Is it a Weed or a Wheat? (Matthew 13)

I am sure we have all had experiences with gardens or flower beds where we are uncertain as to what are the weeds that need to be pulled out and what are the flowers or plants we want to keep. I’ve always had this fear that I’m pulling up the wrong stuff and thereby cultivating a full crop of weeds! It all looks alike, especially at the beginning of the season.

The passage for our theme this week is from Matthew 13, commonly known as the parable of the wheat and the tares. Tares are essentially weeds that grew in the wheat.

We tend to divide the world into who’s “good” and who’s “bad” categories, but in our passage today, Jesus tells his followers that the wheat and tares will grow together. This means that around us today we may find many different kinds of worldviews and religious values systems all existing simultaneously, even very different and variant forms of “Christianity.”  It’s tempting to want to see our own culture and faith beliefs system triumph now, but Jesus says that this will not happen until the end.  Until then, we live “cross-culturally,” taking God’s message to a pluralistic world.

Here is the parable from Matthew 13 …

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

This story of weeds in a wheat field would have been a clear and vivid picture to a first-century mind in an agricultural region and economy. In Israel/Palestine, there is a particularly annoying plant called “darnel” that can grow wild in the midst of a wheat field. It is a noxious plant that you really don’t want mixed with the good crop.

Especially to the untrained eye, or to anyone not paying close attention at the beginning of the growing season, the two plants look much alike. Yesterday in church, I showed side-by-side pictures of wheat and darnel in the early stages of development and asked for a show of hands as to which pictured weeds and which was wheat. The larger number of people guessed incorrectly. (Always fearful of inadvertent copy write infringement, I am hesitant to put such photos online.) And then I displayed a picture at the time of harvest of a field with both, and the differences were clearly obvious.

So at the end of the season, the weeds were more clearly visible, more easily separated and used for the only thing they were good for – fuel.

So, that was a great story. And immediately Jesus launches into two other parables: one about the mustard seed and another about the effects of yeast in dough.

And we can just imagine his disciples standing around each other and maybe one of them saying to another, “Is it just me, or did you also not understand exactly what that story about the wheat and tares was all about?”   And I can imagine an answer coming back to the first guy, “Well, I’m not sure I caught it all either… so maybe we should ask him to clearly explain it.”

So we skip down to verses 36-43 …

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

So here are the component elements of the story

  • Farmer/Sower = Christ and the message of truth
  • Field = the people of the world
  • Good Seed = God’s people of the Kingdom
  • Weeds = the Evil One’s people
  • Enemy = the Devil
  • Harvest = judgment at the end of time
  • Harvesters = the angels
  • Results = separation of righteous and the evil

In tomorrow’s post, we will spend most of it on application and what difference this makes in our lives. But for today, let’s just note how applicable such passages are in the crazy world in which we live … in a world now where the news today is filled with the ambush deaths of more policemen, and where there is a new level of palatable fear in our country for the health and wellbeing of our nation.

The story in the text acknowledges that there are two kingdoms: God’s kingdom and an enemy – the Devil. The Wicked One is active and at work, sowing bad among the good. And though justice is not an immediate reality, the promise is that it is coming in a final day of judgment, of harvesting to two very different ends.

Until then, as wheat, as God’s people in his field, we grow and work to stay nourished and flourish onto fruition in a diverse and multifaceted context of worldviews and value systems. We stay rooted.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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