Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 19, 2020
We, who have found a friendship with Jesus the best thing that’s ever happened to us, want to help those about whom we care make the same discovery. So we look for chances to tell them what it’s like and to invite them to sample it themselves.
That they might be open to doing so, we hope they’ll see something of the difference He makes, both in our individual life and in His community, the church.
Unfortunately, the church has too often failed to represent Jesus well. By hypocrisy, judgmentalness, indifference to social justice, and narcissistic self-preoccupation, the church has sometimes given Jesus a bad name. No wonder people don’t believe in the Redeemer when His people look so little redeemed!
We need to live truer to Jesus, but realism demands we not expect perfection. After all, every Christian is a work in process, an ongoing project of God’s grace. Moreover, the church will always draw more than its share of folks in need of a lot of improvement. For the church will always be one place such people will be accepted and treated with respect, kindness and patience. Of course, we might at times wish the church were a Hall of Fame for spiritual superstars; but its Head wants it to be instead a hospital for those with compromised immunity to moral and spiritual disease. Jesus wants His church to be a place that welcomes, not only ethical and religious All-Stars, but those everyday folks who just hope to become some better by the grace of God and His people of good will.
Thus, the church will always remain a “mixed bag” of humanity – and even include some who belong to Jesus in name only but not in reality! While never making peace with its imperfection, we are to accept the church as what it is and imitate God’s loving forbearance of it.
Today’s parable tells of a landowner who wants to make the most of his holdings. So he sows good wheat seed in his field to make it fruitful. But he has an enemy. One night, while everyone is sleeping, this evil one sneaks on to the property and sows amongst all that glorious grain bad seed – likely the noxious weed, so well-known in Palestine, called darnel: a poisonous plant that at first looks to even the trained eye like wheat. Darnel grows fast and can easily take over a big field.
Once workers notice the weeds, they propose pulling them up. But the owner so values his wheat that he rejects the idea on the grounds that the two plants are so intertwined that to uproot the one would be to uproot the other. So, in trust that the time will eventually come when he can make everything right, and with no concern about looking like a lousy farmer for a while, the owner delays cleaning up his field until everything is full grown. Then he will gather the weeds to be burned, and the wheat to be baked into beautiful bread.
When Jesus tells this parable, He’s speaking to “the crowds”, and He highlights the owner’s loving patience. When, however, He explains this parable, He is speaking to the disciples alone, and He highlights the owner’s righteous commitment to sort things out at last.
Jesus decodes the allegory for the disciples. He is the long-suffering landowner and the hopeful sower of the wheat. The field is, in verse 37, “the world” and in verse 41 “his kingdom” – not a contradiction since the world and the kingdom are at present as intermingled as the weeds and the wheat. The wheat represents “the children of the kingdom”; and the weeds, “the children of the evil one”. The evil one is the devil. And “the harvest” is God’s judgment when all get what they have coming them.
This parable both paints a realistic picture of the church and encourages a gracious appreciation of it. For the church, while not yet purified, is still God’s precious possession; and God hopes we will forgive and forbear it in its imperfection as that owner does his field.
Gracious, long-suffering acceptance is the main message to take from the parable. But, if we are to do justice to that message in our living, we must avoiding drawing certain wrong messages from the parable.
First, while in the parable no one works on the field between its being sown and its being harvested, we are each day to work with God to care for it and to help it grow a bountiful and healthful crop of golden nutrition.
Second, while the parable compares church people to plants, we are to bear in mind that each one is not a vegetative being but a human being capable of being changed in nature by God. Wheat will always be wheat; and weeds, always weeds; but, where Jesus is, an ugly, noxious weed of a person can become a life-giving, glorious grain of grace. Thus, our job is not to jump the gun in final judgment and uproot a weed for whom we have lost hope; but to spread Miracle-Gro around each one and pray that the Lord of the harvest will send down the rains of the Spirit’s living waters to trigger its transformation into a fruitful and beneficial new plant!
Finally, while the parable depicts the community as a “mixed bag”, we are to remember that each of us is individually a mixed bag with both “weedy” and “wheaty” elements in us. Though the balance between the two elements in us may be trending in the right direction, we all remain partly “weedy” – and thus needy of tending by God and His people.
So, let us both patiently put up with each other’s “weediness”, and persistently put ourselves out to cultivate each other’s “wheatiness”, our transformation into a beautiful and healthful grain, that all of us might be kneaded into “the bread of life” for a world starving for the saving grace of Jesus.