Catholic school project that serves only the wealthier families in the area who already have ten options for good schooling, makes us angry when we are working to give alms in secret to the needy, who don’t have any Christian schooling options at all available to them.  Seeing people gather on Sunday who never pray with their families at home or keep any traditional devotions, and yet be called up to serve the Church as lectors or council members makes us upset when we think of the hours we sacrifice to pray as Our Lord commands us to–in secret.  When the Church is giving special blessings to Boy Scouts, local high school athletes, people going on vacation, high school graduates going off to secular universities, men and women serving the national military, etc., and none to the people who are praying, fasting and giving alms in secret, it is only natural for us to begin to think that this Church is not really Christ’s Church at all.

What if there was a Church that did everything right?  What if there was a Church that ordained those who prayed and fasted and gave alms most as its leaders?  What if there was a Church that elected those who prayed, fasted and gave alms most as its council members?  What if there was a Church that gave special blessings to the families who prayed the most, fasted most and gave alms most in the community?  Wouldn’t that ve a REAL Christian Church?

See the error in the thinking?

These thoughts are attractive only on the surface, for as soon as we reflect on what Jesus taught, we see that, really, that Church would NOT be more “Christian” at all.  It would be a public, earthly rewards ceremony for people pretending that they are doing their good deeds in secret to be repaid by God who they say sees what is done in secret.  They will be creating a physical, earthly and fake heaven on earth and calling that “Church”.

The motivation for that REAL Church experience is not extreme spirituality or true Christianity.  It is hypocrisy.  That idea comes from a heart that still demands earthly rewards for its heavenly works.  It is a FAKE Christianity that may, indeed, appear to more closely represent a community that followers of Jesus might form, but it’s not God’s will and that’s why it doesn’t exist.

The lives of saints provide us with wonderful examples of holy men and women who did the right things for the right reasons.  They prayed, fasted and gave alms in secret and were often opposed by the leaders of the Church in their day.  Joan of Arc, for example, was burned at the stake…by the Church.  John Bosco was, at one point, stripped of his priestly privileges by his bishop–John Bosco!  Sts. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina were told–by leaders in the Church–that their visions were likely coming from demons rather than God.  Padre Pio was accused by leaders in the Church of faking his stigmata and trying to stir up fanatacism by his long Masses and endless hours in the Confessional–by the Church!  The list can go on and on through history including no example better than the life of Our Lord Himself who was betrayed, falsely accused, unjustly judged and crucified by the leaders of God’s own Jewish system.  He was condemned by the High Priest of Israel.

What separates the saints from the pretenders is that they are not seeking earthly or human rewards for their good works.  That is why they are not complaining about the need for traditions to be restored, or the need for priests to be replaced with “better priests” (i.e., priests who will applaud them).  They were never found bad-mouthing Church leaders or bucking against rules imposed by their superiors in the Church.  They were focused on what their experience would be on judgment day and they knew that nothing any other men did could affect that experience.  They would be judged for the thoughts, words and actions that proceeded from their own hearts, which revealed where their treasure really was.

Now, it is shallow to think that living in a holier Church would cause us to reap greater spiritual rewards because such a system would not be just.  In fact, Jesus teaches us that this is not how we should think.  He says, “Blessed are you when men persecute you.”  He says, “To whom more is given, more is expected.” Therefore, if you were to achieve your  goal of planting yourself in a parish that supported all of your opinions and celebrated all of your good deeds, you would be doing harm to yourself spiritually.  You would not be enjoying the blessedness of doing your good works in the face of opposition and you would be doing good works that were relatively inferior to those done by people in places where they are not supported and applauded for doing them.  You would be running away from the Cross and building a fake heaven instead of waiting for the real one so you can enjoy a fake Christian life rather than suffer through a real one.

