Matthew 13: 24-43
Jesus told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
“The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’
“He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’
“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’
“He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’”
All Jesus did that day was tell stories – a long storytelling afternoon. Jesus then dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, “Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field.”
So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.
“The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?
“Don’t you want us to pull up the weeds,” the slaves ask their master. “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” These aren’t just generic weeds. The parable speaks of a particular weed called zizania. It’s sometimes known as darnel or false wheat. It grows with the wheat. It looks like wheat. Its roots intertwine with the roots of the real wheat. The difference between the two is not always readily apparent.
It seems the separation between the wheat and the weeds is not as clearcut or black and white as Facebook, the media, our politicians, and our personal opinions would often have us believe. In any event, we are not the ones to make that judgment. We’re not the ones to uproot those we see as weeds. Jesus is clear about that.
“Let them grow together until the harvest,” he says. Jesus shows more interest in growth than extermination. He is willing to wait and to be patient. If we are his followers we too will wait and be patient amongst the weeds of our life.
While we patiently wait let’s not get too excited about the end of this parable. Let’s not revel in and celebrate the end of the age and the coming of Jesus as some divine weed whacker. I don’t think Jesus intended this parable to be taken literally, but, rather, with absolute seriousness.
So do we do nothing? Just sit and wait? No, that’s not what Jesus is saying. There is plenty to do and it will be a challenge. The words that are translated as “let them” in Jesus’ statement, “Let them grow…” can also be translated as forgive them. It’s the same words Jesus spoke from the cross in St. Luke’s account of the gospel when he says, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Even then, even on the cross, Jesus is unwilling to pull up the weeds.
There is no place in Jesus’ gospel for Christian vigilantism, by word or by action, against another or against ourselves. Instead, Jesus commands love. Love your enemy. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Love God.
Forgive the weeds? Love the weeds? Remember, I told you the gospel is always a challenge. So, yes, forgive them. Love them. Maybe that’s how the wheat begins to disentangle its roots from the weeds and show itself to be wheat and not weeds. Maybe love and forgiveness are what life in the mixed field of God’s kingdom and this world is like.