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5th Sunday after Pentecost

Then & Now (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)    July 17, 2011

Jesus was known for his use of parables, and the parables in Chapter 13 of Matthew are all parables of the kingdom.

Read Matthew 13: 24-30

Jesus was not painting a portrait of the future as much as he was introducing the  kingdom of God as a present reality. It was coming into being even as he spoke.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds is usually thought of as a judgment parable. But the story Jesus tells in verses 24-30 contains much more than scenes of final judgment. The parable begins in verse 24 with the standard phrase: "The kingdom of God is like ..." -- or "The kingdom of God may be compared to ...."

The intent of the parable is to describe something about the kingdom of God. Notice that all the events and responses take place in the story's present. Example: field, farmer, seed sowing, wheat and weeds; only the harvest lies in the future.

If Jesus' description is of a kingdom of God, it is a kingdom that is among us now. His focus is on the present age and what attitudes the kingdom of God evokes right now.

The problem is not that we can't spot the weeds, the fakes, and phonies. The problem is knowing what to do about them.

Ever look across a field of wheat? You can see the weeds quite clearly. But getting rid of them is another matter. Jesus' advice on how to deal with the weeds in the field is to let them be. (That’s our job -- in the Present.) They'll be taken care of on harvest or judgment day. (That’s God’s job -- in the Future.)

Jesus says the "wheat" is the children of God; the "weeds" are the fake children of God, the ones pretending to be wheat, as though by growing up smack in the middle of a wheat field they'll be mistaken for wheat. Actually Jesus says they are the "children of the evil one" (v. 38).

This is a parable about the Kingdom of God; a parable about the Present; and a parable about the patient farmer tending the field.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds, as told by Jesus in verses 24-30), focuses on the farmer's patience and grace. The patient farmer is not blind to the weeds growing in his field. He can easily tell a weed from a wheat stalk. How to deal with these intrusive weeds is the question he faces, not whether or not they  exist.

Rather than endanger the wheat growing up with the weeds, the farmer chooses to let both weeds and wheat continue to grow side by side. The farmer refuses to do anything that might injure the wheat just to rid himself of the weeds. His concern is to tend the field patiently, despite the mixed crop growing in it.

Not until the final harvest is it the reaper's job to separate the weeds from the good crop and burn them up. Separation of the weeds and wheat waits until harvest time. Only then are the two different crops harvested and the weeds safely destroyed.

In the language of Jesus, we're going to have to put up with the weeds among the wheat. There may be phonies among the pious, the false among the true, the fake among the genuine, and the sinners among the saints. It is not up to us to decide which is which. (Side note: that is not to say that we should let evil run amuck. There are times when appropriate action must be taken to “protect the innocent,” as it were.)

But the good news in all of this is that Jesus describes this field, which is the "world" (v. 38) as a field of wheat, not as a field of weeds. That is to say, when Jesus sees the world, he looks out across not a field of weeds in which there is wheat growing, but a field of wheat in which there are weeds growing.

This is encouraging news for the Christian. It's so easy to be discouraged and to believe that evil is all around us, about to overwhelm us. In fact, Jesus reminds us that there are more of the faithful, more of those who have not bowed the knee to Baal, more of those whose core values are still biblical ones, than we sometimes realize.

Yes, the "children of evil" exist and they sometimes do damage to the crop, but they exist in a field that is predominantly a field of wheat, not weeds. I find this a good perspective to hold onto, especially at those times that world news reports become overwhelming.

It’s a parable about Kingdom of God; a parable about the Present; a parable about the patient farmer and d the farmer’s faithful/tender care of the seeds that were sown.

Wheat and weeds: How important is it to know the difference?

A wheat farmer in Colorado studied this parable and the following is based on his expertise.

The first difference between wheat and weeds is that wheat is always in the row that you planted it; whereas, weeds will be scattered all over, especially between the rows. Wheat follows the rules, as it were, obeys the farmer's commands, grows where the farmer has planted it. Weeds, on the other hand, are renegades, exist all over, obey no "rules" and grow wherever they want.