Now, the fruits of this fake Christianity are glaringly evident.  To listen to a man speak disrespectfully of a bishop because the parish isn’t “reverent” reveals the blind hypocrisy that fills that man.  It’s not any true reverence that this man wants.  To listen to a man criticize the Church because it does not make “the Bible alone” its rule when the Bible says, “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them.” (Hebrews 13:17) obviously reveals the hypocrisy that Jesus spoke of.  It’s not more of the Bible this man wants.  To hear men complain about the effeminacy of modern priests, as they gossip like women behind the priests’ backs reveals the hypocrisy in them.  To hear woman complain that the priest doesn’t require that women wear head coverings to Mass while she goes home and argues insubordinately with her husband, whose authority is signified by that headcovering reveals her hypocrisy.

The Church, when all is said and done, is Christ’s own possession and He rules over it as He wills.  If there are problems in the Church, He knows of them, and if we will mind our own business and “bear our wrongs patiently”, we will see that Christ takes care of them all, in due time, without any revolutions, reformations or sins from those “offended” by them.  If you don’t believe this to be true, then you will find that you have other problems in your spiritual life bigger than what’s going on at Church.  Jesus said,

“I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

Notice the subject of that first clause: “I”.  The work of salvation is not a work any of us started, or a work that depends on any of us for its fulfillment.  Christ Himself is the Redeemer of the world and the work of redemption is His own work, for which He accepted the humiliation of the Incarnation and the pains of His Passion.  He does not leave the work of salvation to us, and doesn’t ask us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought in its daily operation.  He is the Lord and we are slaves in His kingdom.  He  has assigned us work and if we don’t “mind our own business” we will get punished just as anyone else is who is not minded his–whether that be a bishop or a priest, a legislator or a librarian.  Everyone will be judged according to his own duties and “meddlesome” individuals have been rebuked since the time of the apostles.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re a Protestant, I am warning that the division of the Church was and is sin.  I am NOT saying that what you will find in the Catholic Church on a day to day basis, is what you should expect to find in heaven.  I am also not saying, however, that Christ ever said it would or should or could be.  I believe that your separation from the Church is a sign of hypocrisy in your spiritual life because you can’t obey Christ without having the approval of others around you and you tend to “Church hop” not because you need a place to “be fed” (for you admit that the Bible is your food and it goes wherever you do), but you seek a place where you can be rewarded with earthly, human recognition for the good works you do.  You will find that in the Roman Catholic Church, as offensive as it may sound, most people won’t care about what you do in secret.  Public worship is pretty “vanilla”—read Scriptures, recite the Nicene Creed , say the Lord’s Prayer and celebrate the Eucharist.  You’re not required by anyone to pray to saints, say the Rosary, offer sacrifices for the dead, or any of the other nonsense people say about Catholicism.  I myself am quite “Puritan” in my personal beliefs and it’s fine.  You can be a good Protestant in the Catholic Church…if you can mind your own business. In doing so, you will have the added benefit of living a devout personal life while avoiding any unnecessary division in Christ’s Church.  That’s obviously better than Church-hopping, isn’t it?  Come on.  There can be only One Church and those whose eyes are fixed on God, who do their works in secret to be rewarded by no man, would never have any need to break away from the apostolic Church to be perfectly good Christians.

Moreover, if you’re reading this as a Catholic, can you not see the hypocrisy of your criticism of “the Church”—as if it’s supposed to be running an awards ceremony each Sunday for a bunch of children in need of recognition for their perfect attendance or good behavior?  This isn’t elementary school…it’s time to grow up.  Jesus calls you to perfection and tells you in the same breath that the life he calls you to will be one that is persecuted.  Your experience in the Church is nothing strange at all and the Church’s leaders have their own work to do, which includes serving all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of weaknesses and all kinds of needs.  When Jesus spoke of the Good Shepherd, don’t you realize that the Good Shepherd ignores the 99 good sheep to chase and rescue the few weak ones who are in trouble?  One of the reasons you aren’t on the priest’s or bishop’s radar each week may be because you are doing fine.  Just mind your own business and focus on heaven.  Leave the poor priests and bishops alone.

