Weeds among the Wheat
Last week the Parable of the Sower showed us how the good seed failed 75% of the time in the fallen world, but how powerfully the 25% worked. This week Jesus takes us out into the world. He says in the explanation, "The field is the world." Jesus here addresses the Problem of Evil which is succinctly expressed by the servants' two questions. "Where then did the weeds/evil come from?" And, "Do you want us to pull the evil/weeds up now?" Jesus says the Problem of Evil has to do with the sowing, growing, and weeding of weeds among wheat.
Where does evil come from? In a world owned, controlled, directed, and empowered by God, where does it come from? In the parable, where do the weeds come from? This is a very hard question for human reason. The servants in the parable are perplexed by it. They know the field belongs to their master. He has total power over it. They know that he would only sow good seed. What farmer would purposely sow his field with weeds? So where did the evil weeds come from?
This is our dilemma too, and the correct response is to go to Jesus just like servants in the parable go right to their master. We're not to come up with our own explanation. We're not to try to make sense out of evil in the world. We're to listen to what Jesus says about it.
Jesus says that evil is not from God. God only sows good seed. So when a drunk driver kills a family, people are wrong to say, "How could God do this?" God is not the one who sowed this world with drunkenness, serial killers, child molesters, drug lords, or Muslim terrorists. The enemy of God is the one who did this says Jesus. He literally says, "A person who is an enemy." In the explanation, Jesus names him, the Devil. A personal being not some nebulous force or wicked energy is responsible for the weeds among the wheat. That's Jesus' simple answer to why there is evil in the world. Genes don't do it; environment doesn't do it; God certainly doesn't do it. His enemy, the Devil, does.
But look how sly he is. He slips in under cover of darkness to sow his evil. Jesus' servants, you and I, don't see him come in or go out. As far as we know, God is the Creator, Preserver, and Controller of the world. That's why our reason feels compelled to blame God for acts of terror, despotic regimes killing their citizens, and people who shoot up schools. The Devil's cunning is also why evil takes us by surprise. His evil seeds grow secretly among us looking very much like us until they actually bear wicked fruit. How many times do friends, neighbors, relatives of evil people say, "But they were so nice, normal, helpful, etc?" How many churches have been stunned when their pastor or a prominent member is exposed as a weed?
Where do weeds come from? They're sown by the Devil. But why does God allow them to grow? This question has always bothered God's people. David, in Psalm 37 says, "I have seen a violent and wicked man spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil." You've seen that too. Evil men, obvious sons of the Evil One, go unpunished and prosper as if God's field was their native soil. And we see only one option as God's servants do in the parable. Weeds ought to be pulled up, now. According to human reason this is the only option. Who lets weeds grow in their garden?
God does. The Lord of the field of the world says He doesn't want them pulled up now. Not because He is afraid to; not because they're more powerful than He; not because He doesn't love the wheat enough, but because He loves us so very much. The only reason Jesus gives for not pulling the weeds up now is for the sake of the wheat. He doesn't say, "You may root up the wheat with them," but at the American Standard, RSV, and New King James translate "You will root up the wheat."
It's hard to distinguish weeds from plants especially in the early stages. This is especially true of the particular weed Jesus mentions here. Not even an expert can tell until it actually forms a head of grain. Even then, pulling weeds can still do damage. You don't how intertwined the root system of the good and evil plants are.
Okay, this explains why you and I aren't to weed the world. We can't know absolutely who are weeds and who is wheat. We can't see into men's hearts or their futures, but God sure can. The harvesters Jesus sends out are perfect angels directed by Him. They surely know who is and will always be weeds. But this is part of God's hidden will which is not given for us to know or to act on. We act on God's revealed will that it's not time for the final judgment. The day of grace isn't over. There's still time for the worst weed to be converted into wheat.
As in all parables, there is an element of the unreal here. In farming, weeds never become wheat, but in life sons of the evil one do become sons of the kingdom. In fact, we all start out as children of the Devil. We all start out as weeds, but then the Good News of Christ keeping the Law of God in our place and being punished for our not keeping it comes to us. It's either preached into our ears or applied with water on our bodies as babies.
