Today, our gospel message comes to us from the 13th chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 24th verse, “The parable of the weeds.”
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Father, You sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them, we come to know the mystery of your life. Help us worship you, one God in three persons, And reveal yourself in the depths of our being, by proclaiming and living our faith in you. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
“Cultivating the Weedpatch”
Once upon a time, there was a farmer who owned forty acres of good bottom land and was known for the quality and quantity of the crops he raised on that land. One spring—just like every other spring—he plowed and furrowed and sowed in a crop of wheat. Then he sat back to wait for nature to take its course. Which, of course, it did. First came the refreshing spring rains, soaking the land and swelling the seed. Then the warm summer sun, drawing the new plants up to the surface of the soil. Everything went just as it had always gone, and soon the earth was green with lush growth.
But something happened on the way to the grain bin. One day, one of the field hands came in and told the farmer: “Something’s gone wrong. Something else was sown in with the wheat. You’ve got some other kind of grass in there, spoiling the crop. It must be bad seed. We’d better get in there ad pull out the weeds.” But the farmer replied, “No, don’t do that. I inspected the seed. The seed is OK. Someone sowed bad seed in with the good. If you pull out the weeds, you’ll pull out some of the wheat too. The wheat will be OK. Leave it go, and we’ll separate it at harvest time.”
Now, a lot of folks, when they look at this parable, think it’s just a rehashing of what Jesus said about the sheep and the goats, and conclude that Jesus is talking about how, at the judgment, he is going to separate the good from the bad. But that’s really not the point. What Jesus is proposing is really radical. In fact, most farmers would sooner plow under a bad crop and start over than try to separate the seed at harvest. It certainly is a lot easier! But Jesus’ concern is that NONE of the good harvest be lost. And that is where we begin to understand the story.
In my own life, I have had a lot of difficulties trying to decide who are the sheep and who are the goats—who is good seed and who is a weed. Sometimes I feel more like a goat or a weed myself than a sheep or fruitful wheat. It’s too easy to separate humanity into two groups—them and us; the good and the bad. In reality, life is not like that. Most of us are both good and bad—wheat and weeds. And, in light of the gospel, we have to reject that way of looking at people. People are like a field into which both good and bad seed have been sown or to put it another way—we don’t know what wheat has been sown in the most weed-filled garden.
That is where we begin today. Jesus’ concern is not to separate the wheat from the weeds, but rather than none of the wheat is lost.
This parable reveals to us three things: First of all, it reveals God’s sovereignty to us. God is sovereign. There is no dualism in Christianity. God rules. Many people don’t really understand that. Many think that God has given this world over to Satan’s control. They have the mistaken notion that Satan, not God, is at the helm of history.
But this parable shows us something else—God is the initiator. He is the One who does the sowing. Satan may sow weeds in God’s plan, but God’s plan is fulfilled perfectly anyway. Satan is no more than a tool that God uses to complete his purposes. God was—and is—in control. Always. He has no “Plan B” for us.
Yet it is hard for us to tune into that will, isn’t it? We are like the servants in the parable, in danger of tearing out the wheat with the weeds. God works in our life, but we aren’t sure what he is doing, where he is leading us, or how we should respond. Like Job, we begin to question him.
The problem is not God, of course—the problem is our sinful condition. The problem is not with what God is doing—the problem is that we can’t tell tares from wheat; we do not know or follow God’s will. Our condition of brokenness, of separation from the heart of God, causes our hearts and wills to be blinded and darkened.
Only One knows the Father’s heart—and that is his own Spirit. Isaiah says, speaking for God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Only His Spirit can understand His purposes. St. Paul tells us, “Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” We don’t know how to carry on a relationship with God—we can’t even carry on a conversation with Him. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” In the first seven chapters of Romans, Paul explains why this is so—we are caught up in a web, a whirlpool, a downward spiral of suffering, frustration, and futility that revolves around our own sinful nature. All that we do is tainted. How can we ever hope to dialogue with, touch the heart of God, or understand his ways? Everything appears to us to be shades of gray: That couple caught up in the prospect of divorce, not knowing whether to pray for the strength to stick it out, even when they seem so very incompatible in their very natures. The son and daughter, watching their mother slowly waste away to the point that she is almost unrecognizable to them as the person they once knew—not sure whether to pray for death or life for her. The woman, with a burden of the Gospel on her heart, not sure whether to pray for boldness in declaring her faith to her friend, or patience, so that her friend may not be offended and perhaps, instead, be eventually won by the testimony of her life.
The wheat and tares are mixed together in life, to the point that they are indecipherable, unrecognizable to us. We do not know how to pray as we ought. We don’t know what to pray for. We can’t make it through the tangle of wheat and tares.
Yet Paul goes on to say, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
God takes the burden upon himself. In the parable, Jesus says the farmer himself will separate the wheat from weeds at the harvest. He takes responsibility. He takes charge. While we sigh, not knowing what to say to God, not knowing how to respond—God’s own Spirit, the precious gift he gave to you in your baptism, discerns your greatest needs and desires, and envelopes them in God’s will, and presents them to the throne of God.
In Philippians 2, verses 5 through 8, Paul says that Jesus emptied himself, taking on human form and, being found in human form, humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, dying on the cross for us. He entered into our life. He died in our place so that we might have life. Now the Spirit continues this work on an even deeper level, entering into the midst of our hearts, into our day to day pleasures and problems, and discerning our deepest needs and incorporating us into the plan and purposes of God. Where we are silent or confused, he speaks for us. So God’s will is completed in us, even though we don’t understand it fully.
In Ephesians 3:20, Paul says, “to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” He knows what weed is and what is wheat. He doesn’t demand perfection of us. He only demands our faith, our trust, our faithfulness.
Hope in Him. Trust in Him. He has a plan for your life. You may not always know what He is doing, but be assured—He is in charge. He knows what He’s doing. He will bring in the harvest. And none shall be lost. May you bear a rich harvest for Him.
Prayer: Dear Lord, for some reason, many Christians try to pull out the weeds before the right time. We can exhaust ourselves judging our fellow believers, deciding who’s in and who’s out. Forgive us, Lord, for our presumption, for doing that which is yours alone to do.
Yes, we are to be careful in discerning truth from falsehood. And, yes, we are to hold each other accountable to live out our faith in this world. But may we do so without a critical or haughty spirit. Help us to be as gracious to those with whom we disagree as you have been to us. Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Sermon contributed by Gary Roth.
God’s concern is not so much to “separate the wheat from the chaff,” but to preserve the “wheat” so that none of it may be lost.