When I worked at a local lumber mill several years ago, part of my duties included grading lumber. By that I mean separating lumber according to its qualities as determined by both the National Lumber Grading Authority rules and common sense. In other words, I was separating good lumber from bad lumber. Some of this was done before the lumber was planed, and some was done after.
The parable of the weeds and the wheat is a similar situation. The weeds and the wheat are growing up together, and the servants want to pull the weeds. This is understandable, because according to Leviticus 19:19, weeds made a field unclean, along with sowing more than one kind of seed in a field. The master tells the servants to wait until both are fully grown and ready for harvest, because until that time the weeds and the wheat are identical in appearance. Also, because the roots of the weeds and wheat are intertwined, pulling up weeds would also mean pulling up wheat. At harvest time, the weeds are to be gathered separately, bundled together and used for fuel, while the wheat is ground into flour.
The parable has some grain of truth (no pun intended!). In Palestine, a type of weed called darnel grass grows. In its growth and form it strongly resembles wheat, but it produces either an inferior kind of grain or none at all. Because of its similarity, it is extremely difficult to separate from genuine wheat. Also, its taste is very bitter and when eaten either separately or when mixed with ordinary bread, it causes dizziness.
Jesus and the disciples sowed the good seeds of the Christian faith in their time, and true Christians are to sow the same seeds today. In Jesus’ time, as is the case today, the devil and his cronies sow seeds of evil among the good seeds. In both cases, good and evil produced fruit together in the same spot.
This parable outlines the course of history from Jesus’ time to the Day of Judgment. It explains why evil persists all over the world. It emphasizes the proper way to think about the world and the course of human history. It also suggests how we as Christians should be investing our time, talents and energy until Jesus returns. We are to continue sowing the good seeds of the kingdom until the kingdom begins to be seen wherever we raise Christ’s banner
We are like the farmer who carefully sows good seed in the field of our lives. We work hard to raise a good family; make good relationships; help a loved one battling with a disease; fight for better schools, healthcare, peace and the environment. If the world was fair, the good we do would always yield good results, but in many cases the good we work for looks like it is going to have the life choked out of it by the reality of our world.
We live in a world where good and evil coexist, and there’s not much we can do about it. Sure, we can resist evil and temptation, and we must resist them, but we can’t get rid of them. In fact, it isn’t even our job to get rid of them. That will be God’s job on Judgment Day. If we try to get rid of evil on our own, we will fail, because the standards we use to separate good from evil are much lower than the standards God uses. Also, evil and good are intertwined in our society. In addition, good is often disguised as evil, and vice versa.
In the 1600s, the Puritans made a concerted effort to purge the church of all those who weren’t of pure faith, and so, didn’t belong. They also tried to remove pagan symbols from celebrations of Christmas and Easter. In both cases, they failed. After all, if there’s no place in the church for sinners needing to be accepted and loved, there’s no place for us. The church needs constant reformation and positive action, including the quest for holiness, but it must avoid unrealistic purism—what is needed is that elusive thing called balance. No one is so useless that they can’t be used as a bad example.
A man was stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light to turn green. When the light changed, he was distracted and he didn’t budge. The woman in the car behind him honked her horn. He still didn’t move. She honked again, and by this time she was pounding on the steering wheel and blowing her horn non-stop. Finally, just as the light turned yellow, the man woke up and drove through the light. The woman in the second car was beside herself. Still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her car window. She looked up to see the face of a police officer. “Lady, you’re under arrest,” he said. “Get out of the car. Put your hands up.” He took her to the police station, had her fingerprinted, photographed, and then put her in a holding cell.
Hours passed. The officer returned and unlocked the cell door. He escorted her back to the booking desk. “Sorry for the mistake, lady,” he said. “But I pulled up behind you as you were blowing your horn and cursing out the fellow in front of you. I noticed the stickers on your bumper. One read “Follow me to Sunday School.” The other, “What would Jesus do?” So, naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Many people claim to be followers of God, and they often fool others into thinking they really are. They speak pretty words—or at least words that sound pretty to others—and they mislead many. Any follower of God with experience in the real world, however, knows that talk is cheap. Only those who produce fruit that is consistent with their claims to be followers of God can be trusted. Are we walking the walks or merely talking the talk? What about those who put themselves up as leaders? Think back to the cases of evangelists such as Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart. In both cases, these so-called men of God were brought down by the evil weeds of greed and lust.
Sometimes even so-called experts and people who should know better can’t predict how things are going to turn out. An expert evaluating a potential football coach said of him, “He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation”. He was talking about Vince Lombardi, who, though he lacked motivation, was the successful football coach quoted for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Eighteen publishers turned down a story about a seagull written by Richard Bach, but “Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull” was finally published in 1970, and in five years it sold more than 7 million copies. After Fred Astaire’s screen test, the evaluating director wrote, “Can’t act, slightly bald, can dance a little.”
Even parents can’t always judge their own children’s abilities. Louisa May Alcott, known for the classic “Little Women,” was encouraged by her parents to find work as a servant or seamstress. Parents today are sometimes the same, even if their intentions are good. Then again, parents are human, not gods. They don’t always know if their children will turn out to be angels such as Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu, or a mass murderer.
