Jesus Looks at the Weed and Sees Wheat-Potential.
Sermon Delivered to Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church July 17, 2005
The reading for today is from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 13 verses 24-30 and verses 36-43. It is known as the parable of the wheat and weeds, or commonly known as wheat and tares. There are 7 parables Matthew sets right in the middle of the Gospel, parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Look on the screen and you’ll see a series of slides of the “Sower’s Cove” or the “Cove of the Parables.” This is the traditional site where Jesus delivered the parables of the Kingdom of God from a small boat floating in water, God’s natural amphitheater. Today it is acoustically tested and proven that 5-7 thousand people can gather on the shore and hear a person speak. This is the shore of the Sea of Galilee and at the foot of the site of the Sermon on the Mount. In today’s story, Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man. Pharisees accuse him of collusion with Satan. Jesus leads the crowd and his disciples to this cove, and the parable we read today is the only parable of the 7 that the disciples ask Jesus to explain after the crowds disperse.
The Parable of the Weeds
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
The Parable of the Weeds Explained
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Jesus now accused of collusion with Satan leads the crowds to a cove to make clear the difference between this world and the Kingdom of God. Instead of a direct approach, he speaks in parables and to the ones whose ears no longer hear.
Parables confront and confound us and often we are left with more questions than answers. Questions though are more real than answers because people are riddles and people are the most real things in our lives. Every day people encourage and wound us, tell truths and lies, exalt and disparage. Turn on the days news and notice: Our lives are filled with people figuring out how to get along with people.
Jesus chose agronomy to teach us about people – and about God. In eastern countries of the Mediterranean, wheat is grown to make foods for human survival, such as flour and bread. Among the wheat, a weed grows known as tares. The tares look exactly like wheat to the human eye early in growth. It was commonly known that the roots of the two are so intertwined it’s impossible to separate them. In fact, to pull the tares out of the ground too early is to risk uprooting the wheat. At harvest, both the wheat and the weeds grow ears with seeds. The seed of the tare is similar in shape and size to the wheat but is slate-grey and is poisonous. In Jesus’ day, women and children sat and picked out the seeds of the tares by hand. The popular belief was that tares were wheat gone bad. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says, “until the harvest.”
Jesus tells the disciples that wheat are sown from above and are children of the Kingdom. We are wheat. We are the baptized children of God and “if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Weeds are the enemy. We all know what a weed looks like. How many of us here can think of someone who is a bad weed? Weeds are people who send us on wrong paths, rob us of life and our identities, weeds are bad mothers and fathers, people who weren’t there for us or who aren’t now, spouses who left us for someone else. Weeds are the people who criticize us and interfere with our plans. Weeds are a nuisance. Weeds are irritants that need to be rooted out, rounded up, weed-whacked. In the parable, the servants ask, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” When you think about the weeds in your life, do you wonder the same thing? Do you wonder if God is Good why are there bad people? Does this age-old wheat and tare refrain sound familiar to you? Every day this question haunts us. It is our perennial human cry.
How many thousands of years and we aren’t any closer to a clear answer. The only answer given here and in all of scripture is this: “An enemy has done this.” An enemy came and scattered seed in the night and left. The enemy didn’t need to do anything more than scatter the seed because the enemy knew wheat would care only about weeds and forget about God. The enemy knew we’d focus on the bad people in our lives, the ones we need to root out, and put God on trial. Evil knew we’d get insecure, nervous, question God and even stop thinking about God. Evil knew we’d ask if God is Good, why are there bad people in the world? Evil knew we’d become our own gods and try to separate the good and the bad. Evil knew weeds would continue to be weeds, and wheat would forget how to be wheat.
The sad drama of this parable rests here in the tangled web of human life. No one here can tell the difference between a good person and a bad one. No human being knows our totalities and who we really are. Who can look at another and recall the childhood memories, the days we skinned our knees, or woke to horror from bad dreams? Who saw our mistakes, heard when we swore we’d never love again when we lost our first girl friend or boy friend? Who here sees the heart of another, its intentions, motives and desires? Who sees right through us, past the poison and sees the food – the wheat – intended for good? God is the only one who knows it all and knows why and how we make choices. Only God knows who are wheat and who are weeds and what can be done about it. If left to human beings, we’d start to uproot the weeds with the wheat and not know when and how to stop. Eventually we’d destroy each other and all of human life. Look around: Isn’t that what we are doing now?
Consider the 2005 terror attacks in London. The London bombers were someone’s neighbors. They lived in a community. They were “sons of the country,” local boys from respected families and prosperous parents. People had nothing bad to say about them. They were kind, bright and popular. Mohammed Kahn was a teaching assistant who took kids on trips. He was erudite, educated with a degree in education. Kahn volunteered his time in local cultural centers and sports leagues that catered to young people. In a 2002 interview with the Times of London, Kahn told a reporter he “enjoyed helping less-privileged children.” No one thought this man was a weed. A close friend stunned after the incident said, “It must have been forces behind him.” Kahn and the other three killers were tares, or tare-or-ists. Terrorists who left home on Thursday, told family members and friends they were going to a religious conference in London and toted rucksacks filled with explosives.
Karl Barth once said, “Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He Himself is the Way.” God didn’t abandon the world to evil. God abandoned heaven and risked His Son Jesus Christ, the only way to life and truth and the only one who can separate the wheat from the tares. Jesus is the one who sees the alcoholic, abused, prostitute, murderer, poor, sad, isolated, alone as new and unstained. Jesus looks at the weed and sees wheat-potential. One illustration of this is the story of Saul. Today he’d be known as a jihadist, a terrorist who sought to rid the world of Christians. Acts says that he was the one “ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off both men and women, someone who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples.” Luke goes on, “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Saul became Paul, the weed became wheat and the weed began to teach the wheat and the weeds how to become wheat.
In six short verses a man who was a parabolic act himself, a man who walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick, raised the dead and died for our sins, teaches us that evil is a part of the world because of an enemy. We learn that wheat and weeds, the good and the bad, are indistinguishable to the human eye but not to God’s. Parables invoke more questions but this parable uproots questions even as it sows more. For our question now is not “If God is Good why are there bad people?” because this parable teaches us that God is Good. The question now is not “Why are there bad people?” because Jesus says bad people are sown from the enemy. The only question left after reading the Parable of the Weeds is a question we need to ask ourselves – and daily: “Whose side am I on: The enemy’s or God’s?” And if God’s side, we need to ask ourselves another: “When I look at bad people in my life do I look with the eyes of the enemy and see weeds, or do I believe in the power and name of Jesus Christ and see wheat potential?”
He who has ears, let him hear. Amen.