In the Gospel readings for last week and this week we’ve seen two parables of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
Last week’s parable (Matthew 13:1-9,18-23) focused on God as the sower who sows His Word and the four types or classes of people who receive the Word: there are those who hear the Word but do not receive it; there are those who receive the Word but it does not take deep root, so they fall away when trial and tribulation come; there are those who hear the Word, but the cares and joys of the world choke it out of them; and, finally, there are those who are as good soil who receive the Word, it takes deep root in them, and they bear much fruit. And so God makes disciples of Christ through His Word. And since you too have been called by God as His children and disciples of Christ, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…”
And so this week we will explore the parable that Jesus tells of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). And although this parable is also based on a planting metaphor, as was the parable from last week, the focus shifts. Jesus is no longer telling us about four types of people who hear God’s Word that He sows; rather, Jesus is showing us how the world was, is now, and will be. And through this, he is showing us that God is the one who brings us to faith, sustains us in this faith, and is with us in this life in our sufferings; and, we await the day when Christ will return to gather us into the eternal presence of the Lord.
So, the reading from Matthew today records a parable told by Jesus. Jesus tells of a man who sowed or planted good seed in his field, but his enemy came and sowed weeds in the field. So, when the seed sprouted, there were weeds in amongst the wheat which had been planted by the owner of the field. How frustrating this must have been to the owner to have someone come into his good field and sow weeds that would crowd and attempt to choke out the wheat! Weeds always attempt to take over everything; they’re unkept, unruly, disordered.
So, in the field there grew up two types of plants: the wheat which bore grain that was useful and good, and the weeds that were merely a nuisance. Both types of plants did what came naturally to them; the good seed growing up into wheat and bearing grain, and the bad seed growing up into weeds and being an aggravation and a scourge. The man’s servants came to him to ask him if he would like them to gather up the weeds to remove them from his field. But, the man told them “not yet,” because he did not want to risk disturbing the wheat. But, no problem, because at harvest time all the plants will be reaped and the weeds will be gathered into bundles to be burned, while the wheat will be gathered into the owner’s barn. On that day, the weeds will no longer bother the wheat, and the wheat will be brought into the presence of the owner.
The disciples ask Jesus what this parable means. And like in last week’s reading, Jesus explains the parable to the disciples because, as he told them in Matthew 13:11, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…” The disciples are as good soil, because God has called them as His own through Christ, and so Jesus explains the parable to them, and to you as well, for you also are good soil since you are God’s children through Christ.
Jesus breaks down the parable quite plainly: the sower is the Son of Man, who is Jesus Christ; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom, or Christians; the weeds are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy is the devil.
There’s really a lot of meaning packed into this. Think for a moment about the dualities in the parable. There are only two types of people: the children of the kingdom (God’s children), or the sons of the evil one (the children of the devil). So, there are either wheat or weeds; there are no other choices. And notice too that both types are planted by their owners; God sows his seeds through Christ, and the devil sows his seeds as well. And so people are either children of God or children of the devil. Now, lest you think that this somehow makes the devil equal to God, notice whose field this is. The field is God’s, and the devil and his children are the intruders. God is the “man who sowed good seed in his field,” and the field is the world (Matthew 13:14,38). The enemy, the devil, goes into that which is not his own in order to stir up trouble. He is like a weed that attempts to choke out everything good in an effort to take over.
Maybe you like to plant and garden; I do as well. Think about how carefully you sow your seeds in your gardens. You till the ground, you might even buy special dirt to put the seeds in. You dig little holes for the seeds so that they’re at just the right depth, and then you gently cover them over with dirt. Then, you water them. You spend a lot of effort on getting the right seeds to grow, and then what happens? You walk outside one day and happen to notice that weeds are sprouting up in your garden, seemingly coming from nowhere. Isn’t that frustrating? To get the good seed to grow you have to devote a lot of time and energy to it, and yet the weeds seem to sprout up and grow by themselves. They even seem to sometimes prosper at the expense of the good seeds.
The same thing happens in the world. The entire world is God’s, because He created it and all things. So, it’s rightfully His. And in the beginning He planted Adam and Eve in the garden which He made for them. They were His children whom He created, cared for, and nurtured. He gave them dominion over the rest of His creation to care for it in His stead, and blessed them and told them to multiply to fill the earth and subdue it. Our God is a God of order, and He commissioned humanity to multiply and go forth into the world to make order on God’s behalf.
But, then the devil comes to sow evil in the world. He gets Adam and Eve to rebel against God and thus brings sin and death into the world. Satan is God’s enemy and our enemy as well, for he wants nothing more than to create disorder and death. And isn’t death the ultimate disorder? – a separation of our body from our souls and us from our friends and loved ones. Our God is a God of order, but Satan sows disorder. He is the enemy who comes into the world to sow evil in that which is not his.