The Kingdom of God is a mixed bag in which weeds and wheat grow together, side by side, and we can’t always tell them apart. We will always have evil among us. It is not our job to weed evil out because we don’t see the hearts of people we judge as being evil. Our job is to take care of ourselves, to take heed and make sure we are true believers and not hypocrites. Good and evil will both grow stronger until God judges the world and all evil is destroyed. God answers to no authority, but he will deal gently with people until Judgment Day in order to set an example for his people. On the Day of Judgment, God will deal with the counterfeit Christians and those he judges to be evil and unrepentant at the same time.
As Christians we are to practice forgiveness and patience. Revenge (in this case, pulling the weeds) resolves nothing, but only increases evil. Judgment and criticism run rampant in our world. For example, many of you might remember the children’s TV show called “The Muppets”. Two of the characters were the two old men who sat up in the balcony every week and heckled and criticized the jokes and performances, but they always returned for the next show. Unfortunately, there are Christians who act the same way. They see many flaws, but they show up week after week. They point out the flaws in other Christians or church programs, but they do not volunteer themselves to help everyone see how it could be done better.
If we try to judge others and get rid of evil, we run the risk of going against Jesus’ advice to not be concerned about the speck of dirt in our neighbour’s eye when we have a plank in our own eye. To do so might give us a “holier than thou” attitude. Judging others is a sin in God’s eyes. In our own lives, there might be more weeds than we care to admit and getting rid of them is easier said than done. For example, those of you who, like my mother, do knitting as a hobby know what it is like to unravel several rows of knitting to fix a mistake.
The more we think we know about who can safely be called an evildoer beyond redemption, the more we prove ourselves to be not only inept gardeners, but immature weeds. But those who are mature know who they are, and they know who they’re not. The mature know that they are not the judge of the nations because they know the judge personally. It’s Jesus. And we’re not Jesus, as we know when we’re following him.
The devil and his helpers will try to capture our affections, pollute our minds, corrupt our godly priorities and infest our every practice. They will infect our work with an obsession for self-advancement, and will replace interest in Kingdom endeavors with distractions and diversions. They will try to persuade us that we are better to enjoy entertainment and fun than the hard work of spreading the Good News.
The kingdom begins when Jesus sows the good seed and draws people to him, but the devil always tries to work against him. The harvest will take place when Christ comes again at the end of the age. The kingdom of God and the Gospel of that Kingdom come with spiritual violence against the world’s weapons of unbelief. In the power of the Spirit and Word of God, every opposing force will collapse under the advancing weight and thrust of the realm of grace and truth of Christ.
Sometimes weeds spring up that we didn’t have anything to do with. When that happens, we must focus on God’s goodness, and not on the problem that caused the weed to spring up in the first place. We can do this through faith in the Son of God. It is his love that binds us to him and protects us from the evil one.
Loving the sinner and hating the sin means being tolerant of those who are different from us. Loving the sinner and hating the sin means calling people into accountability for their actions, but always being willing to forgive. It means affirming the good in people, instead of always looking for the bad…and of all places; this ought to be true in the church because it is so seldom true in the world.
This is a parable about mercy. While the forces of good and evil will be sorted out some day, there is still time for change until that day comes. It is a story about grace, patience and hope. Don’t we often look back on our own mistakes and become thankful that we had time to change and make amends? Aren’t we glad that God gave us the chance and the help we needed to work things out?
- The Rev. Donald Lawton, “A Call to Move On”. Speech delivered on Friday, May 27, 2011 at the 143rd Synod of the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
- Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 16th Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- T.M. Moore, “What Kind of World?” Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- Joel Osteen, “When Weeds Spring Up”. Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
- T.M. Moore, “The Good Seed”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- T.M. Moore, “Your View of History Matters”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- Greg Laurie, “Wheat and tares”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- T.M. Moore, “The Struggle for Supremacy”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament-Matthew 13:24-30. Part of Wordsearch Bible Software package.
- The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, “Is the World More Hostile to Christians?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
- Greg Laurie, “Time Will Tell”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Chris Haslam, “Comments, 10th Sunday after Pentecost-July 20, 2008”. Retrieved from http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr16m.shhtml
- Girardian Reflections, Year A. Retrieved from www.girardianlectionary.net/year_a/proper11a.htm
- Preaching Peace. Retrieved from www.preachingpeace.org/lectionaries/yeara-proper11./
- Sarah Dylan Breuer, “Proper 11, Year A”. Retrieved from www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/07/proper_11_year_html
- Saturday Night Theologian, 20 July 2008. Retrieved from www.progressivetheology.org/SNT/SNY-2008.07.20.html
- The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, “Why Can’t We Pull Up the Weeds?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Let Both of Them Grow Together”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
- Pastor Steve Molin, “Mom, Where DO Weeds Come From?” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
- Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “The Parable of the Wheat and Tares”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
- Mike Benson, “Analysts”. Retrieved from www.welovegod.org