This week I continued looking at the seven parables is Matthew 13. The focus of this weeks parable was the story of the weeds.
Many of the religious people of that time told stories that not everyone could relate to. They told stories for the rich, privileged and upper-class people. There was no real middle class in those days so there were the “haves and the have-nots.”
I love how Jesus took what was once inaccessible, or only accessible by the holiest of holies, and made it accessible to all. By making it accessible to all, however, Jesus upset many of the religious leaders of the day because he was telling stories that women, slaves, the poor and gentiles would understand. Religion, up to this point, was supposed to be for the rich and privileged. The outsiders were not fit to stand before God. In the parables, Jesus took a lofty religion that was built upon man-made rules and piety and brought it down so that you and I can be saved. Through these parables we have an invitation; I believe Jesus offered these every-day stories so that you and I could be intimate with God, the great creator of all things.
I continue to talk about intimacy and how all throughout the Bible there are not (in my opinion) a series of rules we are called to follow so much as there are invitations to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Like I mentioned last week, some of the aspects of this relationship don’t make sense to those on the outside, but those in the relationship understand perfectly how beautiful and flawless it is.
The story is told in Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “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?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 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.’”
36 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.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 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. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
The interesting thing about how this story begins is that many people in that time would have been confused by what Jesus said. The idea that a farmer would leave weeds with the wheat makes sense to those who know nothing about farming, like myself. To those who have gardened before or tried to grow anything, you know how important it is to pick out the weeds as soon as they start.
I am starting to do a little yard-work in my backyard and I understand just how relevant the story of weeds is. I have been fighting the weeds since I first got here. I am plucking the weeds from all over the place but there is one plant that has a weed on it that I can’t tell the difference from the plant and the weed. I started to get rid of the weed then thought, “this might be part of the plant. How do I tell the difference between the plant and the weed?”
I thought about my experience in the backyard and how this might be like what Jesus was talking about. An experienced farmer knows that you deal with the weed right away, you don’t let it grow alongside the good crop. So what was Jesus saying in this parable? Why would he have said something that wasn’t necessarily correct or didn’t make sense?
That’s just it; he doesn’t think like we do, his ways are not our ways. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways.”
He goes on to explain it some in verses 36-43. He tells us that the Harvest is inevitable; at the end of time He will harvest the good wheat, not the weeds. That is his doing.
One of the things I said last week when we talked about the parable of the sower was, “The Kingdom of God is sure. The harvest is God’s doing, and God is faithful.”
Another thing that he may be saying is that weeds cannot be avoided. Those who have a garden know there is no such thing as a perfect garden. I have only had this backyard for a few weeks now but I must have picked out the same weed at least 4 times. Weeds are going to be there. I can spray, I can pick, but I will always be working at getting rid of them.
That may be what Jesus is telling us, weeds are part of the process. There is always right with the wrong, good with the bad.
In the parable, the weed that Jesus was most likely talking about in that time was called “Darnel.” It is a weed that looks very similar to wheat; the main difference is that when the heads of the wheat begin to form close to harvest time, the weeds do not have the same head. The weed looks almost identical to wheat except when it comes time to harvest, it is fruitless.
In the parable, it would have been difficult for the people to get rid of the weeds because they would have taken as much of the good crop as the weed if they tried to get rid of it.
I don’t think Jesus is telling us we are supposed to be passive and I don’t think it was a command to ignore injustices in the world. I do think it is a reminder that we do not have the ability to get rid of all the weeds. I think Jesus was telling us to remember we are, as Paul put it, “in the world while not of the world.”
Maybe Jesus was trying to tell us that our eyes can’t tell the difference between wheat and darnel, the good crop and weeds. He understood that we are here on earth and that we have to live amongst all the people on earth. There are both saved and not saved people here, we are supposed to be with them all.
I think even more than that, we aren’t just supposed to live with those around us, we are supposed to love them and love them they way Christ would love them.
One of my favorite examples of love for an enemy comes in the book Les Miserables by Victor Hugho. In one part of the story, we have the main character Jean Valjean, who is just released from prison after nearly 20 years and is out trying to find his way. He has nothing, is nobody and has no real future ahead of him. At one point in the story we see a bishop take him in. The bishop fed him and gave him a warm bed for the night. Jean Valjean was so lost and desperate for money that once everyone falls asleep, he takes some silver and runs. The police find him the next day and bring him back to the bishop. When the police ask if the silver Valjean had stolen was his, they expected him to reclaim his stolen property and Valjean would be thrown back in prison probably for the rest of his life. Instead, the bishop shows incredible love for this man he hardly knows and tells the police that Valjean had not stolen the silver, it was a gift. Not only that, the bishop gave him even more of the best silver he had.
This man who was supposed to be on the lowest rung of society, he was not supposed to be helped by any. Had the mark of a prisoner right on his skin. All would have known he was a convicted felon.
