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Wheat and Weeds


My pastor preached a sermon on the parable of the weeds this morning. A really good sermon that got my brain firing, because one of the things that he did was invite us to consider a number of ways to interpret the parable.

The parable of the weeds is interesting in that it's given and then a short while later, it's explained. According to my pastor, there's some debate about whether the explanation was actually from Jesus, or if Matthew added it as part of writing the gospel. However, I think it works, though perhaps in an unexpected way. To get everyone on the same page, however, I'm going to quote both the parable itself and its given explanation.

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

“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?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

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

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 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.’” -Matthew 13:24-30

And here's the interpretation that appears later in the same chapter.

 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.”

 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 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, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 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. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. -Matthew 13:36-43

The bit I want to tease out of that last passage is "The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy that sows them is the devil." The things is, the Devil doesn't have a whole lot of full-time employees. As my pastor mentioned this morning, we're all wheat and weeds to one extent or another throughout our lives. We hopefully get more wheat-y as time goes on, but if nothing else, it's a process. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The other thing that came up during the sermon is "why let the wheat and weeds grow together?"

You can point to God's mercy, hoping that the weeds become wheat before the harvest, and while that is undeniably true, here's another thing to consider: sometimes our pain is what makes us righteous, or at least loving. And I don't think that I've ever seen that summed up better than I did here:

I am forgiving in large part because I have needed forgiveness. I know, much too well, what it is like to hurt people you care about and the anguish of wishing you could take that hurt back. I have been excluded and rejected, and that makes me want to not do that to others. I have been judged harshly, and have learned to judge more charitably because of it. The feeling of my wounds has made me want to bandage the wounds of others.

And I do it imperfectly. I fall short daily in thought, word, and deed. But the desire to do better, to be kind rather than cruel despite my impulses, that comes out of, well, the presence of weeds in my life. That doesn't mean that those things that were painful to me were good in and of themselves. But God is, and has always been, in the redemption business. As Joseph said to his borthers way back in Genesis:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. -Genesis 50:20

I think perhaps another reason the weeds are allowed to grow alongside the wheat is that it actually makes the wheat better.  We have all known people who are basically nice, pleasant folks, but have lead very sheltered, privileged lives. In a lot of cases, that leaves them with blind spots. They may be as pure as can be in their intentions, but when you've never experienced certain things for yourself, it can be way too easy to trot out some empty platitude that salts a wound instead of bandaging it. I know I've been guilty of this.

But a stalk of what that has had to grow with some weeds around knows how the thorns chafe. How the roots  twist. How the leaves cast the wheat sprout into darkness. And those who understand the pain are better equipped to provide succor for it.

One other thing to consider: the "full-time employees of the Devil" would definitely include demons. And one of the most compelling ways I've seen of interpreting the demonic comes from Richard Beck in his book Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, speaking in this case of the undeniably demonic force that is Nazism:

Once we come to reckon with something like Nazism as a moral force, we can entertain some empathy for those who were caught up in the storm. Have you wondered how you would have responded if you’d lived in Germany at the time? I’d like to think I would have behaved nobly and heroically, but more likely I would have been vulnerable to the temptations of the Wizard. And in the recognition of this vulnerability lies the potential for empathy. We can come to see how people just like me can get blinded to and caught up in some pretty nasty and evil things. This isn’t to go soft on Nazism. Quite the opposite. Our rage is directed at Nazism. Full force. But because we love, our goal is liberating human beings from their slavery to this spiritual power. To rescue them from the Wizard. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of wickedness.

-Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck

While this is quite intentionally an extreme example, it definitely makes the case for why, at the end of things, the weeds will not only be pulled but burned. Nazism is a big weed. Most of us are fortunate not to grow right next to its strangling roots and poisoned thorns, though we can certainly see the ruin it's left behind when allowed to grow unchecked, and there are signs that maybe not that specific weed, but a collection of weeds in the same family, are experiencing quite a growth spurt in our world.

Which brings me to another thing to consider: while the weeds can help us grow and be be better, it's important to remember that that isn't their purpose. The purpose of evil stuff is, well, evil. It's not something to be embraced or celebrated, but fought against and grown past.

Just remember that the scars are useful, too.

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