The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 13th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' "
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This month, we are hearing a series of parables from The gospels of Matthew. Last week we heard the parable of the sower and prayed that our hearts would be good soil for the seed of God’s word.
This week, Jesus tells us that weeds can grow in the good soil along with the wheat. So it isn’t enough to be good soil. Now we learn that weeds grow very well in good soil.
If we are honest with ourselves, we already knew that. We know that weeds grow better than anything else in good soil. If there was any message that proves we can’t save ourselves, this is it.
The King James Version calls these weeds the “tares.” You may have heard this story called the “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” Tares refer to a plant that is also known as darnel.
The thing about darnel is that it looks exactly like wheat until it is mature. Both plants are lush and green as they are growing up. When they are finally mature, the wheat berries are large and golden. The darnel berries are small and gray.
You can grind the darnel into flour and bake it into bread. But, then, if you eat the darnel bread, you will experience symptoms similar to drunkenness - including trembling, slurred speech, inability to walk, and vomiting. Darnel is also commonly infected with a fungus which can cause hallucinations if consumed in small doses, and it causes blindness if taken in large doses.
Darnel is bad stuff. You do not want any darnel mixed in with your wheat. So it’s understandable that the servants would want to get these weeds out of the wheat field.
But the roots of the wheat and tares are intertwined. That’s the problem. And it’s a big problem. The roots of good and evil are intertwined. And it is too hard to tell the difference between them most of the time. If we try to remove the evil weeds, we are going to accidentally pull up some good wheat, too. And all of the good wheat is precious to God.
Jesus tells us that the field is the world. You may have heard this story told with the emphasis that each of us must be like a stalk of wheat. We should avoid being one of the tares. But, I wonder if it might be that each of us is a small acre of land in the field of the world. Since we know that all of us are, at the same time, saints and sinners, we can see that inside each of us there are stalks of wheat, and there are a few tares.
In each of our lives there is a lot of good wheat growing. There are many good things we have done, many ways we have helped our neighbors, many ways we have shared our faith, many times we have forgiven others, many times we have sacrificed on behalf of someone in need.
I think it’s fair to say that most people we meet are basically good people. Even most of the people we are suspicious of turn out to be good people, once we get to know them. We have a lot in common with everybody else in the world. We love our families. Most of us work hard. Most people are more inclined to help someone in need than we are to laugh at them or put them down.
So where does all this evil in the world come from?
Comedian, Flip Wilson, was famous for saying, “The devil made me do it.” That was the punch line to most of his jokes. According to today’s parable, it wasn’t bad theology. Jesus says that the enemy, the devil, is the one who sowed the bad seeds.
But, Evil in the world is a lot more complex than a little cartoon devil sitting on one of your shoulders, whispering temptations in your ear. Because, evil is not just about each of us and our individual sins. That’s only a small part of evil. Evil is much bigger than our personal struggles.
Part of the enemy’s plan is to make us think that our little individual sins are the main problem. Or to make us think that there are a few evil people in the world and once we incarcerate the bad people, or keep them out of our country, we’ll be fine. We’ll be safe.
But, remember, the enemy who sows the seeds of evil is a big liar.
And once the wheat and tares have started to grow, the roots of evil and good become intertwined. One of the main lies the enemy tells us is that we can judge the difference between the wheat and the tares ourselves. That we can divide the world into two groups, and call one group good and the other group bad.
The enemy tells us that we can divide people into Sinners and Saints. Believers and Non-believers. Male and Female. Gay and straight. City people and country people. Republicans and Democrats. ELCA and LCMS. Introverts and Extroverts. People who like dogs and people who like cats. You name it and we can find a way to divide the people in the world.
The enemy tells these lies to distract us from the fact that the evil in the world is far greater problem than our personal failings. The root causes of the society’s evils - of poverty, homelessness, and hunger go far beyond whether or not I eat an extra cookie today or you sleep in on Sunday.
The enemy has planted many weeds in the field of the world - weeds of racism, weeds of sexism, weeds of prejudices against other religious groups, weeds of hatred toward people from other countries, weeds of greed, weeds of selfishness, weeds of war, so many, many weeds.
And as much as we would like to pull the weeds out of our little part of the garden, the problems are very complex. The roots of good and evil are intertwined.
None of this is to say that things are hopeless and we shouldn’t even try to work against evil. The servants went to the Master and pointed out the weeds. This parable is not telling us to ignore evil because there is nothing we can do. It is right for us to point out the obvious evil whenever we see it. We need to advocate for justice and peace in this world whenever and wherever we can.
But, the roots of good and evil are intertwined. So, what does this mean for us? I think that one thing Jesus is telling us is that we shouldn’t judge situations too quickly. There is usually more than one side to every issue. Things are rarely all good or all bad. The enemy has planted the bad seeds while we were sleeping and now the wheat and tares are growing together. This makes life very complicated.
I think another thing Jesus is telling us, is that, when it comes to people, we are not the judges of who is good and who is bad. It may appear to us that someone else has more weeds in their field than we do, but that doesn’t mean that we have no weeds ourselves. God alone is judge.
And God loves the world so much. Jesus came and stretched his arms wide, to show us just how much God loves each of us.
And when the final harvest comes, Jesus will send the angels to separate the wheat from the tares. All causes of sin and evil will be thrown into the furnace of fire.
That little acre of land with the good soil that is your life will be part of that final harvest. The angels will come to you. They will walk through the field that is your life, and they will take away all the causes of pain and suffering. They will take every evil thing that has ever happened to you, every sin you have ever committed. The angels will forever destroy all those weeds that have grown up in your life. All the sins, all the pain, all the suffering, will be burned forever.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen. Amen.