GOSPEL Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’ ” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “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; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 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 furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
While I was in seminary, as part of my education, I volunteered under an ordained minister who was the chaplain at an addiction recovery center in Columbus. Mainly I sat in on some meetings the chaplain did, and I would assist in different ways during worship. One day I was giving a homily in worship on this text and I reminded people that God had patience, more patience than even our family or our friends most of the time, and that God would not give up on us. People may think we are weeds because of how our addictions have taken us over, but in God’s eyes we always have a chance to become the wheat if given enough time.
A gentleman came up to me after the service and introduced himself: “Hi, my name is John.” I said: “Hi John, I’m Jamie. I’ve been gone a few weeks and I don’t recognize you from groups, have you been here long?” John proceeded to tell me his story and how he’s been through all this before but got in trouble again and now he was here. He did appreciate my message and then told me he had been saved 27 years ago so there was nothing to worry about with him.
Now in my own life, I have only come to know God’s saving work in the present tense, as something that happens continuously to me. But I celebrate anyone’s faithful response to being saved, so I told him that was great to hear because faith in the Lord can really help in the recovery process when we’re feeling down and out and having a difficult time.
My new friend John continued: “Pastor, we’re all good, but I’m worried about a few other people in this place. I sit around and talk to some of these people at lunch or after groups and they’re telling me their not saved or don’t go to church, but come here so they might get out earlier or show some progress. That just isn’t right, we need to save them. “
I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. John was encouraging me to reach out to these guys with Jesus, so they could get a ticket to heaven before it was too late. John called them “unsaved” and “unchurched”; I had a hunch that he might have met some other description like “Muslim,” “Lutheran,” or maybe the “went to church but never really liked it” people.
I did not discuss Christian doctrine with my new friend the salvation-whisperer. I did learn over time that these men were at peace, and were honestly looking to have a new or renewed relationship with the Lord. The beauty of my conversations with these gentlemen was sacred and holy, and I find it hard to imagine God feeling anything but glorified by it all.
One thing I love about this parable is that every three years I’m a different person. I read the texts differently. I don’t know if I’ve ever preached about God’s patience with this parable since that day in recovery center until now.
My buddy John’s idea of salvation may have been rooted in something like the parable of the weeds and the wheat, with its picture of the kingdom of heaven’s outsiders and insiders. The parable depicts this kingdom as the work of a good sower of wheat who has been compromised by an enemy sower of weeds. The good sower’s servants notice the weeds in his field and ask if they should remove them, to which the land owner replies, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”
I have focused on the landlord character being an analogy for God. The landlord tells the servants not to disrupt or remove the weeds, because doing so might upset the wheat.
Instead, they are allowed to grow together until the very last moment until harvest time. Jesus is explicit: at harvest time the weeds will be gathered first, bound and thrown away into the fire. God spares the bad seeds/weeds until the very last moment. And even when that time comes, the REAPERS will come and gather the weeds and wheat…not the SERVANTS of the landlord.
The takeaway from the parable of the seeds is to be grateful for God’s gracious patience. People can and do change and grow away from harmful beliefs. I’m proof of that. But just because God allows the weeds to be sowed by the enemy in the field to grow doesn’t mean we have to pretend that they are delicious or healthy! We live our lives trying to grow into the best wheat possible, but don’t get it twisted we have our weedy days too, but we strive to live our lives so that others may see what we say and do and think of living their lives a little differently. Jesus lived his life as an example to others to witness and consider how they were living their lives; Martin Luther did it during the Reformation and I think we can all agree he wasn’t always representing the wheat very well by doing and saying some things that we’re still trying to justify, or repent for, today. Now it is our turn to live our lives in way that introduces people to Jesus and glorifying God in the process.
But, oh how we want to be the reapers instead of the servants. We want to be the ones who decide who’s in and who’s out, but our parable reminds us that it’s not our job to do that. That is someone else’s responsibility, and we can barely handle the responsibilities we already have with the sowing of the seeds in the first place.
For all the harshness of the parable’s treatment on the unrighteous, Matthew helps us realize a few things:
- Because the world—the faith community too—encompasses both good and bad, none of us can presume to be only good while others are only the bad.
- Because the final decision belongs not to us but to God, and God is patient to allow the mix, the complexity, the ambiguity, and the people of God are not to condemn others.
Again, at the heart of the parable today of the weeds and wheat is patience—not just the patience of the servants who have to wait and watch, but the patience of God. God didn’t and doesn’t enjoy the sight of a field with weeds all over the place, but God doesn’t like the thought of declaring harvest-time too soon either and destroying the wheat with the weeds.
Many Jews of Jesus’s time recognized this, and spoke of God’s compassion, delaying judgment so that more people could be saved at the end. Jesus, followed by Paul and other early Christian writers, took the same view. Somehow Jesus wanted his followers to live with the tension of believing that the kingdom was arriving in and through his work, and that the kingdom would come, would fully arrive, not all in a bang but through a process like the slow growth of a plant.
This can sometimes seem like a copt-out today, and no doubt it did in Jesus’ day as well. Saying that God is delaying the final judgment can look like we’re saying that God is inactive or uncaring. But when we look at Jesus’ own public career it’s impossible to say that God didn’t care. God was very active, deeply compassionate, battling with evil and defeating it—and still warning that the final overthrow of the enemy was yet to come.
We who live after Calvary & Easter know that God did act suddenly and dramatically at that moment. When today we long for God to act, to put the world to righteousness, we must remind ourselves that God has already done so, and that what we are now awaiting the full conclusion of those events. We wait with patience, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will come with a lit candle, but like people in early morning who know that the sun has risen and are now waiting for the brightness of midday.
Followers of Jesus are encouraged to be patient and trustful that good growth is still occurring and will prevail, even when the weeds seem rampant. It is not the servant’s job, or ours, to separate good from evil for in the end the causes of sin and the doers of evil will be cast out and burned by the reapers…you know the ones who are supposed to do it. All that will remain is the good, shining like the sun.
The lessons about God’s kingdom here have been shown throughout history and into our moment. We can all see weeds, but we shouldn’t make it our business to separate them from the wheat. As Jesus’ workers in the world, we can help nurture, feed, and cultivate the good growth God has planted through us—by sharing the good Word and doing our best to love and heal and seek the lost like Jesus did.
So brother and sisters, let us be patient with our shortfalls, and the shortfalls of others, as God is while we all, together, nurture the kind of good that Jesus makes known. There’s plenty of work for us to do, not just the picking and separating, but being patient, loving and caring along the way.