By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 19, 2020
Matthew 13:24–30 (ESV)
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
Matthew 13:36–43 (ESV)
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to 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 is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons 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 gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Last week we spoke about the parable of the soils. That parable is something that speaks to the very heart of my soul. The farm, no matter how long I live in the city, will always be home. There is something about that life that holds an attraction to me. To wake up in the morning, leave the house and make a living by providing the food and fiber for the world. The farmer goes out and tends to the soils. To a farmer the soil is the key to their success. A good farmer will care for their soil, they will do all they can to ensure the soil will continue to produce for several generations. They build terraces to prevent erosion, they will rotate crops to keep ensure that weeds will not get too established, and they will promote the health of the soil with nutrients in the form of fertilizers. As the world is focused on climate change and how to prevent further issues, they often forget that one of their greatest allies in the fight is the farmer.
The sower in last week’s parable, was a farmer that tended the soils. The farmer looks at their soils and they make every attempt to remove rocks, rid the soil of weeds, and to break up those hard places so that the seeds that they plant will grow well to produce much fruit. The farmer will work tirelessly attempting to provide as much quality produce as they possibly can, but there are always factors outside of their control. In today’s parable, Jesus again takes an agricultural approach.
“The Kingdom of haven may be compared,” Jesus begins. Often when we think of the kingdom, we get the idea that Jesus is speaking of that glorious time beyond the veil we call death. The kingdom is much greater that that. We think of kingdoms as being land or a nation, but it is more than that. A kingdom be a scope of influence. The kingdom of heaven is not just a place, but a way of life. This is what the majority of Jesus’ ministry focused on. He made it his custom to worship with the community in the synagogues, enjoying the celebrations and worship done in those places. He would even worship within the temple because we are told that he made the customary pilgrimages to Jerusalem at the appointed times. He would withdraw to isolated places to pray but would not remain in that isolated place He would go out into to community teaching, healing and at times feeding those around him. When Jesus taught, he would often challenge the contemporary understanding or interpretation of scripture. This threatened the influence of those within the seats of power, both within the civil and religious realms. He threatened their kingdom because the influence that they held over people began to change as people looked at the lifestyle Jesus showed.
The people that listened to Jesus, began to have their attentions turned from the kingdom or influence of the temple, or that of Rome and began to look at things from a different perspective. The perspective Jesus taught was one that was focused on heaven, the realm of God. Jesus compares this influence to a field. And we have a flash back to last week’s parable, and the sower is out in the field scattering good seed.
Last week we talked about the soil. The farmer was out tending the soil prior to scattering the seeds, to make the field fit for seed. There were things within the field that were causing problems, outside influences. Restrictions, worries, and birds that hinder the seed or influence of God from taking root in a life. This week Jesus looks at the seed.
The kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While I was studying in college, I held a job at the Kansas State University Research Station, while there I assisted the research in many ways, but mainly I prepared samples for research. I would spend hours counting seed and removing contaminates, and I would also take samples of various dried plants and grind them into powders so that we could analyze the nutritional content. The care of the samples was important because the needed to know that each sampling was as similar as possible. When I prepared the seeds to plant the researcher needed to know that the seed was as uniform and good as possible so that the seed factor would not as much of a factor in the end result of the research.
Clean seed is one of the most important aspects of farming. When planting wheat you can save seed from the previous year’s crop, but there is a risk in doing this. When you save seed from your field you save along with it the seeds of weeds, and potentially fungus and other diseases, along with insect eggs. The farmer will inspect the fields and find the area that appears to have the least problems and save the grain from that area, but the risk remains. After the seed has been saved, they then must decide if the seed was clean enough, because by planting your own seed you run the risk of spreading weeds and disease throughout your entire farm. This is where a choice must be made, to plant seed you grew yourself is by far the least expensive route to go but has greater risk. To alleviate some of the risk you can pay someone to clean the seed. This is a process that moves the seed through a series of screens that have various opening sizes. Each plant has different sizes of seeds and they have different shapes and other features so as the seeds move along these screens some fall and others stay on top, and as the seeds are moved about they also use a fan to blow lighter weight particles out. At the end of the process you have a uniform batch of seed that is nearly weed free, but not does it account for potential diseases. If you are worried about disease that might affect the germination of the seed, you can add a fungicide to the seed that will provide some protection, but there is even risk to this. If you kept more seed than you needed you can always sell what is left, but if it has been treated with a fungicide the seed cannot be sold because poses a risk of poisoning. The final option regarding wheat seed is to buy certified seed from a dealer. This is seed that has been verified, treated, and guaranteed but this is the most expensive route to go and is usually only done when a farmer has a desire to plant a different variety of wheat.
We only think that farming is simple. I mention this because Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Good seed takes time and a great deal of effort. It takes discipline. In last week’s parable one of the issues of the soil was weeds that choked out the seed, and Jesus explained that the seeds that were scattered among the weeds or thorns heard the word but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful. This is where last week and this week come together.
If we want to be fruitful for the kingdom, it takes some effort. The truth of the gospel is that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. But scripture also challenges us to show our faith through our work. On the surface it might appear that scripture contradicts itself, but those two statements are speaking from different perspectives. We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try, but if we are saved the way we live will no longer be the same, so there will be a change in what we do. When I suggest that to be fruitful for the kingdom it takes effort, it means that we need to work with Christ as he works in us. If we want to have the scripture written on our hearts, we need to at least let the scripture in through our eyes or ears. If we want to have God answer our prayers, scripture tells us we need to pray even though we may not know what to say, and that God already knows what we need. We need to work with Christ to remove the weeds not only from the field but from the seed.
