Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

Please Read: Isaiah 60:1-3; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

At first it may seem incongruous, but it was Jesus who concluded his explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds with the words, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears, listen!”

As with last week’s parable about the sower and the seeds, Jesus tells a parable that purposely confuses the crowd. His parable puts us all in a maze where we’re forced to explore the story and try and find the central point. But then later he reveals the “map” to his disciples. This parable, it seems to me, is even more perplexing…

The plot-line is again about planting seeds. But this week the central point is hinted at early: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field…” Jesus is teaching us about the Kingdom of heaven, the kingdom that is not the same as your run-of-the-mill kingdom of this world. The one who sows is the Son of Man, which is how Jesus often referred to himself. He points back to the prophet Daniel where in chapter 7 of that book the Son of Man is given authority to judge and rule over those who have oppressed God’s people. The good seed, he continues to explain, are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one. The devil is the enemy who sows the seeds of destruction, and there is the Son and Man who will send his angels to divide the good from the evil and collect out all causes of sin and all evildoers and destroy them.

The first obvious point is that the kingdom of heaven is something about which Jesus cares deeply and he wants us to think about it more thoroughly. He is planting and growing kingdom seeds. Here is a parable about the painstaking work of growing a crop.

Which brings us to the second obvious point: Seeing the Kingdom of Heaven come into reality takes time. There is waiting involved. Watching seeds grow involves patient waiting. Whether it’s tomatoes or wine grape vines, there is no substitute for taking the time to prepare the soil and just wait for the plants to mature and see what the harvest will bring. Anybody who’s ever tried to grow something from seeds knows that seeds take time. Once you’ve taken care to put them in good soil and climate with water, there’s not much you can do but watch them grow. And importantly, you don’t know what you’re really growing until the seeds come to maturity.

Have you seen the movie Second Hand Lions? It’s a story about two rich old retirees who live out in the country and are figuring out ways to spend their money. Traveling salesmen know they’re loaded, and so they daily come to peddle all kinds of wares. A seed salesman sees that they don’t know anything about gardening, and sells them various packets of vegetable seeds. And so they plow up a big garden and hoe out straight rows with twine, and they plant the various types of seed. They carefully stake out the head of each row with a seed envelope that has a picture on it of what the seed is supposed to grow. Weeks go by and they carefully weed the garden and wait for the plants to come up. After a while they notice that all of the rows are coming up, but that the plants all look suspiciously the same… At the end of the summer, they didn’t have a vegetable garden. They had a corn field!

Jesus says that an enemy tricked the farmer and sowed bad seed in with the good. The enemy sowed weeds. This is interesting, because Jesus apparently knew his weeds!  The word for weed used in this parable is known by farmers around the world as a plant called bearded darnel or cockle. In the bible this plant is mentioned only in this parable. It is the Lolium temulentum, a species of rye-grass. The seeds contain a narcotic poison. The French word for darnel is “ivraie” from the Latin word ebriacus. Sound familiar? It’s the root for the English word “inebriated” or drunk. It’s a parasite plant, because it grows wherever wheat grows and it looks so much like wheat, but then of course, come harvest time… you’ve got nothing.

The point is, you’ve got to wait to see what comes of the seeds planted. It takes time to see what the fruit really is. It’s interesting that the servants who discover the problem of the weeds mixed in with the wheat want to take care of the problem immediately. They want to fix the problem quickly. But the Master says to wait… Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.

Perhaps this is the third important point that we should consider. The problem of evil is perhaps the most perplexing of all problems for the people of faith. How is it that God allows evil to exist with the good? I must confess that I don’t have any better answers than you do, except to say that Jesus indicates at some point there will be a judgment. There will be a reckoning. There will be a cleansing. There will be a time to set the record straight. There will be a time when all will be made right. The vision of the Kingdom of heaven is that God will dwell among his people and will wipe away every tear and death will be no more; mourning, crying and pain will be no more. The vision of the Kingdom of heaven is that the Son of Man will make all things new (Rev. 21).

