The first thing this parable teaches us, is that good and evil will always be found together in the professing Church, until the end of time. The Church is a mixed bunch, a vast "field" in which "wheat and weeds" grow side by side. We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, "the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one," all mingled together in every congregation in every church.
It has been like this for as long as the church has existed. It was the experience of the early church Fathers. It was the experience of the Reformers. It is the experience of the best ministers at this moment in time. There has never been a Church where there is all "wheat." The devil, that great enemy of souls, has always taken care to sow some "weeds."
Today’s parable like last week is about sower and seeds, but the focus is not about the crop but about an evil one who slipped into a farmer’s field under the cover of darkness and sowed weeds among the wheat. As the wheat began to grow, weeds popped up with it.
When the farmhands saw the weeds they were puzzled, so they said to the farmer, “Master, didn’t you sow good seed in this field? Where did these weeds come from?”
The farmer said, “an enemy has done this.” The farmhands quickly volunteer to come to the rescue.
“We will straighten things out, come on chaps let’s pull out those weeds!”
“Hang on” said the farmer. “That won’t work. If you pull out the weeds, you will pull up the wheat along with it. Let them grow together until harvest. Then, I’ll send out the reapers with the instructions to bind the weeds in bundles to be burned and to gather the wheat for the barn.”
This parable comes with an attached interpretation. Jesus explains that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The good seed represents the children of the kingdom and the weeds are the children of the Devil. At the end of the age, the angels will collect all causes of sin and evildoers and toss them into the fire, then the righteous will shine like the sun in God’s kingdom.
Well that sounds OK doesn’t it? it is very clear cut. There is good and there is evil. There is the good young man, Harry Potter and there is the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. There is Luke Skywalker and there is Darth Vader, Batman and the Joker, Cowboys in white hats and Gunslingers in black hats. We know this story. It is obvious who is wheat and who is weed. The wheat is the church and the weeds are those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ. I could stop here – but it is not as clear cut as that. As I said in the beginning, we are a mixed bunch. and it is NOT up to any of us to decide who is wheat and who is weed.
Just look at the church’s family tree: Noah was a drunk; Abraham was too old; Isaac was a daydreamer; Jacob was a liar; Leah was ugly; Joseph was abused; Moses had a stuttering problem; Gideon was afraid; Samson was a womanizer; Rahab was a prostitute; David had an affair and was a murderer; Elijah was suicidal; Isaiah preached naked; Jonah ran from God; Job went bankrupt; John the Baptist ate bugs; Peter denied Christ; The Disciples fell asleep while praying; Martha worried about everything; The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once; Zaccheus was too small; Paul was too religious; and Timothy’s anxiety gave him an ulcer. Nobody is perfect. Someone said they would not come to church because it is full of hypocrites, that is true but there is always room for one more! Augustine said, "Those who are weeds today may be wheat tomorrow, or even the reverse.”
That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. This is a cautionary parable, warning us to beware of the weed pulling impulse – the moral need to improve the field based on our own limited judgement. That is why the farmer stopped the workers from pulling the weeds, for he knows our judgement is often faulty. Rather than pulling out weeds Jesus sought them out; rather than condemning them, he transformed them; he healed the sick, found the lost and extended forgiveness, turning peoples lives around.
The Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was arrested, sent to a forced labour camp in Siberia and eventually exiled from the Soviet Union. He witnessed cruel acts and experienced harsh punishment. He could have written about clear distinctions between people who were good and people who were evil, but instead he wrote these words. “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil does not pass through social class or political parties but through the human heart. There are weeds lurking in the best of us and wheat to be discovered in the worst of us."
May we all resist the temptation to rush to judgement, knowing that God can burn away the weeds in each of us and harvest what is good in all of us.