When I was around ten years old, my dad had an opportunity to sell some alfalfa seed. Alfalfa is a plant that is not like wheat, because alfalfa is a perennial meaning it will continue to grow for several years. The seed of alfalfa is extremely small, I think the mustard seeds we have here are larger than the seeds of alfalfa. We went to our shed every evening and we worked on cleaning this seed, and it was hard work. We put the screens in the machine and poured all the seed through and collected everything that came out in various containers. Then we would change the screen again and would repeat the process. After going through this for days on end, we eventually came out with a barrel full of alfalfa seed that was ready to sell. When my dad sold the seed, he gave each of some of the money. He took us to the bank, and we opened an account. It was more money than I knew existed at that time. And the first thing my dad told us was that God gave us that opportunity and we should thank God before anything else, and that is how my dad taught me to support the ministry of the church. Yes, I put in a lot of work, but it was God that provided the opportunity and we gave a tithe to God to thank him for that blessing. My dad then gave us another lesson, he asked us what we wanted to do when we got older and we all thought about it a great deal. And I told him that I wanted to go to college, but I could not decide if I wanted to be an astronaut or a jet pilot. He said you know you have time to decide, but if I wanted to go to college then we would have to plan. It was from the money I earned from cleaning alfalfa seed, that I bought my first cow, and that cow started the herd that would eventually pay for my education. And I did not become an astronaut or a jet pilot. But those seeds were really what began my journey of life. Those seeds, good seeds showed me the blessing God had given me and taught me how to prepare for the future.
Those seeds fell on the fields of my life, and I would have to say that they did grow, but that does not mean that there has not been hardship along the way. Weeds have entered the fields of my life. The cares of the world creep in, and at times I face financial hardships that are unavoidable or self-inflicted. At times I am not as fruitful as I could be.
Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” I want us to imagine this story. All the work that is done to prepare the field, all the work that is required to prepare and clean the seed. The sower of this story and those that help him are tired. They have labored for days to get everything right. The hot sun has beat down on their backs as they dig up rocks and till the soil to break up the hardened paths and to eliminate the weeds. They have tossed the seed up into the air to allow the wind to carry away the chaff, and they have shaken then gain through screens to remove as many weed seeds as possible. They have labored, and when the field is planted, they go to sleep, because they have earned it. And as the plants grow, they notice that along with the wheat is something else. All their labor seems to have failed. And they are discouraged.
While they were sleeping someone added weeds. While they were unaware the cares of the world made their way back into their lives. They were at one time pure seeds of the gospel, and now there is a mixture of wheat and weed. The servants cry out,” Master, did you not sow good seed? How then does it have weeds?” Notice they are blaming the master for the trouble. They are saying to God, like so often we do, “Why or how did you let this happen?”
When we are unaware, we can be deceived, while our attention is pulled away from what is most important our enemy, the devil, can start throwing lies and obstacles into our lives that will hinder our growth. The servants of this story heard that the enemy is the one that put weeds out in the field, so they boldly approach their master with a plan, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” Do you want us to go pull the weeds? It sounds great right. It sounds like an excellent way to rid our lives of the evil influences. Let us just go out into the world and pull the weeds. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do. He says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”
I want us to pause on that statement. “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” Jesus is literally telling his disciples to leave the weeds alone. They have already taken root and are growing right along side that that is desired. But if you pull the weed, you might kill the wheat.
Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of weeds scattered among the wheat. Some of these threaten to divide our very community. People that I grew up respecting have seemingly lost direction. Authors and bands that I followed, have left the church. Pastors I respected, now proclaim things I never thought I would ever hear them say. I wonder where is this all coming from? Weeds.
Jesus tells his servants not to worry about pulling the weeds, because if we go in ripping things up, we will kill the very thing we labored so hard for. Does this mean we need to just let the weeds grow? No, it means we must be careful, and we need to be more disciplined and aware. Weeds are the things of this world that distract us from God. But there is an interesting thing about weeds, sometimes the weeds are good in the right place. One of the most problematic weeds in wheat is rye. Rye is similar to wheat, it has a similar growth cycle, and is also an important crop, but it is not good in wheat. If we try to kill the rye that enters a wheat field everything, we do could potentially harm the wheat. But if we allow it to continue to grow it will continue to spread throughout the field. But at the proper time the two plants become distinguished, rye typically grows a bit taller than wheat so you can see it, but you cannot just go pulling it up because it is right there with the wheat. The only way to stop it is to go into the field and cut the rye out before it goes to seed, and to carry it out of the field so it can be destroyed without contaminating the field any more. Rye is not bad in the proper place, but we do have to be disciplined when handling the situation.
We have many weeds in our lives, at times those weeds are good, but at other times it can be a distraction. We could go out ripping the weeds up, but that might defeat the purpose, so we need to be disciplined. Jesus said that the enemy came while the servants were asleep and unaware. This is the answer. We need to be aware. We need to stay focused on what is most important: That is life with Christ. We need to remain in Him and his lifestyle of Worship, prayer, and service to others. We need to practice that holy rhythm until it become natural to us. And then as we see the weeds among us, we can handle those problems in a manner that will not cause harm.
Friends we are allowing weeds to have too much control of our lives, and often we see the weeds but do not see that of God growing right alongside. We have those around us struggling and we condemn their struggle without encouraging their growth. Encourage the growth and address the weeds when the time comes. And often if we encourage those around us to join us in the holy rhythm of Christ, we do not even have to worry about their struggles because God will take care of it himself. Instead of pulling weeds let us focus instead on loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.