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Planting and harvest--they stand like two bookends. Within their walls are some harsh realities, but decisions are always made with the desired end-result in mind.
Another parable Jesus put forth, saying:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.
"When the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?'
"He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.
"'Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
Matthew 13:24-30 NKJV, condensed
He Doesn't Pull Weeds;Yet
If there's one parable that sounds to me like the Bible in a nutshell, it's this one. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus told the crowd, is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But one night while everyone slept, an enemy came and spread bad seed among the wheat. It was a deliberate act of sabotage. This was not unheard of in Roman society, there were laws with prescribed punishment for this type of crime. The mischief involved a plant called tares which, for most of the growing season, was not distinguishable from the young wheat plants.
Both grew together, side by side in the field, their roots becoming entwined. But when the plants started to fruit, they bore different seed heads. That's when the truth became clear. Weeds were growing everywhere. While the field hands questioned the quality of the farmer's seed and expressed bewilderment, the farmer had no doubts--his enemy had done this. What a painful, heart-breaking blow. His good field had been corrupted.
It required an immediate decision. What to do? Shouldn't we pull out the tares? This is not a lesson on how to garden, it's a parable Jesus told to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. There's an element of surprise in the farmer's response. No, don't pull out the tares! Because if you did, you would uproot the wheat as well. Better to leave them both grow together until harvest time, lest I lose too much of my precious wheat.
This was not what the farmer envisioned when he planted his field. But, alas, it was a dilemma with which he had to deal. At harvest time he and his reapers would have to go through and sort everything out. Since the fruit of the tares is unpleasantly bitter it must be separated out, bundled and burned. Then the good wheat will be gathered into the barn.
In some ways this parable parallels the first four chapters of Genesis, then breezes through the rest of the Bible and finishes with the flair of the final judgment in the book of Revelation. Evil entered God's good field through the skillfully cunning work of the enemy named Satan; that's apparent and easy to see. The final victory scene where good trumps evil; that's also clear to visualize and anticipate. But the middle part--what is God doing there? That middle part is where we live, side by side with evil and often times feeling overpowered by it and afraidwe will lose the battle. Look again. What is God doing? What does God say?
Wait till the harvest--waiting implies patience. The patience is on behalf of the wheat so that no good wheat is destroyed. There's nothing said to indicate hope that weeds will turn into wheat. Good wheat doesn't turn into weeds either. That's not the point of this story.
This parable is about God's protective concern for the wheat which precludes and overrides his hatred for evil. He will not root out evil now because in the process he would lose some of his choice wheat. The farmer will be patient and wait, and in time will bring all of his wheat into his storehouse. And at the end of the day, the tares would be gone and the wheat safely stored in his barn.
The kingdom of heaven inspires a long-term view of life. This is God's field and God will decide what to do. The enemy, Satan, corrupts. But something we must never lose sight of is that evil will not speak the last word. Good will triumph at harvest time; evil will be put in its place. Even though the wheat and the tares look alike for most of the growing season, there's a reason we call the reapers grim.
The kingdom of heaven is like a growing season. It starts with great hope and expectation. It ends with joy and thanksgiving when all the treasured grain is safely brought into the barn. In the meantime, God will be patient so as to not lose any of his precious wheat. In the meantime, we survive by thinking like a son or daughter of the kingdom. The devil can't have us; because it's God's field and we belong to the patient One who makes the final move.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Did you ever "harvest" anything? If so, what was it?
Our life experience tells us we must pull weeds or they take over. In reading this parable, were you surprised the weeds were not pulled? What did you think of the farmer's response?This story is not about our gardens; it's about God's field. According to this parable, what does heaven and earth look like to God?
What is the astonishing aspect of this parable? Is it the shock of discovering tares among the wheat? Is it the farmer's determination not to chance losing his wheat and therefore let them both grow together? Is it "living in the meantime" or the drastic measures at harvest time? Maybe you see other possibilities? Does the absence of evil equal heaven?
In Jesus' interpretation of this parable in Matthew 13:36-43, he said the sower is the "Son of Man", a name he gave to himself. So why would anyone claim that the first sentence of the parable sounds like the beginning of Genesis? If you don't know the answer, look up John l:1-5. It tells you where Jesus was way back then. Does it seem like a stretch, or is it realistic, to see the whole Bible reflected in a single parable?
God was not always patient with sin. In Genesis 6:5-8, we get a different picture. That's where the story of Noah's ark began. After the flood, in Genesis 9:11, God promised never again to destroy "his field" in that way. He sealed that promise with the sign of the rainbow. Compare and contrast the flood story with this parable of Jesus.
It's a problem God always had to deal with: What to do about the presence of evil in the good world he created? You can find many instances in the Old Testament of judgment which was not delayed. In telling this parable of the wheat and the tares, was Jesus presenting the people of his day with new information about God which they had not known before? The New Testament is sometimes referred to as God's New Covenant with his people. What was new about it?
"The devil can't have me, because I belong to the Lord!" That's a feisty declaration we can make whenever we battle with temptation. Try it and see what happens.