Now is the season for weeds to become wheat. Now is the time of divine patience when for the sake of the weeds that will be converted God tolerates the rest. As incredible as it seems, some of the worst weeds we see, some of the biggest, ugliest ones will be converted. Last week we heard how the slave trader John Newton was. Had the Lord weeded His field anywhere before his 39th year weeds would've been pulled but a wheat plant lost.
But if this is the case, shouldn't we in the church let the impenitent sinner stay in our midst? Shouldn't those who show they despise the Means of Grace by not coming to hear the Word or receive the Sacrament be regarded as active members? Shouldn't those living in the sin of living together be permitted to go on growing among us? That conflicts with Matthew 18 where Jesus commands the impenitent be regarded as outside the Church and 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul commands they be judged. How does this not conflict with our text? Because Jesus tells us the field is the world not the church. Christians weed the church not the world.
So far we've seen where the weeds come from and why God tolerates them. Now we ask, when will the weed problem, the Problem of Evil be solved? When will the sowing and growing stop and the weeding begin? Jesus says this will take place at the end of this age. The Problem of Evil isn't going to be solved by bigger prisons, harder judges, or more cops. All of these are fine ways for society to combat crime, but they aren't ways to defeat the Evil One. His wicked weeds are going to continue to pop up.
But not forever. Jesus, the owner of the field, of the world has a day set for weeding. His angels are poised right now to descend upon the earth, pull up the weeds, and throw them into everlasting fire. Not one of the weeds will escape; not one of them will come back. No matter how much a weed may look like wheat right now, God knows what it really is.
Likewise with the wheat. God knows those who belong to Him. Not one grain of wheat will be lost. Christ brings the entire harvest home. Though His wheat may have committed just as terrible sins as did the weeds, though they be weak and frail plants, they are rooted in the blood of Christ through faith. And His blood cleanses them from all sins. That blood has the power to make wheat out of weeds, and all the wheat is harvested.
But it's not fear of not being harvested that gets the wheat down; it's the fact that weeds are continually being sown and grown. In fact, the text says "the enemy came and sowed weed over the wheat. We are surrounded on every side by them, and you know weeds grow faster than wheat. They grow so fast they bock out the Son, that's S-o-n not s-u-n. The weeds block our view of God's grace and mercy towards us for Jesus' sake.
In the final judgment the weeds will be removed, and then we will see how things really are. "Then," says Jesus, "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." What about now? What about today? Have we no joy, no shining until the sowing and growing of weeds is done and the weeding started? You won't have any joy or glow if you persist in thinking that God doesn't know, or doesn't care, or isn't able to deal with the Problem of Evil.
No, He sees the weeds more clearly than you do. And He cares so much for the wheat that He tolerates the weeds. It's not that He is unable to root out the weeds; He is unwilling. I've said all this already. The parable itself gives us a clue to what trips us Christians up. When the Lord says, "Let both grow together," the word translated "let" is the same translated "forgive." Many, both weeds and wheat, mistake being left alone for being forgiven. Even if you translate "allow" which is acceptable, many think the allowance of God is the acceptance of God. No, the Lord allows both weeds and wheat to keep on growing but not for the same reason.
Those outside of the Church who address the Problem of Evil don't see this central point Jesus makes. No, they say, "If your god can't or won't do what I think he should be able to do when I think he should do it, then he is no god." Because a father doesn't do exactly what a child wants when he wants it done, does he cease being father or necessarily even a loving father? Of course not!
The truth is, the Problem of Evil that twists people into knots is no problem for God. Evil is no more of a problem for God than that weed which you keep walking by is. You can pull that evil weed up any time you want to. You know that although it is bigger and taller than your good plants, they are really in no danger from it. In fact, if the weed was a real threat to your precious plants, you would pull it up in an instant. Our gracious, all-powerful God in Christ deals with evil in the world more easily, and more wisely than we deal with weeds among the wheat. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (20140810); Matthew 13: 36-43