Summary

The 2015th year of Our Lord’s reign is about to begin.  He knows what He’s doing and has done it for over two millenia.  There are no great dangers that threaten His Church that He is worried about.  There is “nothing new under the sun” that He hasn’t overcome before.  Everything continues as normal in the Church, with Christ seated on His throne.  The question you should be worried about today is whether YOU are doing what YOU need to do to merit the rewards Christ offers to those who truly love Him and trust Him and, therefore, obey HIM.  He tells you that He sees what is done in secret.  So, don’t worry about whether anyone else knows about it or approves it.  You say you are living for Christ’s sake–so live for Christ’s sake.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  If you did, please express your public approval in the comments section below or reward me by making a financial donation.

(Just kidding.)

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Raising Hens Reasonably

An 18th century painting by Jean Baptiste Oudry showing the reality of a hen’s life out on the range.

As always, there are two extreme camps when it comes to raising animals, and they are both fueled by the hope of making money rather than any notion of sustainability.  In the hen business, there are those industrial egg producers who use the battery cage system to maximize egg production to supply large urban and suburban consumers.    On the other extreme are the “free range” people who suggest that hens “naturally” belong out on the range, under the sun gathering their daily diet, and that this will produce the healthiest–and most expensive ;)–eggs.

Of the two, I respect the industrial method more because, at least, the goal is clear and the method makes sense.  For all the romance, free-range egg production is neither “natural” nor sustainable if we’re allowed to think for a few seconds.

There was never a day when hens raised themselves in the wild, folks.  Hens were created by God and given to man to manage according to reason.  Man, the superior creature, could know God’s will for the hens and keep than in a way that agreed with that will.  You may disagree with the manner in which men keep hens for industrial production, but you should realize that the problem is the city, not the industrial henhouse.  If we accept the fact that millions of human beings are going to live in condensed locations where they produce none of their own food or clothing, then we must accept the necessary consequence that animals will be managed in a way that serves the city’s needs.  In other words, the industrial henhouse is not the cause of the problem, but a symptom of it.  If we’re realistic, most of the people complaining about the poor hens have embraced and enjoy the social structure that created the circumstances those poor hens live under.  I just don’t believe we can have this kind of self-contradicting emotion-driven food policy.  To be fair, if the hens in the cages were suffering, they wouldn’t be laying eggs.    The abundance of eggs is a sign that they’re quite happy in those cages!

The birds on the range are not safer than those indoor birds.  Just as many hens who die from diseases in industrial will die in the fields from the danger of dogs, hawks and foxes.  I’m not convinced that the hens are as excited about being in the open as the owners are.  The reality is that the hens are foraging out in the open because they are hungry, not because that they want to.  When hens are well fed and watered, they stay near the henhouse, which proves that they have no “natural” interest in roaming abroad–they’re forced to when they’re not fed well.

Thus, the motivation for many hen-keepers is the idea that leaving hens to go and get their own food will allow them to sell eggs without spending money on feeds.  It’s a fantasy world of making money without spending any that seeks the same goal as the industrial henhouse:  maximizing profits.  

Another 18th century painting by Oudry showing yet more troubles of domesticated fowl kept out in the open.

The reality is that both of these options are inferior to the golden mean.  Hens like to be well-fed and watered, and they reward their owners with eggs when they are.  They like to have some room outdoors to spread their wings and take a dust bath.  However, they show no interest, when well-fed, in roaming away from the hen house, or being out in the open.  Therefore, the ideal care is feed hens well–but not to the extreme that industrial hen houses do, while giving them some space and fresh air–but not to the extreme that the “free-range” people do.

When hens are well-fed, there is no need for clipping wings or raising tall fences to keep birds in.  They’re jumping over the fences because they’re hungry or thirsty!  Hens left to range for their food won’t stop at the garden gate, so free-range methods will require great expenses in garden fencing–all so hungry birds can hunt down their own food.  It’s like a man who refuses to provide for his children, and then concludes that because they, starving, begin to roam about through the streets eating out of trash cans, that must be man’s “natural” way of life. Can we be reasonable and not pretend that the farmer’s work is any less “natural” as the animals’ desire for food and drink?

