Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.’ ”
36Then 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.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Have you ever told a story and had someone completely miss the point? I mean, like big time. As an illustration, I’m imagining hearing the fable of the boy who cried wolf and, instead of taking it as a cautionary tale of not, well, “crying wolf” thinking, “We need to get all shepherds a smartphone to stave off their lonliness.” Or maybe pulling a play from Dumb and Dumber, when Mary Swanson tells Lloyd Christmas that he has about a “one-in-a-million shot” at going on a date with her and his response was, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance!” instead of taking the hint to leave her alone.
I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same with Jesus’ parables sometimes. They often defy easy explanation and we often miss the fact that they were told with a context in mind. Knowing the culture and language Jesus was using helps us understand them a little bit more, but we even see the disciples being utterly confused about what in the world Jesus was talking about. Jesus is in the midst of telling different parables and then, after Jesus declares, “Let anyone with ears listen!” and people disperse, his disciples say, “Really great job out there. You told some awesome stories. Now, um, can you maybe tell us what they mean?” And even his explanations can leave us feeling confused.
So, I did some digging (and yes, that’s a planting pun) and found out a few things that we might miss. Because, ultimately, Jesus tells us that this parable is to explain a bit of what the kingdom of heaven is like, rather than give prophecy or tell people what will happen at the end times. So, here’s a little of what I’ve learned in the last week that can give us a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is like.
Likely, the weeds that were planted in this field would have looked a lot like the wheat. In fact, cockle, which is a common, invasive weed in Israel, can only be separated from the wheat when the grain is ready for harvesting. Wheat droops with the weight of the grain, where cockle stands straight up. And I think that the servants probably couldn’t have told the difference. Maybe we find ourselves in that position sometimes, too, unable to tell what is the wheat and what is the weeds, what is good and what is bad. As much as we try to know the difference, it remains that we know the plants by its fruit, not by how it looks. I wonder if there have been times when we, as individuals and communities, have mistaken the wheat for the weeds and, trying to do our duty, have mistakenly uprooted and thrown out the good in an effort to try to stave off the bad.
While this gives us some insight into the state of weeds and wheat, what does this parable say about God? It’s God’s kingdom, after all, that this parable is supposed to be illustrating. We see a landowner who is intimately aware of what is going on in his fields. In fact, Jesus tells us that the landowner himself planted the wheat. This is a shocking turning of the tables, because in his culture, the landowner may never have set foot in the fields. The servants would have done all of that manual labor. The servants would have planted the fields and the landowner would have been the one asking, “Didn’t you plant good seed?”
So we see a landowner who has defied the social constructs of the time in order to know the field and plant good seed. What better illustration can we find of this than simply to look at Jesus? Jesus, the word made flesh and Immanuel, God with us, wasn’t content to simply stay detached from creation. Instead, Christ took on flesh and took on the task to sow the seeds of the kingdom into the field of our existence.
But maybe the fullest idea of what God is like is knowing what God does when weeds take root. What does the landowner do when his harvest is at risk? He tells his servants to wait, let them grow together, and sort it all out later. He would rather let the weeds and wheat grow together than risk losing the seeds he planted. God would rather his servants be overly generous, overly welcoming, overly caring for the weeds so that no wheat is pulled up and unable to grow.
And that’s great news. The landowner didn’t plow up the whole field and replant. The landowner didn’t just burn it to the ground. The landowner didn’t just let the servants take control and start pulling whatever didn’t look right. Instead, the landowner protected his harvest.
And you. You are God’s harvest. You are planted, grow, and feed the world. You are good seed that grows to produce good harvest simply by being who you are. And God knows they’re weeds around. God knows that sometimes we are the weeds, even. But God would rather be overly generous, overly patient, than let one single head of wheat be pulled up.
We come here with a number of different ideas about God. We are all in different places in our faith, everything from skeptics and seekers to believers. But your belief or unbelief in God does not thing to change God’s faithfulness and love for you. It was displayed by Jesus himself, who like the landowner in this parable, was not content to let others do the work. Jesus worked the fields of creation, caring for people, healing, teaching, and feeding them. And when bad things happen, when weeds seem to grow up around you – weeds of grief, illness, despair, addiction, or depression – God is there. God is present with you in all times and all places. God is embedded in each and every moment.
I don’t believe this parable isn’t a story meant to scare someone into thinking that God is simply biding time until we are sifted out. Instead, this parable points us to a God who is so intimately involved, who knows the fields and seeds, who knows you and loves you, and would do anything, even put up with a few weeds, to make sure that each and every seed, each and every human, has a chance to grow and thrive. Thanks be to God. Amen.