Those of you who have tended lawns and gardens know how important it is to keep weeds under control. You have to pull them out or use chemicals. It’s a lot of hard work, especially if you have to figure out what is a weed and what is a good flower or blade of grass. After all, sometimes the difference is not obvious because some weeds look like good flowers or grass and vice versa. At times like this, don’t you just want to say, “The heck with it!” and let someone else do the dirty work?
The parable of the wheat and the weeds talks about a similar situation. In Jesus’ day, it was common for a mischief-maker to sow darnel over the original crop. Darnel looks almost identical to wheat until harvest time, and it is mildly toxic. The servants wanted to uproot the darnel immediately, but the landowner insisted that it grow with the wheat until harvest time. Otherwise the wheat would be destroyed along with the darnel because the roots of both plants would be interwoven. At harvest time, the darnel would be separated from the wheat and burned as fuel.
This story is a metaphor for the harvest of the good and the bad that is coming. The bad will be burned like the darnel, and the good will be gathered into the barn or, in the case of Christians, taken to heaven. Jesus taught that on that day God will judge or reward the people. The lawless will suffer in hell, while the righteous will rejoice in heaven. The righteous are those who come to Jesus in faith to be cleansed from their sins. Jesus will clothe them in his righteousness.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds answers two questions: How can good and evil coexist in the world and what can we do about it? There are two planters, two plants, two plans and two prospects. The meaning of the parable is that as Jesus introduces the kingdom of heaven into the world, Satan and his followers will do everything they can to resist the kingdom. In the end, the kingdom will triumph. In this story, the field represents the world, not just the church.
Sometimes the enemy-Satan-makes our job as sowers of the seed called the Good News harder. We are to spread the news of Christ’s love, but sometimes we are hindered by Satan and the world. Sometimes these evil plans are disguised as good plans or good people. It’s not always easy to distinguish the good and the bad. Sometimes a person we think is good turns out to be bad and vice versa. We must not be quick to judge others. Patience must not be confused with condoning evil. Evil, especially evil that is disguised as something good, will become recognizable at harvest time.
We do not live in an ideal world. We are constantly faced with decisions to which there is no clear answer. Some decisions we’ll get right, others we’ll get wrong, and still others we won’t know if we were right or wrong for months or years, but we still have to make them. No matter how we did, God loves us anyway and promises that he will hold all of our choices and our lives together in love.
Good and evil exist side by side in our world, including in our churches. It is not our job to weed them out because we can’t see the hearts of the people. The true sower of salvation is Jesus. Only Jesus has the power to transform hearts. He is the one who saves sinners through the preaching and witnessing of believers. Our job is to see that we remain true believers and not become hypocrites. It is also not our job to weed evil out because our standards and God’s standards are not the same. Out standards are not perfect, but God’s standards are perfect. What we decide is evil might be good in God’s eyes, and what is good in our eyes might be evil in God’s eyes.
To make things worse, we have both wheat and weeds in our own lives. We have our good points and our bad points, and all of them combine to create who we are as people. If we get rid of the weeds in our own lives, we get rid of our own bad parts, but we also change parts of who we are as people. Removing the weeds might make us more Christ-like, but we also end up removing a part of ourselves. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, we might end up removing parts that are good in God’s eyes and keeping parts that are bad in his eyes simply because our standards and God’s standards are not the same.
We know better than to judge others, but we do it anyway. We judge people based on how they look, social status or where they live. For example, when I was a teenager I had a paper route for several years. One time my supervisor asked me to take on a new customer who was a member of the lower class. My parents did not want me to accept her as a customer because they were concerned that she would not pay, but my supervisor convinced them to change their mind. Their concern was based on the customer’s social class, but this customer was one of the best I had in terms of paying for her newspapers. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I had to go back to her house to collect her money and still have fingers left over.
We might have the desire to be perfectionists, especially when it comes to other people. If we find ourselves dwelling on their faults or wondering why they don’t act and feel and think like we do, or if we find ourselves getting frustrated or annoyed by their weaknesses, perhaps we are expecting too much of them. Also, we might be failing to respect the differences we have in terms of culture, experience, background, character, personality or temperament.
Jesus teaches that God’s kingdom doesn’t come all at once. It was started when Jesus was born, it continued after his death and resurrection, and it will end when he returns to judge everyone. God doesn’t tell us why he lets good and evil exist together. We can only conclude that somehow it glorifies God to allow evil to exist. God’s kingdom is a mixed bag of good and evil, and it’s not always clear which is which. As such, we’d do well not to try to judge people. We must not judge others because we could destroy the good with the bad. Jesus has set high ethical standards and is troubled by Christians who do not live up to them. Unlike God, we do not know the hearts of people.
This story invites us to costly discipleship. The very real evil that exists is not to be answered by attacking and destroying the people who are responsible for it. Doing so only adds to the harm. Our response is to be forgiving and to be willing to trust in God’s purposes. We are not to tolerate anything that can’t be tolerated. Sometimes we do have to deal immediately with people who are obviously evil such as dangerous criminals, but at other times we must not rush to judgment. If we want to receive grace, we must be willing to extend grace. In the final act of salvation, the tensions that exist within us and with all of God’s creation will finally be resolved and put to rest and we shall live in peace with God and each other for eternity. Until then, they coexist even within us, so that to root out the one would be to destroy the other.
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 holding people accountable 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 seldom true in the world.
We can still see weeds in ourselves and others. Instead of being discouraged, we should be hopeful. Good seed has been planted in us and is growing. The burden of the struggle isn’t ours alone. We get help from Jesus the landowner. He knows what is happening and helps us sort things out.
We are not the final judge of the world-that is God’s job. We are to remain faithful to God’s word even during hard times, but if we do go astray, we have opportunities to mend our ways. We have the time and the grace we need to make the changes we have to make.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Greg Laurie, “What Exactly is a Tare?” Retrieved from www.harvesst.org
- Pastor Dick Woodward, “Why Evil?” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
- Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Pastor Steve Molin, “Mom, Where do Weeds Come From?” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Let Both of Them Grow Together.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 16th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Exegesis for Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Donna Stanford, “Bible Study: 6 Pentecost, Proper 11(A).” Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- David Lose, “Pentecost 6A: On Wheat, Weeds and Ambiguity.” Retrieved from www.davidlose.net
- The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, “Problems beyond Our Power to Fix.” Retrieved from www.day1.org