Yesterday I paused from the current blog series on the kingdom parables of Matthew 13 due to the 4th of July holiday. My wife and I drove to Santa Maria, CA to visit her parents for the weekend. It is much quieter here than in Los Angeles. America turned 238 years old, which is in teen years with respect to the Old World. My first two posts of the series, here and here, deal with the introduction to this series and the parable of the sower. Now, I plumb the depths of the parable of the weeds. The following quoted text occurs after Jesus interpreted the parable of the sower for the disciples. At this point in the gospel narrative, the audience is a mixed one:
“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matt. 13:24-30, ESV).
Let me draw my readers’ attentions to key observations about the text. Notice in this parable that the enemy takes advantage of the situation to suit his own ends. According to Jesus, the enemy plants weeds in the man’s field while his workers sleep through the evening (Matt. 13:25, ESV). When the wheat starts producing the head of grain, then the workers discern the presence of the weeds in the field (Matt. 13:26-27, ESV). Until this point, the workers believed that the whole field contained only wheat. They were the ones who tilled the soil, sowed the seed, watered it, and fertilized it. At least, they thought they were the only ones who had sowed in the field. The last thing to key on is the wisdom of the man who owns the field. Given his farming experience, he directs his workers against pulling up the weeds in order to preserve the wheat (Matt. 13:29, ESV). He tells them that the reapers will sort out the weeds from the wheat during the harvest season (Matt. 13:30, ESV).
In the parable of the weeds, Jesus displays the openly subversive work of the enemy during the entire course of this age. The evil one’s main goal is to corrupt the wheat harvest by overrunning it with weeds. One might argue that his secondary goal is to elicit a response from the workers by distracting them from preserving the wheat through the effort of removing the weeds. The wisdom of the landowner checks his workers’ instincts by redirecting their focus to the primary task of keeping the wheat until the harvest. He does not fault his workers for sleeping on the job so to speak, which is what allows the enemy to do his work. Now, I do not want to suggest that it is perfectly fine for God’s people to be spiritually asleep. There are strong admonishments in the New Testament about waking up from a spiritual, slumbering condition (Romans 13:11-12 & Ephesians 5:11-14, ESV). My point is that there is a rhythm to working and resting built into creation by the Lord. Satan knows this rhythm and uses it to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10, ESV).
At this point, I want to say a word about the workers. These people stand in for God’s people throughout the entire New Testament era. We serve the Lord by working in his field. Our task is clear: sow the seed and maintain the crop until harvest time. In fact, those two points serve as the foundation for churches, ministries, and believers everywhere in the world. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, our Lord no longer uses the seed sowing analogy, but plainly states that his disciples are to go and make disciples. The wheat must produce more wheat. This implies living fruitful lives. The reason for the fruitfulness goes back to the parable of the sower where the seed is the word of the kingdom. Life is in the word, which bears fruit in the life that receives it. What this shows us is that seed sowing, or preaching the gospel, or bearing witness to others about Christ, must be every believers’ mission until he or she goes home to be with the Lord or the Messiah comes back.
Now the weeds represent those individuals who profess Christ, but who lack the inward life of the wheat and the corresponding ability to bear fruit. These are the ones that Jesus mentions will not enter the kingdom of heaven despite telling him, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name” (Matt. 7:22, ESV)? There are many who attend churches all over the United States and the world who believe that they are in good with the Lord. Some of these weeds may have grown up in the church, others serve here, there, and everywhere, but Jesus tells them on judgment day, “I never knew you; depart from me…” (Matt. 7:23, ESV). In this present age, the weeds may go unrecognized by God’s people for a time or even all the way till death; however, they do not fool the Lord, who searches the hearts and tests the minds of men (Jeremiah 17:10, ESV). Do we believe that as true?
Here are some final exhortations to remember. The church must be a faithful steward with the gospel mission. The enemy will do his work, but our focus is to sow the Master’s good seed. To state it another way, the church is neither a launching pad for heresy hunters nor is she to expend her energy removing the weeds from the kingdom in this age. It will always be a mixture of good and bad by virtue of the landowner saying, “let both grow together until the harvest” (Matt. 13:30a). In the second part of this post, I will proceed through our Lord’s interpretation of his parable of the weeds while drawing out some things about the eschaton or the time of the end.