Scripture: Matthew 13:24–30, 36-43 (NRSV)
The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Most people like a good story. A story teaches, and encourages, but most of all a good story will stick with you for a while, several days or even years down the paths of life you will remember the story. Something about a situation we are in several years down the road will cause us to remember words spoken to us and we will begin to understand things just a bit more.
Jesus told stories that even after nearly 2000 years we are still learning from. They spoke to the conditions of the times in which he told them, and they continue to speak to us now, even though most of us are not engaged in the same sort of lifestyle as the people in first century Judea.
Last week we contemplated the story Jesus told about the sower and the seeds. We considered the possibility that soils change as conditions change. Good soils if left unattended can become filled with weeds, and how hard and rocky soils with proper care can become good. I mention this because like most people we often think of things in a moment. Initially we assume that a hard hearted person will never change, but we tend to forget that it takes time for soils to become hard. Constant traffic walking all over a heart with very little care given to the wellbeing of an individual’s spiritual life can make any heart hard. So it will take continuous encouragement and time to work thought the hardness that was brought about by abuse and neglect.
Just as with the hard soils the rocky soils can be changed. Rocks can systematically be found and removed under the care of the farmer, and when the rocks are removed the plants can then grow freely. Weeds as well can be pulled from the rows allowing space for the crops to grow. Initially we assume that soils and people do not change. But imagine just for a moment if our ancestors lived with the idea that soils could not change? The states of Missouri and Kansas would never have been settled because many thought that the grass lands were unproductive soils. After this year’s harvest my family might agree with them. But our ancestors knew that soils under proper care could become productive, and if you had land of your own you could become successful and raise your family.
Imagine again if someone were have similar thought of you personally. Many considered the high plains of Kansas as being too hard, rocky, or weedy to be productive. Imagine if everyone that knew the gospel continued to neglect you as if you were a lost cause. Too hard hearted, too rocky, or filled with too many weeds.
To consider the parable we read today we must first remember the parable of the sower and the seeds, because just like a farm our spiritual lives are complex and need constant attention and care. Jesus begins by saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to…” This is an important place to start because we may risk understanding the entire parable if we first do not hear this statement properly. John the Baptist would cry out in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” And Jesus would also say similar things when He began to teach. The term near or at hand as some translations state it, is a word that is much deeper than we may think. At first we may consider it to be a term of time, as if saying the time is near, but that is not the whole story. Near or at hand means that it is all around in the air, the kingdom is near because it is right here with us. This is important because if the kingdom is all around us here now today as well as tomorrow and on into the end of ages, why do we not see it. This is the key to understanding this parable that Jesus spoke. When we consider the kingdom only to be a future event it has little effect on our lives today, but when it is all around us and we can actively live within the kingdom today as we will in eternity it can change how we interact with those around us.
The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to someone sowing good seed into a field. We can look at this passage from many different angles and interact with it through many different eyes. But if the field in the prior parable is the lives of individuals, I want us to consider the field in this parable in that manner as well. I say this because often we read the field as being the church and the seeds as being the individuals, as I was studying and praying with this passage this week I really felt that by looking at this parable in that manner we can get a very jaded view of the church and Kingdom, and a fatalistic view of the ministry. I also felt the need to look at this parable from a personal and intimate mindset because it enriches our understanding of the spiritual struggles that we each face as we walk the pathways with Christ.
A man sows good seed in the field and while he is asleep an enemy comes in and sows weeds among the wheat and goes away. And as the plants grew so did the weeds. The slaves say to the master, “Did not you sow good seeds in your field? Where, then, did all these weeds come from?” This is a wonderful question. Where did all the weeds come from? When we look at this story as your own spiritual journey with Jesus, I am sure many of you, as I do, ask this about your own lives. Over all our lives are filled with goodness, but every so often something pops up in our lives that just isn’t filled with the grace that God has shown us. We can be living our lives singing praises in our cars as we drive to the store, and suddenly someone pulls in front of us unexpectedly and the mouth that was just singing praises to God lets out a string of words that are filled not with grace but curses. Or maybe we spin a story we heard to mean something totally different from the truth, and the rumor weeds begin to emerge along with the seeds of spiritual growth. And we ask ourselves, “Where did all these weeds come from?”
Jesus tells this parable because this is actually a form of warfare that was used, and in some cases is still used in the world. If you want to hurt a person or a culture to gain power or influence, if you take out the food supply the people generally are less able to struggle against you. The weeds that Jesus refers to is a type of rye. In the Hebrew culture wheat infested with rye was considered unclean and in some cases dangerous, because rye is highly susceptible to a fungus called ergot
. If someone was to consume ergot they could become intoxicated to the point of hallucinations. Many scholars believe that ergot was at the root of the Salem Witch trials, because this tainted grain was being eaten because there was not enough good grain to eat. So with that bit of knowledge we can understand that there are spiritual battles that rage among us that at times can become intoxicating and cause us to do things we may not desire to do.
