Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (7th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 11—Series A)
“Of Weeds and Wheat”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 23, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is our Gospel Reading from Matthew 13:
24He put before them another parable saying, “The reign and rule of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25While the men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26Now when the growing plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? So where did the weeds come from?” 28He said to them, “An enemy did this.” So the slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29And he said, “No, lest when you should gather the weeds you might uproot the wheat together with them. 30Leave them to grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them into bundles in order to burn them up, but the wheat, gather into my barn.’” . . . 36The He dismissed the crowd and went into the house and His disciples came to Him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37He answered and said, “The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. Now the weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the completion of the age and the harvesters are angels. 40Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered together and burned up by fire, so it will be at the completion of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels and they gather out of His kingdom all the causes of sin and those who are lawless 42and they will throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous ones will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The one who has ears, let him hear.”
Perhaps Jesus simply doesn’t like weeding the garden. “Leave [the weeds and the wheat] to grow together until the harvest.” But Jesus’ parable isn’t about landscaping or having the most pristine garden in the neighborhood. He’s describing what the kingdom of heaven, the reign and rule of God in Jesus, is like. And it’s like a field in which a farmer’s enemy sowed weeds on top of the wheat. One simply cannot go into the field and collect the weeds without damaging the wheat. For now, both must grow together.
The reason for this makes complete sense when you understand that the weeds are specifically a type of weed called darnel, which is related to rye grass. Interestingly enough, the grains of darnel are poisonous, so to have it mixed in with wheat renders the crop commercially useless as well as potentially harmful. In the early stages of growth, both darnel and wheat look very similar. Even though darnel has narrower leaves, when the plants are growing, it is too hard to tell which is wheat and which is darnel. A darnel infestation isn’t readily apparent until the plants begin to form ears of grain, but by that time, to try and remove them, as Jesus rightly said, would also root up the wheat because their roots have intertwined.
In Jesus’ explanation of the parable, He identifies the darnel, the weeds, as the “sons of the evil one” and the good seed as the “sons of the kingdom.” Like the darnel and wheat in the parable, it is nearly impossible to tell these two apart. If you walked into a concert hall full of people, could you separate the believers in Jesus from those who do not believe in Jesus? Of course not. Only God sees saving faith in the heart. And even non-believers do “nice” things and act like believers sometimes, and believers still sin and act like non-believers sometimes. So for now, both Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, must “grow together” in the field of this world.
This reality of the kingdom of heaven means that Jesus’ disciples live in a world in which there are all kinds of “causes of sin and those who are lawless.” There are constant temptations to sin surrounding believers in Jesus. Remember, weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest!
These “cases of sin” are described by the word ska,ndalon (skandalon), from which we get our English word “scandal.” There are “scandalous” things that we as believers in Jesus are attracted to do and think, to say and desire. There are “stumbling blocks” to our life of faith, enticements to false belief. There are temptations to sin as well as those who place temptations before us. St. Paul tells the Roman Christians, those in the Church, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and stumbling blocks/causes of sin contrary to the teaching that you learned” (Rom. 16:17).
In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther identifies three kinds of stumbling blocks that we, as believers, must, for now, endure. They are temptations of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil.
For we dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam about our neck. He exerts himself and encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him [Galatians 5:19–21; Colossians 3:5–8]. In short, the old Adam encourages us to have all kinds of evil lusts, which cling to us by nature and to which we are moved by the society, the example, and what we hear and see of other people. They often wound and inflame even an innocent heart.
Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed. It drives us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, hostility, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, railing, slander, pride and haughtiness, with useless finery, honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen before all [Luke 14:7–11].
Then comes the devil, pushing and provoking in all directions. But he especially agitates matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs. He leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love [1 Corinthians 13:13], and he brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. Or, on the other hand, he leads us to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are snares and nets [2 Timothy 2:26], indeed, real fiery darts that are shot like poison into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil [Ephesians 6:12, 16].