A second difference is that wheat pretty much all looks the same: the head with the seeds, the beard, and the chaff. Weeds on the other hand, are all completely different.

* Some are like vines. They cluster and grow along the top of the ground.
* Some have pretty flowers and are very deceiving.
* Some grow tall and are clumped into bushes.
* Some grow like camouflage. They look like wheat when they are small and young, but when they grow up they change appearance and are mature enough to do damage to the wheat.

A third difference is that wheat multiplies only by planting. The farmer plants the seed and a crop and harvest ensue. Not so with weeds:

* Some weeds multiply by spreading their seeds through the air on the back of your local wind.
* Some weeds spread their bounty when wildlife eat the seeds and then travel for miles, expelling the seeds from their mouth or droppings.
* Some weeds multiply by having such a deep root system that nothing can eliminate the roots and therefore they always survive.

Today Christians may look radically different across the country and across the globe, but in terms of the essentials, in terms of core values, Christians are pretty much the same. We do attempt to follow the rules, to live in the rows, to grow where we're planted, to display the peaceable fruit of righteousness. There is more about Christians that is the same than there are differences that divide. Something to keep in mind.

It’s not hard to see the "weeds" then and now. Some are easy to spot: the killers who maim and destroy the innocent, the greedy who grab and dash with the savings and retirement plans of those who worked so hard for so many years, and the wicked who prey upon children by gaining their trust and then mis-using it.

But some weeds are harder to detect. They look "religious," but their actions range from misguided to disgraceful.

--Take the pastor in Florida who wants to burn Islamic holy books, or the pastor who shows up at funerals to denounce gays. –Take the people who describe themselves as Christians but do incredibly stupid and sometimes evil things. It’s understandable that our response is anger or even ridicule.

But what does Jesus ask us to do? Focus on the wheat, not the weeds. Be the wheat. Peter – what about John? Jesus-what is that to you? You follow me.

It’s a parable about Kingdom of God; a parable about the Present; a parable about the patient farmer and d the farmer’s faithful/tender care of the seeds that were sown. All in the present. Only now do we move into the future of the parable’s meaning.

            Read Matthew 13: 36-43

At verse 36, Jesus moves from public parables about the kingdom of God before large, crowds of believers and doubters, friends and enemies to a private location for a  private discussion and explanation. Only his chosen disciples are present as Jesus unfolds the future coming of the Kingdom of God.

Here the message clearly becomes one of impending judgment. The patient farmer is replaced by the powerful risen Christ, who alone wields the power of judgment. It is this judging Son of Man who sends out the reaper-angels to separate the weeds and the wheat.  

Our calling as messengers of the Good News is not to be pre-occupied with weeds. There’s no sense in complaining about the evil in the world; to spend your time focused on the bad news we hear day in and day out. Yes, there is evil in the world, but we are not the jurors.

The Love of God outshines the weeds and the wheat. Our mission is to proclaim words of acceptance, love and welcome as far and wide as possible.

Thankfully we are called to be cultivators, not harvesters. Separating wheat from weeds is the responsibility of the divine Judge, the Son of God.

Rooting up weeds is not part of our job description. The wheat needs to keep growing and the farmer will sort it out in the end. In fact, Jesus says that we should go about our business. Our job is to be wheat, not weeds.

Be the wheat:
* Grow in the row in which you were planted.
* Grow tall and strong and crowd out the weeds.
* Let your influence shade out or deprive the weeds of sunlight and water they need to survive.
* Don't be a stalk of wheat in a field by yourself. Grow with others in a community of wheat.
* No stalk of wheat worries about a weed nearby; the farmer's going to take care of that weed.

God has a plan. We can trust the plan.
God is the Master Gardener and the Faithful Farmer.

Amen. 

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