In the meantime, tragedies happen. Suicide, horrific accidents and natural disasters devastate our lives and the lives of loved ones, family and friends. There is so much suffering from illness and disease, hunger, racism, bigotry, abuse and all the rest… There is the violence of war and terrorism. There are the would-be Bin Ladens of this world who sow the seeds of destruction or Kadhaffis and al-Assad’s who try to crush opposition with brutality and deception. There are the Bernie Madoff’s who are so smooth at deception, or the Straus-Kahn’s who think their position can protect them from –if not criminal, then - indulgent choices. Might often seems to make right in this world… But Jesus says there will come a time when The Son of Man will send his angels and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and the weeds will be burned up and there will be real sorrow. Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I find that there are at least two typical responses to this notion of judgment. There are those who reject this idea as overly simplistic and contradictory with Jesus’ basic teachings on forgiveness and turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, etc. It’s just too black and white and too extreme. And then there are those who can’t wait for the judgment. Perhaps they have experienced some unspeakable trauma or experienced injustice in extreme forms. They want to see justice now! The point is however, both are sure that the judgment does not apply to them!

But what if Jesus were trying to emphasize that this applies to everyone? to you and me?

As painful as the waiting can be, Jesus makes it clear that God will judge in the end. There will be justice and righteousness in the end. In the Kingdom of heaven there will be no sin and evildoers. There will come a time when the fruit of the harvest will be clear. There will be a judgment and the weeds will be gathered up and burned.

This is all rather stunning, and requires some careful consideration on our part. The problem with turning this into a moral lesson, however, is that weeds will never be wheat. If the wheat are the righteous people and the weeds are the children of darkness, what hope is there?

Perhaps the good news here is that we are not the judge. God is judge. Like the wheat and the weeds, good and evil sometimes is full of ambiguity and complexity... Remember my favorite summary of the gospel. Cheer up, your situation is far worse than you could have ever imagined. But cheer up, God’s love for you is far greater than you could have ever hoped. You, see, Jesus amazingly, writes himself into this story as the judge, the one who will determine what is the fruit of the harvest.

This is probably the most important point of the parable. Our hope is not so much in ourselves, but in him who came to make all things new. Our hope is not so much in our ability to make it right so that we will escape the judgment, but about turning to the One who has already taken the judgment upon himself. For this Son and Man, the righteous Judge, became the one who went to hell. It was Christ who endured the furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth so that we might become children of the kingdom, beloved sons and daughters of God, heirs of the king! It was Christ who on the cross embodied the suffering of this world so that we might know that even in our suffering God has not abandoned us, but as come alongside us. And he rose from the dead to ensure that the enemy would not have the last word.

John Granger writes an interesting article published in Christianity Today on the whole Harry Potter phenomenon, which gets at this primal struggle of good and evil and how we love the hero who can be victorious for what is good and true. Granger writes:

“In Rowling's world, Harry plays this role—as hero and spirit—to the max. He always chooses the right path, usually at risk to his life while fighting the Dark Lord. Dumbledore tells Harry repeatedly that Harry's power is his capacity for love. Harry survives many near-deaths because of his "bond of blood" with the sacrificial love of his mother. Seven years in a row, Harry dies a near death and "rises from the dead" in the presence of or as a symbol of Christ. Our hearts recognize, resonate with, and thrill to Harry's annual death to self and resurrection.”[1]

Granger argues this is why “generation Hex” as he calls the generations weaned on Potter are so drawn to this series. Indeed, it points to the heart of the gospel, that there is one who has done for us that which we could not do for ourselves. Grace is everywhere!

The question for us is, given that Jesus tells us that we have a patient and loving judge, how then shall we live? Are our life choices moving us more toward a kingdom harvest?

C.S. Lewis makes an interesting observation on the importance of the choices we make. He writes, “I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” [2]

Lewis concludes: There are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done", and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.'[3]    

          I hope for us all that we are willing to reflect on the judgment that will come, and the harvest toward which we are growing. In whom will you put your trust? What are you cultivating in your daily thoughts, words and actions? What will be the harvest of our lives and life together? 

There will be a final reckoning of what is good and what is evil in this world. According to Jesus, You will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. Let anyone with ears, listen!

          In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 24th edition (New York, MacMillan Publishing C0, Inc., 1977), p. 86.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York, MacMillan Publishing Co, 1946), 72-73.