Weeds among the wheat (July 23, 2023)

For the most part, humans can tell the difference between good and evil. And yet, the definition can get messy. What's a seed to do? Mark Hinds looks at the parable of the weeds.

Outlook Standard Lesson for July 23, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Following the parable of the sower and the different soils, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and weeds. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a farmer who sows wheat seeds. During the night, when everyone is asleep, an enemy sows weeds among the good seed. The farmer says, “Don’t pull out the weeds. Be patient.”

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to …

Before delving into the allegorical interpretation of Jesus’ parable (vv. 36-43), let’s read the parable (vv. 24-30) itself with curiosity and creativity, trusting that God will reveal something of the kingdom of heaven.

The farmer sows good seed in his field, and an enemy sows weeds at night. The servants ask the farmer if he would like them to remove the weeds. The farmer says, “No, for in gathering the weeds, you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (vv. 29–30). The word for “let” occurs 156 times in the New Testament and is translated as “permit,” “allow,” and “forgive.” Imagine the farmer calling the servants to forgive the weeds!

At this point, commentators explain that bearded darnel seeds are probably the weed in question because they look like wheat, making it difficult to identify until harvest time. The problem with that interpretation is that the servants recognize the weeds growing among the wheat before the harvest. They can see the weeds! There’s no indication that the wheat and weeds look alike. The reason for waiting to remove them is that the roots of both plants become intertwined. Ripping up the weeds would destroy the wheat along with the weeds. It is better to wait until harvest when wheat and weeds can fulfill their destinies. Wheat fuels the community as bread; weeds fuel the fire that bakes the bread.

It’s as if Jesus is saying that nothing is wasted in the kingdom of heaven. Even that which is intended for harm can find meaningful purpose in the kingdom. As Joseph told his conniving brothers, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today” (Genesis 50:20).

“Explain to us”

Something happened between Jesus’ telling and Matthew’s Gospel. Commentators suggest that the allegory is Matthew’s attempt to address conflicts in his congregation. Perhaps Jewish and Gentile believers were finding it difficult to coexist as Jesus’ followers. So, they demonized one another, calling each other noxious weeds or worse. How does Matthew respond? He employs creativity and curiosity, interpreting the parable for his people: It is not up to us to separate the wheat and weeds; it is God’s judgment. God will do the sorting, just as in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25). Be patient.

However, there’s a problem with applying Matthew’s allegory in every context. Genesis 3:22 tells us humans became like God after eating the forbidden fruit, “knowing good and evil.” We know that people who shoot up malls are weeds. Police officers who kill people in custody are weeds. A congregant who harms the congregation’s children irreparably is a weed or worse. It is irresponsible not to separate the weed from the wheat. We can differentiate between good and evil.

The other problem is that once the Bible tells us that humans can and will be divided into wheat and weeds (sheep and goats), it relegates difficult relationships and conversations to unhealthy dualisms. We all assume that we are wheat (sheep), and the others (red or blue, mainline or evangelical, Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter) are the weeds (goats) to be thrown in the fire.

Why should we assume that we are the blessed wheat? After all, in Matthew 25, the sheep have no idea why they inherit the kingdom. They are clueless that they’ve been serving Jesus all along. Then again, how many hungry people do I need to feed to qualify as a sheep? How many do I need to ignore to be a goat? Is one enough? The math and human behavior are messy.

Let anyone with ears listen!

Elizabeth Johnson discovers hope in the allegory. Matthew 13:41 says that at the end of the age, the angels will remove all stumbling blocks (“all causes of sin”), such as our hand, foot or eye (18:8–9). Jesus calls Peter “Satan” and “a stumbling block” (16:23). Nevertheless, Jesus entrusts his mission to Peter and the rest of his weedy disciples. Weeds can become like wheat!

What’s a seed to do? How does the parable call us to live our lives? Keep growing. That’s all. That’s everything. Focus on understanding and embracing God’s grace and living into God’s will. Our “weed sides” will be burned away. The one who judges us – the one who sends the purifying fire – is the one who loves us the most. That is good news!

Questions for discussion

  • Who planted the seeds of faith in you? How can you show gratitude to that person? How can you resolve to maintain your growth?
  • In whom are you planting seeds of faith? What growth have you seen in them? What words of encouragement would make a difference in their lives today?

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