Great and grievous, indeed, are these dangers and temptations, which every Christian must bear. We bear them even though each one were alone by himself. So every hour that we are in this vile life, we are attacked on all sides [2 Corinthians 4:8], chased and hunted down. We are moved to cry out and to pray that God would not allow us to become weary and faint [Isaiah 40:31; Hebrews 12:3] and to fall again into sin, shame, and unbelief. For otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the least temptation.
For now, this is the reality of life in the kingdom of heaven—weeds and wheat growing together. While we live in the flesh and have the devil around us, sowing causes of sin and placing stumbling blocks before us, we must endure temptations and trials. Sometimes we are even engulfed in them! But we pray, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” so that we may not fall and be drowned in them.
And we won’t be. The reign and rule of heaven has drawn near to us in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The divine Son of God “was made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17). The writer to the Hebrews assures us that “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted,” and that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). Jesus knows firsthand what it is like to live in this world among the stumbling blocks and the temptations of the devil, the world, and humanity’s sinful flesh.
It was Jesus who, in His earthly life, overcame these temptations. He did not break any of the Commandments. He kept them perfectly. He didn’t disobey God. Jesus never sinned. This perfect life Jesus lived on our behalf. He was sinless and kept God’s Law perfectly as our substitute so that you and I, and all people, get credited with Christ’s perfection. In exchange, Jesus took all our sinfulness and our disobedience and our guilt upon Himself as if it were His. He offered Himself as the sacrifice to cleanse us from all our sins, once and for all. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10:14). The result of the life, death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ is your forgiveness and your eternal life. The result of Jesus’ saving work is that you have been made children of God by your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. You are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ Jesus,” Paul says, “if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17 NET).
As the forgiven children of God who live by faith in Jesus Christ, we are not removed from the field of the world. We grow together with weeds sown by the devil. Temptation is not taken away or removed. But know this, as Luther teaches us, “To feel temptation is, therefore, a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. We must all feel it, although not all in the same way. Some feel it in a greater degree and more severely than others. . . . Such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But we consent to it when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it. Therefore, we Christians must be armed [Ephesians 6:10–18] and daily expect to be constantly attacked. No one may go on in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far from us. At all times we must expect and block his blows. Though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. So when one temptation stops, there always arise others and fresh ones.”
This is real life in the kingdom as we live it for now. But there is hope and comfort. You belong to God the Father through faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. When you do fall into temptation and sin, God forgives you all your sins by means of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Forgiven and being made holy by the work of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament, you are children of God who have been taught to call God, “Father.” And so in the midst of temptation and the stumbling blocks that the devil, the world, and the flesh put in your way, you can speak to God from the heart, “’Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.’ Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered.”
Today our Lord promises that there will come a time when the temptations and the stumbling blocks to sin will end. On the Last Day, “The Son of Man will send his angels and they gather out of His kingdom all the causes of sin and those who are lawless and they will throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous ones will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
There will come a time, when we do not know, that the Lord will finally destroy all sin and evil, the devil and all his works and all his ways. Jesus gave John a visual picture in Revelation 19 and 20. John sees Jesus visually depicted as a rider on a white horse, clothed in a robe dipped in blood. His name is The Word of God. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. The causes of sin, the temptations, and the spiritual enemies of God’s people are thrown into the lake of fire. The devil is thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever and ever. Death and the Grave are thrown into the fiery pit. And then comes a new heaven and earth. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will dwell with His people and be with them as their God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:3-4).
It is then that you and I and all believers in Christ will shine like the sun in the Father’s kingdom. “No longer will there be anything accursed (No temptations! No stumbling blocks! No sin!). . . . They will need no light of lamp or sun, the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3, 5).
This final victory is guaranteed to you by the very promise of Him who lived, suffered temptation, died for your sins, and rose again to make you an heir of this glory and kingdom. The day is coming. Your Lord Jesus will come again and the final victory will be yours. God might seem slow, but he is never late. For now, we get life in the kingdom in the midst of stumbling blocks and temptation. Then, all things will be put right. Nevertheless, the victory is already yours in Jesus Christ. You are already more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). Let today’s Word from God encourage you, give you hope, and stand you firm on your feet so that you may continue to follow Jesus and to serve Him till that day of final victory should come. Amen.