What an incredible display of Christ’s love to this man. If you continue on in the story, you see that this incident with the bishop sparked a change for Valjean. Because of that day and the kind acts, the love that was shown to him, it caused him to realize his poor decisions and go on to live a good and moral life. He becomes the mayor of a town, adopts an orphan and starts his own shop. Because of one act of extreme love for what could have been viewed as his enemy, the bishop helped change a man’s life forever.
I think there are some similarities between this story and the parable of the weeds. If we look more closely at the parable of the weeds, we can see what each character represents:
We know that the person sowing the good seed is Jesus. The field is the world. Those that are saved are the good crop. The person who sowed the weeds is the enemy and the weeds are those outside of the body of Christ.
In the story of Jean Valjean and the bishop, the bishop was certainly the wheat and Valjean could be considered the weed. If the weeds had just been plucked up right away, like what may make logical sense to us in our minds, Valjean would not have had the life-changing experience he had. Not only would his life not have been changed, the lives of all the people he helped throughout his story would not have been changed. The daughter he adopts and raises would not have had the father, the town he was the mayor of would not have benefitted from his leadership, the world around him would have been worse off if the bishop had done what makes sense in our logical minds and reported that he was stealing, that he was a weed… let him be plucked up right away.
Instead, the bishop saw through the lens of Christ and realized that it was not his job to pluck up the weeds, we can’t know what God’s plan is for others around us, both wheat and weeds. We have to trust that, like the passage says, the end is in his control. He is in charge and He is faithful.
Our eyes cannot see the difference between darnel and wheat, the good and the bad, if we try to take care of things on our own or by our own rules, we are going to pull up as much wheat as we are weeds.
Instead, we are called to wait, Romans 8:25 says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
While we wait patiently, we love others.
The fact that is easy to forget, especially for Christians who have been saved for a while, is that we were all once weeds, we are all sinners saved by grace. We were all weeds that should have been plucked up at one time. How can we consider ourselves better than anyone around us? They are just on a different part of their journey than we are on.
Matthew 5:44 tells us we are to love our enemy. Love those that are all around us. Love the wheat and the weeds.
This sounds simple enough, but I think about how often I have not done this. A simple example might be when I am in the car coming back from Atlanta and I tend to view almost everyone else on the highway as my enemy. There are some really bad drivers out there and I just don’t like taking chances. When someone pulls over in front of me or speeds around me on the right and cuts me off, I can tell you now, I do not always “love my enemy” in that moment.
That’s just it though, when someone is our enemy, when they cut me off and they are going 95 mph, maybe I am just supposed to think, “OK, they have something else going on that they really need to get to.” Instead of immediately getting upset, we are supposed to love them…
Maybe in this parable, God is telling us that when someone around us does something to hurt or offend us, we don’t know what their story is or is going to be, we should show them love.
I read a story the other day by Catherin Cavanagh that spoke about loving your enemy and it said:
“Proclaiming ‘Love your enemy’ is indeed a radical act. If you love your enemy, you must feed them. If you love your enemy, you must visit them in prison. If you love your enemy, you must advocate for their rights—to life, love and liberty. If you love your enemy, you cannot kill them. If you love your enemy, you must work for the restoration of their place in society, for their forgiveness, for their future. If you love your enemy, you proclaim ‘forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’ And forgive me too. The words stick in your mouth, but you say them, over and over, until you own them and mean them with every fiber of your soul.”
These words are beautiful to me, but put to the test, they can be difficult. I love the part at the end where she talks about how the words are difficult to say. When we want to forgive or we want to love, it can be difficult. No matter, we say them anyways and say them over and over until we begin to believe them, until we own them.
You may remember the story of Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned unjustly for 27 years. When he first went into prison, he was angry, he did not love those around him. He knew he was in prison for an unjust reason. Over time, he began to say those words, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” He said them over and over until he began to believe them. He began to forgive those who put him in prison, even while he was still in prison. He began to not only forgive those that hurt him, he began to love them. That time where he had to say the words over and over until he actually believed them was difficult, but it proved to be the moment that would help change an entire nation. We know that he went on to become president of South Africa and one of the greatest leaders, maybe ever. He is now a symbol of peace, love and forgiveness.
Mandela’s story is a great example of what Jesus may have been talking about in the parable of the weeds. We are called to say to those all around us, “forgive them, Father.” We are called to love them, a radical love that feeds them, fights for them, say they are our neighbors.
I have ended each week with a challenge and I will do the same this week. My challenge to us all this week is simple, love the wheat and the weeds all around us. If we have to fake it at first, say the words over and over until we mean it. That’s OK. If we have to beg God to give us love and to help us trust He is going to take care of it all. That’s OK. The challenge Jesus gives to us in the parable of the weeds is simple, no matter what, love.