In the 21st century, we have the option of purchasing man-made feed that is healthy and affordable, and which offers a balanced diet in a single feed.  In 70 AD, the Roman farmer Columella wrote that food proper to hens included “bruised barley and tares, or small siftings and the refuse of wheat”.  That’s pretty much what you’ll find in the feeds available from the local mill. To this feed, we need only provide some oyster shell and clean water and the hens will live happily ever after.  A 50 lb. bag of layer feed can will feed 200 hens a day, and costs around $13.00.  So, if only 120 of those hens lay eggs on a given day, a man will have 10 dozen eggs for $1.30 per dozen.   If he sold them for $3.00 per dozen, he’d profit over $500 each month–and that’s assuming 80 birds don’t lay any eggs.  Any man who thinks that’s too expensive proves that he’s seeking something for nothing, and that’s the real reason he’s interested in letting his hens loose.  It would be much better for him to grow food for his family–corn, potatoes, vegetables, etc..–on the acres his hens are roaming around on than leaving his hens to do so. 

It would be more appropriate to refer to these as “free” range-birds,  since they are left to range that the owner might have them at no cost, rather than “free-range” birds.  Let’s ignore the crazy talk and just raise happy hens.

***
William Michael
Beatitudes Farm

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When Bible Teachers Are Ignorant of Natural Philosophy

In 1862, it is reported that over 90% of Americans were farmers.  Today that number is said to be closer to 2%.

Let that sink in for a minute.

In 1862, 90 of every 100 people you might have met in America would know the ins and outs of life on a farm.  Today, only 2 of 100 would have that knowledge and experience.  We’re talking about what the agricultural year feels like, when crops are planted and harvested, what the habits of all of the farm animals are, what it feels like to sit at table and eat food that you planted, grew and put up yourself.  98% of Americans today have no idea about the life that 90% of Americans took for granted 150 years ago.

One of the more disturbing manifestations of this ignorance is found among those who are supposed to be teachers of the Bible.

It is clear that ancient Israel was an agriculturally-oriented nation.  The great patriarchs and prophets were shepherds, King David was also a shepherd.  Our Lord taught in agricultural terms to the people the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  Why?  Because those mysteries are mysteriously present in the daily experiences of ordinary farming people!  The “dumb farmers” are handling mysteries in the ordinary work of farm life–whether it’s sowing wheat, kneading bread, dressing grapevines, keeping sheep, catching fish, or just sweeping the house.

These teachings, however, and the hundreds of teachings drawn from farm life are now left in the hands of “teachers” who don’t have this assumed knowledge and experience and that leaves the door open for all kinds of misleading interpretations of them, which can create all sorts of problems that appear to have some “biblical” foundation.

Let’s consider an example that has arisen often in my experience as a Christian–the parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

The Wheat and the Tares

Is this what we should think of when we read the parable of the wheat and the tares?  No.

In Matthew 13, we read of a parable of a man who had sown wheat in his fields, and later learned that after he had done so, an enemy had sown “tares” (or “cockle”) among his wheat.  Now, the modern Bible teacher who knows nothing about “tares” and “wheat” will interpret “tares” to mean weeds.  So, it’s supposedly a parable of a man who sowed weeds in another man’s wheat field and what happens to the wheat and weeds.

A Google search on “Wheat and Tares” will yield pages and pages of links to homilies, sermons and blog posts that will almost all say the same thing.  Pulling an example from them, a priest from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) commented:  “The cockle in the parable was allowed to grow together with the wheat because uprooting it would certainly also destroy the wheat”  He then quotes St. Thomas, but what St. Thomas (who understands natural philosophy) says about the parable has nothing to do with the priest’s explanation at all.  St. Thomas never says that the wheat would be endangered by the pulling up of the tares.

Furthermore, he says, “The wheat resulted from the good seed sown by the farmer and the cockle from what was sown over the wheat by his enemy, so Christ’s word brings into His Church those “who are born… of the will of God” but the devil through his blandishments seduces some in that Church from their allegiance to Christ.”

