What is it that
makes Jesus’ parables so appealing to us? For one thing, of course, they’re the
Word of God—spoken directly to human beings by the incarnate God—and recorded
for us and all His Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. I think another
thing that we like about them is that they’re rather accessible to us. Even
without the explanations that Jesus often provided to His disciples, those of
us who have been brought to faith by that same Holy Spirit can pretty much
recognize the analogies to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is trying to
communicate to His hearers and to us.
I think the most
appealing aspect, though, is that it’s so easy for us to see ourselves within
the context of these parables. Last week, for example: The Gospel lesson was
also one about the sowing of seeds.
Some fell on the
path and was gobbled up by birds; some fell on rocky soil and sprouted up
before withering; some fell among thorns and sprung up before being choked; and
some fell on good soil, and yielded a great harvest. We love to put ourselves
into that story, don’t we? It’s reassuring to think of ourselves as the good
soil—that fruitful ground upon which the seeds of God’s word has landed, taken
root, and given forth a bountiful yield of faith and good works.
The same goes
for the parable in today’s Gospel lesson. We hear of good seeds and bad weeds,
and there we are, right in the middle of the story. We recognize ourselves as
those sons and daughters of the kingdom, growing in the field of the world.
There are plenty of other stalks of the good seed of faithful believers around
us. Unfortunately, the field is also infested by lots and lots of weeds, those
unbelieving ones who belong to the enemy, the evil one who temporarily rules
But we can put
up with that inconvenience in this life, we’re convinced—even though we don’t
like having to deal with them. We’re confident about our future, perhaps even
a little bit cocky. We begin to polish up our crowns of glory and choose the
style and trim of our white robes. “Just wait,” we think. “At the time of
God’s choosing, the angels will come and make the harvest. We’ll be brought
into God’s storehouse as His precious crop from the good seed, and all those
weeds will be thrown into the fiery furnace.”
It’s a great
feeling, knowing that one is a son or daughter of the kingdom. And while we
don’t relish or revel in the terrifying fate of those who will turn out to be
sons and daughters of the evil one, we do tend to look down on them sometimes.
“Those poor fools,” we think. “They rejected the Gospel when it was offered to
them. They clung instead to the temptations and promises of the prince of this
world. Oh, well… tough luck for them.”
Before you get
too carried away and start picking out your lavish accommodations in heaven,
though, let’s remember one thing very clearly: You’re fundamentally and
naturally no better than any weed in that field. Repent. You’ve got your own
twisted roots. You’ve got your own curled and brown-edged leaves. You’ve got
your thorns and thistles; your own bitter fruit where God would have you bear
sweet fruits of the Spirit—thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. You know what
sort of weed you sometimes are. The enemy knows about those times, too, and
stands accusing you—daring you to stand before the good farmer and call
yourself a good stalk of wheat.
It’s only by
God’s mercy that you aren’t ripped from the soil by His angels when you show
your weedy self, and it’s only by His grace that you’ll be counted among the
good wheat when the harvest finally comes. We sometimes forget this. Too many
times we look at others and say, “Well, he or she is obviously a weed.”
It may look that
way to us, at least from our limited perspective. Yet we have to remember that
Jesus used a word for “weeds” here that describes a plant which looked very
much like wheat during its early stages of germination. It was only as the
plants matured and came near to harvest that one could tell the difference.
Maybe this is
the reason the sower, the Son of Man, instructed His servants the holy angels
not to pull up the weeds too quickly. Only God Himself can tell who among us
is wheat or weed. If we go by appearances, you and I might turn out to make
some serious mis-judgments. There are a lot of people out there in the field
who look pretty good to us. They’re quite righteous and upstanding on the
surface, and as far as we can tell, they’re probably among the wheat. But for
all we know, they might simply be the white-washed tombs Jesus speaks of
elsewhere in the Scriptures: Outwardly impressive, but filled with the
rottenness and stench of death within.
On the other
hand, there are some pretty coarse characters out there, too. People who have
bad habits. Dirty minds. Filthy mouths. Careless lifestyles. You know… sort
of like those Jesus reached out to during His ministry here in this field of
the world. Sort of like us, inside our hidden, innermost hearts, and beneath
our pious exteriors.
your own coarseness, and for presuming to think you can tell the wheat from the
weeds. Leave that to the owner of the field. He sees and knows all things,
and before the creation of the world has chosen those who will be brought into
His barns in the blessed harvest to come.
heart that the owner and sower of the field looks at you and doesn’t see a
useless, obnoxious weed. He sees a precious, holy and righteous sheaf of
wheat. A plant rooted deep in the fertile soil that His Word has prepared and
cultivated. A plant drenched in the deep, cleansing waters of your baptism. A
plant that has been fertilized by the deep, red blood that flows from the side
of your Savior.
sometimes—perhaps even often—look and feel like a weed to yourself and to
others. But the same Lord who shed His blood for you on Calvary’s cross has
undone the sowing of weeds that you and the devil have accomplished. He has
redeemed you and given you His righteousness. He who is the first-fruits of
the grave makes you the first-fruits of His heavenly kingdom. The single seed
who died and rose from the ground so that many others might grow and live has
made you a perfect sheaf of grain, one day to be harvested and brought into the
barn of His Father.
assurance for us erstwhile weeds—the promise that through the gift of faith
given us by the grace of God, we will not be wrenched from the ground
and thrown into the raging fires of hell. Instead, when our time of living
among the true but invisible weeds has come to its end, we will be gently
gathered by the angels and made to shine like the sun in the kingdom of the
Father. In spite of our sinfulness, we are made holy by the blood of Christ.
understood the wonder of this blessed tension when he wrote the Latin phrase, “simul
iustus et peccator”—at the same time, righteous and sinner. We might
adapt that phrase somewhat as we contemplate today’s lesson: We are “simul
triticum et zizania”—at the same time, wheat and weeds.
heavenly Father sees no weeds. He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ,
the sinless one, even when He looks at you and me. He sees the bountiful
harvest of good wheat, standing healthy and strong—a fruitful multitude whose
first desire, as ones made free in Jesus. is to please Him.
Unlike that way
that only the owner of the field can tell the wheat from the weeds, and unlike
the way the Father sees only wheat when He looks at us for the sake of Christ,
we do not have the capacity to tell for certain who the Father has chosen to be
wheat and weeds. We are called, therefore, not to despise those who appear
outwardly to be weeds to us. We are not given the task of uprooting weeds, or
risking damage to the wheat hidden among it. We are simply to do what the
field owner has tasked us with: Carrying the message of His Gospel to those
who have ears, that they might hear it. We leave the final harvest, the final
sorting of wheat from weeds and grain from chaff to our Lord and His angels.
For we have
different angel-work. It’s not the work of harvesting; it’s the work of
planting, watering, cultivating, and fertilizing. In the book of Revelation, St. John called those who spread the Gospel “angels” and that is appropriate, for an
angel—an angellion—is the
messenger of another. John called the proclaimers of the Gospel in several of
the early churches “angels,” and that is indeed what they were: They brought
the precious message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ to those who had
ears and would listen.
Go forth, then,
dear angels—enriched by the Word; absolved on your knees; washed in the font;
fed at the altar, equipped and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Carry the same
precious and unchanging message that has been given to you, and take it to weed
and wheat alike. And know that your faithful and loving God will prosper your
work according to His perfect will, gathering you and the fruit of all the good
seed He has planted into His heavenly kingdom at the end of the age.
In the holy and
precious Name of Jesus, Amen.