And we live with the results of this sin of Adam and Eve today. We live in a world that is full of disorder, with pain, suffering, injustice, and death. We turn on the news and see reports of horrible crimes and tragedies. We see people literally get away with murder. We live amidst weeds, and at times it seems that the weeds will overtake us.
And we as Christians are hounded on many sides. As Christians we endure the scorn of the world, looked down upon and mocked for placing our hopes in one who died. And as we go through this life, despite the fact that we are God’s children we endure disorder, pain, suffering, injustice, and death. In fact, it often seems that we endure these things because we are God’s children. We sometimes wonder, then, what use is it to be God’s child when we still endure the sorrows of the world. Why doesn’t God remove the weeds from our midst so that we may sprout and prosper as His wheat, unbothered by sin and evil? What good is it to be a Christian if we are to suffer?
That’s a question that humanity has had for quite a while. Why doesn’t God root up the weeds in His garden? Where is God? Doesn’t He care?
If we reflect back on when the devil first sowed sin and death into the world, we see that God does care, and He is with His people. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, He didn’t leave Adam and Eve; He didn’t discard them and start over; He didn’t hit the “reset” button. These are options that we would be tempted to take, but God didn’t take these options. Instead, He gave His people His Word and promised a savior who would come to remove sin and death and evil from the world. He promised the Christ to come who would restore the world to the perfection and good order in which God had originally created it. He promised that the day was coming when He would uproot the weeds and gather the wheat into His barn. He promised to undo death and disorder by giving us back our bodies, restored and perfect, at the resurrection. This day is not yet, but is coming. And we trust it in faith, because God tells us to trust Him that He will do all this, that He is our Redeemer.
And this Word of promise, this Good News, this Gospel of Christ, has been proclaimed throughout the history of God’s people Israel, the Church. God sent prophets to His people to proclaim this Word. God sows His Word in the world to create His children and gather them together as His people.
So, throughout the Old Testament we see this activity of God gathering together His people through His Word. Immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, God gave them His Word of promise of a savior who was to come to defeat sin, death, and the devil; God promised one who would remove the weeds from His creation. God called Adam and Eve into the Church – a people of promise who are gathered together around God’s promise of salvation through Christ. And throughout the history of the Old Testament, God was bringing people into His Church through His Word that He had given to His prophets to proclaim.
God has always been preserving His Church, because He had made a promise, and God keeps His promises. Even when He destroyed the world through the flood, He preserved His Church, carrying it over the waters in the ark. Think about that: God’s Church at that time consisted of eight people – Noah and his family. So, whenever you think the future of the Church looks bleak, reflect on Noah and remember that at one time, when all seemed lost, God still kept His Church alive, and He continues to do so today and will do so until the end.
So, throughout history, God has been giving His Word to His people. And the prophet Isaiah spoke this Word of promise:
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:6-8).
Fear not, nor be afraid, for the Lord has told you from of old and declared it, and He has appointed you as His people, an ancient people – the Church. He has told you His plans for you and will accomplish it, for He is the first and the last, the one and only Almighty Lord God. He was there in the beginning and will be there in the end, having created you and all things and having restored all things in the end.
And now Christ himself has come, the one who was promised from long ago. And just as God gave His people His Word in the Old Testament, His Word came in the flesh in the New. Christ died and rose again to defeat sin, death, and the devil. This was the Word of promise fulfilled – in part. For Christ has begun to usher in the New Creation, and will return on the Last Day to complete it. And just as God preserved Noah and his family through the waters of the flood, so too does God preserve you through the waters of Baptism in the ark of the Church. You have been called as disciples of Christ by God himself, and so “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…;” God’s Word is for you (Matthew 13:11). He planted His Word in you in Baptism and feeds you His incarnate Word each week through the Lord’s Supper. God is tending you, gently caring for you, watering you, feeding you. He has spent great care on You to grow you through His Word; God has done it all for you through Christ.
You are the crop that God has sown and even now you are bearing fruit for Him. You have become new people in Christ, not the weeds of the world, but God’s very own possession.
And so this is the hope that we have, that in the midst of the suffering, pain, and death that we see in this world – that is, in the midst of many weeds – we know that there is something more. We may not always see it or realize it, but God is working in our midst even now. He is here with us, just as He has always been with His people, the Church. And the day is coming when Christ will return to remove the weeds from God’s creation and gather you into His barn, because you are His people whom He has sown and gently tended.
And on that day, there will only be you with the whole Church and God, forever, again dwelling in the immediate presence of the Lord as in the beginning. And just as Christ told the apostle John in Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end… Surely I am coming soon,” we respond like John in the hopeful longing of that day when we, with all the faithful, will be gathered together and brought into the eternal presence of the Lord saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:13, 20). Amen.
(Image: The Enemy Who Sows (L’Ennemi qui sème) – By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.96_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957372 )