This is full of confusion.  The parable says nothing of Christ’s “wheat” being turned into tares by the devil.  In the parable, there is good seed sown by the good man and bad seed sown by the bad man.  The attempt to turn this parable into an encouragement to judgmental Christians that call other Christians “frauds” has no support in the parable, yet the false reading of it is used to do exactly that.   The priest’s goal is to argue that  we can patiently endure with the fact that we know that the Church is filled with false Christians, and that Jesus will separate them from us–the real Christians–on Judgment day.

Now, this is dangerous doctrine that has more to do with Protestantism than anything found in St. Thomas’s teaching.  The Protestants taught that the invisible Christian Church (i.e., the Church as God alone sees it) was one thing and that the visible Christian Church (the Church we see on earth) were two different things.  The Protestants used this to justify their rebellion against Church authority, saying, “We aren’t rebelling against the Church at all…only the visible Church, which isn’t the real Church.”  The Protestants believed themselves to be the “wheat”, and the non-Protestants to be the “tares”, and this is the common use of this parable by modern Christians.

This, however, cannot possibly be the meaning.  St. Thomas explains, most importantly, that one reason why the tares and wheat cannot be separated by man is that we don’t know who’s who because the harvest, that is, the time when the plants are all fully formed and clearly identified, has not yet come.  Thus, the picture above that clearly shows weeds (flowers) among the wheat is not at all the image Our Lord had in mind when He spoke this parable.  In Our Lord’s mind, the wheat and the tares were so similar in appearance that one would be likely to pull out true wheat thinking it to be the tares.  Thus, the message is not that “those so-called ‘Christians’ whom we know to be frauds will get what they deserve from the Lord.”, but rather, that “We don’t know for sure who the true and false Christians are. Many who seemed to be tares will actually prove themselves to be wheat, and many that we thought to be wheat will be seen in the end to be tares.”

Farmers, or true natural philosophers like St. Thomas, would understand this because “tares” are not simply weeds.  The picture above, which was included on the FSSP page, is not a picture of wheat and tares, for there would be no danger at all of someone misidentifying wheat and tares in such a field.  A farmer would also know that wheat would not be harmed when weeds were pulled out from the ground around it, for it is very hardy and bounces back from all kinds of disturbance.

Wheat on the left and tares on the right.

Wheat on the left and tares on the right.

No, the real problem is that men cannot separate the wheat from the tares because they cannot accurately determine who’s who on this side of eternity.  The real image in the parable is not one of heads of wheat contrasted with flowers or clover or some other obvious, ugly weed.  The image is one of a field in which the enemy sows seed that appears to be wheat–but isn’t.

Knowledge of the ancient languages can also protect us from these errors.  In the Greek text, the name of the plant sown by the enemy is “zizania”, that is “wild rice”.  The problem caused by these plants growing together would be that until they mature, when the wheat heads form and whiten, the plants would be indistinguishable–especially if growing together in a field.  Wheat is planted in the fall and looks like grass except that it stays green while dormant over winter before growing in the Spring and finishing in early Summer.  There would be no way to pick out the tares from the wheat until then, when the time of harvest comes.  That work is the Lord’s to do, and when He does His work, the wheat and tares will be easy to distinguish and His judgment will be perfect.  St. Thomas explained that many young plants are thought to be zinzania, but grow to prove themselves to be wheat in the end.  The thief on the cross, or a converted sinner like St. Augustine provide clear examples of wheat that might have been torn out by men, but will not be by Our Lord.  Many of us are such plants!

So, it’s clear that ignorance of natural philosophy can lead to misleading doctrines.  All the Christians who think that they know who the “real” Christians are and who the “fake” Christians are find no support from this parable unless they are ignorant of these plants and therefore read the parable falsely.   The parable, in fact, condemns these very people who imagine themselves to know the difference between wheat and zinzania before the end of each plant is visible.

We would do well whenever we hear this divisive talk among Christians to remember the parable the wheat and the tares–that we don’t who the good and bad plants are yet.  Our Lord made this perfectly clear when He told us, “You will know them by their fruit.”  The ancient Greek philosophers and historians taught this moral rule, “Never judge a man happy until you see his end.”  Once again, modern Christians can learn from the pagans…or by studying ALL that Christ has commanded.

William Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

 

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