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|"The Weeds of the Field"
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
| One of the more
difficult words I have found to define is also one of the simplest. It
is "weed." It's difficult to misspell; it's difficult to
mispronounce; but what does it really mean? I prefer to think of
it as a plant that is out of place.
It happens to be growing somewhere that it doesn't belong. But that failure of the plant to fit in usually leads us to think bad things about it.
In the parable of the sower which we discussed last week, some of the seeds fell among thorns and were choked out as the thorns grew. I said at that time that we might also refer to the thorns as weeds. They were plants out of place.
They were unwanted plants. But I think it is appropriate to ask this question: Do those thorns necessarily represent evil?
This morning we will be looking at another parable, and that parable is very closely related to the issue I just raised, but in this case Jesus calls our attention to weeds in wheat.
The first thing I think we should notice about this parable is how Jesus prepares his audience. In the parable of the sower there was no introduction. Jesus simply said, "A sower went out to sow."
But in this parable, he tells them exactly what he is up to when he begins by saying. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field."
In addition, the sower of the previous parable just sowed seed; but Jesus is leaving nothing to chance in this parable: it is GOOD seed.
In the twenty-fifth verse we see how clearly the lines of responsibility are being drawn: "but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away."
First of all, the weeds which are to show up in the wheat are not just acts of nature, but they are the acts of the enemy. Second, they are the PURPOSEFUL acts of the enemy, who sowed the weeds just as one might sow the wheat.
But finally, no one BUT the enemy is responsible, because this was done "while everybody was asleep," and after it was done the enemy went away.
Now recall what I said about the "evil" of weeds. ARE weeds inherently evil? In this parable it would appear that the evil lies with the SOWER of the weeds.
"So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well."
So what resulted from the sneaky act of the enemy was that as the wheat grew, so did the weeds.
"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?"
Now, if this doesn't ring any bells for you, maybe you've never been a parent who asked, amidst the struggle of raising children, "Where did I go wrong?"
Or maybe you've never been a teacher who, upon learning of the difficulties of a former student, asked, "Where did I go wrong?"
What we're asking is, if I sowed good seed, where did those weeds come from?
In the parable the landlord has a ready answer: "He answered, "An ENEMY has done this."
My first inclination in responding to this is to personify the enemy, but I don't think that's appropriate. And enemy COULD be another person or persons, but it could also be something WITHIN us. Even though we might not know what that something is.
"The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?"
And at this point I hear the "let's-jump-right-in-and-fix-everything" approach. Now that approach has its merits; but I think that this parable is telling us that such is not always the case.
"But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them."
In other words, he's telling them that to weed the field may be to do more harm than good. A more contemporary way of illustrating this is to speak of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
This seems to be such a simple truth, you would think that after two thousand years it might have made some headway with civilization. But how often do we reject a PERSON, who is like a lush field of grain, because there happen to be a few WEEDS in that person's life? How often do organizations and governments destroy innovation and brilliance to get rid of the INEFFICIENCY of a few WEEDS?
But the landlord has a better idea.
"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."
Now there IS a risk here. The weeds MAY choke out the wheat, and we are told of that possibility in the parable of the sower. But the message here is that there is GREATER risk of tearing out the wheat in the process of weeding than there is of having the wheat choked out. In any case, there is a trade-off that we must live with, and it is very real.
Look at the Bill of Rights. The freedoms of speech, of press, of assembly, and of religion can be downright scary.
Sometimes we wish that someone would make those we consider to be the idiots in the country shut up; sometimes we wish there weren't such things as books, magazines, and movies with sex and violence in them. And sometimes we wish that some organizations were not allowed to meet. But on the other hand, consider what few weeds we have to contend with in this lush field of freedom.
As with the parable of the sower, Jesus explained this parable to his disciples also. However, with the previous parable they didn't directly ask him for an explanation, but in this case they asked,
"Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."
"He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of man."
This is important; because the only way that Jesus every referred to himself was as the Son of man. But I would go further with this interpretation, because I believe that all of us, being followers of Jesus Christ, are, insofar as we do follow him, sowers of the good seed. This does not mean that we always have good seed to sow, but it does mean that when we sow the good seed, we are sowing the seeds of the kingdom. I think that far too often we belittle our own contributions to God's kingdom.
It is not important that our contributions may be small; but it IS important that we contribute.
Jesus goes on to identify what the field, the good seed, and the weeds mean.
"The field is the world."
It is everything and everybody. It is ANYthing and ANYbody, and all of us can therefore have a place in that field.
"The good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one," of the wicked one, of Satan.
Next, Jesus tells his disciples who the enemy is, what the harvest is, and who the reapers are.
"And the enemy who sowed them is the devil," or Satan, or the evil one, or for that matter, however we might wish to define evil.
Less clearly, for me anyway, "the harvest is the end of the age."
I say "less clearly" because I have a sense that there is an ongoing harvest which takes place beyond my comprehension, outside my understanding, that God is in charge of even now.
And finally amidst all these symbols, "the reapers are angels," God's ambassadors, the members of God's chosen workforce.
And Jesus tells us that "Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age."
And I would not deny that there will be a final judgment. But as I said, I suspect that there is an ongoing judgment, that the weeds are being gathered and burned right now. Now, it may be difficult for us to believe that. We may ask, how, with so much evil in the world, can it be possible that God is gathering and burning? My answer would be that where we see evil, or think we see evil, it is continuing so that the good will not be destroyed with it. But in God's own time, as the good is at the point of harvest, that good will prevail and the evil will be, as the parable says, gathered and burned.
In verses forty-one and forty-two, the interpretation of the parable has essentially ended, but Jesus concludes that,
"The Son of man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnaces of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
This is, of course, the promise of the ultimate punishment of hell. It is dramatic, and it is vivid. But I don't think we need to wait until the close of the age for it. I think it is constantly with us.
There is an ebb and flow of good and evil in the world. And while we may be wondering when God is going to act against evil, the creator is awaiting the growth of good before gathering in the evil.
In our own lives we can experience the incredible patience of God which allows OUR imperfections so that our goodness may grow and prevail. We know that, just as we are tormented by the guilt of the evil in our lives, our God is a forgiving God who will forgive our sins as we endeavor to grow toward the good.
In verses fourteen and fifteen of the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells us that "if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
And I think he's telling us that if we can accept others in spite of the weeds in their fields, that God can be forgiving of us in spite of the weeds in our fields. But if we cannot be accepting of others, then God will not be accepting of us.
For some this still may not answer the question of why weeds must grow along with the wheat, why evil must exist with the good. But the story is told of a question once put to a wise man: Why must ugliness exist alongside beauty? And the wise man answered, because without ugliness we would not know what beauty is. And so it may be with the evil in the world.
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