[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.Matthew 13:24-25
In today’s gospel reading we get another farming story. This is part two, you might say, of Jesus telling us parables about farming – to teach us about ministry, and to teach us about his kingdom. Last week we heard the Parable of the Sower, about the farmer who scattered his seed widely, and found some of his seed landing on the good soil and bearing much fruit.
I shared with you last Sunday that my first sermon as a pastor was preached on that passage. And you know what that means? It means that my second sermon as a pastor was preached on today’s parable, the parable of the weeds among the wheat. And I remember thinking at the time that, here I am, just two weeks into being a pastor, and I already have to worry about weeds among the wheat. I already have to watch out for the enemy.
Last Sunday’s parable offered a very optimistic teaching – just sow the seeds of God’s word, without worrying about where those seeds land, and trust God with the results. And when you do, some of the seeds that you plant will bear much fruit. But Jesus follows that optimistic parable up with today’s parable, which is either pessimistic, or realistic, depending on how you look at it. But either way, it points out that whenever we are trying to sow the seeds of God’s word, there is always an enemy trying to undermine our efforts.
The surprising thing about today’s parable to me is that it is not just about weeds. We all know about weeds, which grow very naturally, without any help, and cause a lot of problems. But Jesus is warning us here about an enemy, who intentionally plants weeds.
So, today, we need to think a little about this enemy. But as we do this, I will keep to the encouragement, given by C.S. Lewis, not to fall into either of two common traps – either refusing to believe that the enemy exists, or spending too much time thinking and worrying about this enemy.
So, first of all, let’s acknowledge that we have an enemy. As we sow the seed of God’s word, as we sow seeds of faith and love and hope, and kindness and forgiveness and patience and justice, in our world, our enemy is sowing seeds of discontent and fear, of anger and hatred and frustration and despair.
We have an enemy, and his name is Satan. And Jesus reminds us in this parable that Satan is very real, and is very busy trying to undo what Jesus and his followers are doing. Satan will work with whatever is available, and I imagine that this pandemic is pretty handy for him. It is raising anxiety and frustration, and that’s just like fertilizer in Satan’s garden. He is just using all of that to grow his harvest of discontent and frustration and anger and despair.
But let’s also remember today that Satan’s cause is lost. That the war is over. Jesus willingly went to the cross to defeat Satan once and for all, and all we have left is the mop-up operation. The war is over. Satan is now very much like a chicken with his head cut off: He’s dead, he just doesn’t know it yet. He’s still running around making a mess, but it is just a matter of time before he is no more. We don’t want to deny that he exists, but we don’t need to worry about him succeeding at his quest.
But here is where this parable really gets interesting. Because it is not just teaching us about the gospel’s enemy. It is also showing us one of his favorite tactics. And it is a very clever tactic. You see, when the farmer sows the good seed, the enemy does not try to dig it up. He doesn’t try to burn the field. He doesn’t poison the wheat, or steal the wheat. Instead, he plants weeds among the wheat. Weeds that, at first, look just like the wheat. These particular weeds were called “tares” in biblical times, or “darnel” these days, or sometimes even “false wheat.” And this false wheat looks just like the real wheat until it bears seed. But by then, the roots of this weed have surrounded the roots of the wheat in order to suck up all of its nutrients. And because its roots are so intertwined with the roots of the wheat, pulling this weed out would also uproot the wheat.
So, even though the farmer’s servants in this parable want to go and get rid of these weeds, the farmer wisely tells them no, because at this point they can’t be distinguished from one another, and even if they could, pulling one up will pull the other up also. Instead, the farmer suggests that they let them both grow together until the harvest. And then, at harvest time, they can collect the weeds and burn them before gathering the wheat into the barn.
So you can see how clever this farmer’s enemy is. And obviously, Jesus is trying to teach us that the gospel’s enemy is just as clever. He is very good at planting evil in the world that looks good, and that is so intertwined, that to get rid of one, we would have to do away with the other.
Just as the wisest farmer cannot always tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat, the wisest Christian cannot always tell the difference between good and evil. In that way, this is a very humbling parable, isn’t it? It teaches us that we can’t do it all. We can’t fix all the problems of our world. Even if we were in charge. Most of us, truth be told, have enough of a time fixing our own problems. And we certainly can’t fix all of our neighbor’s problems, or our loved ones’ problems, or society’s problems, as tempted as we are to try. So this parable reminds us not to judge other people too quickly, and not to judge what is happening in our lives too quickly, either. It is hard to tell the wheat from the weed. So we are encouraged to be patient, and to await the final harvest.
That doesn’t mean that we should ignore all the weeds in our world. But this parable does caution us, by reminding us that it is often very hard to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat. We can’t always pull the weeds without also getting the wheat. And our view of the world is limited. We don’t always know God’s ways and God’s purposes. And oftentimes, it is only in hindsight that we can see God’s purpose being worked out in our life, or in our world.
That seems to me to be what Jesus is teaching us today. That it is very hard, sometimes, to tell what is good and what is bad. Sometimes, we wait have to wait until the final harvest to sort it all out. And that takes patience, and faith, and hope.
What to Do?
But you still might we wondering: what do we do about all the weeds in our world, and the evil all around us? We can’t just ignore it all, can we? We can’t just ignore the gospel’s enemy. So, what should we do?
I think that this parable, when it comes right down to it, teaches us something similar to last week’s parable. That in the midst of our very complicated world, what we should do is keep planting seeds. We should spend more time planting wheat than pulling up weeds. We should spend more time planting kindness and mercy and forgiveness and love, than trying to pull up hatred and envy and frustration and anger.
It is true, as we learned last week, that some of the seeds we plant will fall on the path, and not even take root. And it is also true, as we’ve learned today, that even the seeds that fall on good soil will still have to deal with weeds planted by the enemy. But it will all get sorted out in the end. And when it comes time for the harvest, our job is simply to make sure that there is plenty of wheat to gather.
In this world of ours, it is easy to grow discouraged, as we see the weeds seemingly growing out of control. But here in this parable, Jesus again reminds us that our work done for him is not done in vain. That the seeds we plant will bear fruit. That the weeds will not win the day. And that the wheat will prevail in the end.
Our world has a master gardener who knows exactly what he is doing. Isn’t that good news? And our master gardener assures us that come harvest time, the wheat will be gathered and brought into his barn, and the weeds will be burned. It will all be sorted out in the end, by the only one truly able to sort it all out. And that frees us up to confidently, and joyfully, sow the seeds of God’s kingdom in this world. We can sow the seeds of God’s grace, mercy, and love, in our homes, and in our communities. And then trust God to bring the harvest. Yes, it’s true that as we sow the seeds of good, the enemy will keep sowing the seeds of evil. But we can’t worry about that, and we don’t have to.
Our job is simply to sow the seeds of the kingdom. And not to worry about whether the seed will fall on good soil. Or whether the weeds will grow among the wheat. We plant the seeds, and we leave the rest to the master gardener. And we look forward to the day when the wheat will be gathered together, for a harvest like no other, and a feast that has no end. Thanks be to God. Amen