The servants want to go in and pull out the weeds, but how does the Master in the story respond? He advises his servants to let the weeds grow because if they were to pull out the weeds they would uproot the wheat as well. Consider this for a moment? Why would we want to let detrimental weeds grow in our lives? Why would it be unwise to go in a remove the unwanted plants from the fields? Jesus in essence is saying let people sin. Why would a righteous God who demands holiness allow the weeds to continue to grow?
Without untrained eyes it would be difficult to determine what is good and what is bad when it comes to wheat and rye. For most of us in this room, we could go into the field and we would not have any idea where to even begin. So we would begin to uproot plants, not knowing if we were pulling a weed or the crop. Even seasoned farmers often have a hard time distinguishing the difference until the plants have grown larger, because the differences in the early stages of the plant are almost microscopic. We must allow time to run its course.
This story is a good story. It tells us a great deal about good intentions and how we can cause great harm if we are not disciplined. If the servants of the master went out and began to uproot plants trying their hardest to make sure the harvest was good, they could very easily cause ruin. It is difficult to let things sit when you know something is wrong. It is hard for us to let seeds of grace mature without stepping in to try to pull out the seeds of evil in the lives of those we are serving. But we have to wait for the master to let us know when to act. It is not our harvest, but God’s. It is not our field that is being worked but His. We do not and cannot change the spiritual fields ourselves but must work with and under the direction of our master.
This requires us to become disciplined in our own lives. Working on little things in ourselves first and then encouraging others. We first need to follow the rhythm of life that Jesus showed us; a life where we make it our custom to worship, where we withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and then to go out into the fields to minister where the master has lead us. Without this rhythm we are unable to discern the voice of the master. Without this disciplined life we are unable to see the difference between the wheat and the weed. But even with this disciplined life we must be careful. A few months ago I spoke about the stages of belief: the first being knowledge, the second being trust, and the third being entrust. These stages of belief also play a role in how well we are able to handle the kingdom of heaven.
Those that act on knowledge, but without trust will often move forward without discernment and cause harm, even with good intentions. Those that fail to entrust their lives and the lives of others into the care of God, will often find that their lives may have uprooted the seeds of grace and are now nurturing plants with poisonous intoxicating properties. This is why the gospel writers included the spiritual practices of Jesus in their stories and why they included his parables alongside his miracles, so that we would be able move from one stage to the next.
So why do we wait to pull the weeds? Coming from an agricultural background I understand these agronomic parables better than some, and since I have a degree in crop science it helps as well. While studying for my degree, I actually had to take classes dealing with the study of soils, the study of crops, and the study of weeds. These classes were to train us in how to encourage the earth to produce as much as possible, how to choose which plants to grow where, and how to identify potential issues before they became a problem. I often thought that in becoming a pastor in an urban setting these skills I learned in school and on the farm might have been wasted but then I read scripture. Why does Jesus ask his servants to wait? Rye matures faster than wheat, so as the plants mature you can identify them and cut them out before the harvest of wheat begins. So when Jesus is telling us to wait to pull the weeds, he is telling us that if we wait we will see more clearly, we will nurture the good seeds and then the contrast between the good and bad become more visible.
Often those in the church fail to see the kingdom all around us because we are too focused on the weeds instead of focusing on the seeds of grace that God has called us to nurture. We see all that is wrong with the world, and want to act before God has had a chance to get the good seeds established. The problem with that type of view is we become our own worst enemy. We work hard to nurture the lives around us and then we begin pulling weeds and in the process uprooting the spiritual lives of the ones we are called to minister too. In our desires to groom righteous people we forget to teach discipline and stop the deeper establishment of belief. The kingdom of Heaven is all around us. The early friends would explain it as the spark of light in everyone, our job as followers and Friends of Christ is to nurture and feed the light, fertilize and water the seeds of belief until the hearts are a blaze and the flowers are in bloom. We do not see the kingdom around us because often we have stopped tending the fields.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends let us consider the wheat and the weeds, let us consider the stages of belief and the rhythm of life that Jesus taught us. Let us look at how we can assist our master in his fields by nurturing the seeds he plants and let the angels cut out the rye that the evil one has planted to confuse and hinder us. And let us become people walking along with Jesus as he worships, prays, and serves those in his community; and become a people Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with other.