What Do We Do With the Weeds?
A sermon based on Matthew 13:24-30 (36-43)
Sunday, August 14, 2011 – Pentecost 9A
What's your favorite thing to do on the weekend? Hunting? Fishing? Reading? Watching TV? Sleeping? If asked your favorite way to spend your free time, would any of you answer "pulling weeds"? I didn't think so. Not many people like to weed. So why do it? I mean, why bother? When you pull the weeds they only pop right back up, usually in greater numbers. The weeds are often uncontrollable. So why not just get some Round-Up ® and soak the flower beds, the garden, and the yard so no weeds can ever grow back?
The answer is obvious isn't it? You'd not only take out the undesirable weeds, but you'd kill the desirable plants as well. The garden foods would be poisoned, the grass would be killed, the delicate flowers would be killed more quickly than the durable weeds. While you could get rid of the weeds with a blanket of herbicide, at what cost? It isn't worth it.
This morning as we take a look at one of Jesus' parables, we ask the question, "What do we do with the weeds?" And Jesus tells us. "Don't pull them up, but patiently grow with them until you rejoice at the harvest." Listen again to the parable of the wheat and the weeds as they're recorded for us in Matthew 13:24-30…
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
As Jesus stood out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee he told the people this parable. It wasn't until later that day when he was alone with his disciples that he explained what it meant. He told them that the one sowing the seed was himself. Jesus is the one who plants Christians in the field of this world. The weeds, he pointed out, were the unbelievers whom the devil keeps from the truth. The harvest is Judgment Day, when all things will end and God's angels will separate the believers from the unbelievers for all of eternity.
But, who knows when that day is? Only God knows. It may be tomorrow or not for another five millennia. In the meantime, what do we do with the weeds? Jesus' parable explains…
I. Don't Pull Them Up
When the farmer's servants saw the heads of wheat begin to pop up out of surface of the soil, they were shocked and appalled to find that that wasn't all that was growing in the field. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' Their master told them and, eager to be rid of weeds their enemy had planted, they were ready to go pull them up. But they were wise enough to check with their master before they acted in their zeal. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' And the master responded emphatically, "No! Stop!" That was the last thing he wanted. For if they pulled the weeds at that point, they would destroy the wheat as well.
Do you sometimes feel like those servants? Are you shocked by what you read in the paper? Are you appalled by what you see on the evening news? Are you hurt by what you see in your own home? Do you sometimes wonder how a loving God could allow so many weeds, why he would tolerate such evil? Do you want to find a way to put an end to all the evils in the world, to pull up those weeds? Before you get too zealous, put down your garden tools and let's see what the master wants us to do with those weeds, for zeal without knowledge is a very dangerous thing…
What does Jesus want us to do with the unbelievers we encounter every day? He doesn't want us to pull up those weeds. When we ask, "What should we do with the weeds? Pull them up?" he yells, "No! Stop! Don't pull them up!" Jesus doesn't want a physical ridding of evil on our part. He's not looking for a political battle from us to clean up the world. If God wanted to put an end to evil with physical force, believe me, the God who created the universe by the power of his Word could easily end it all at this very moment. But that's not what he wants. He doesn't want to pull up the weeds. Not yet.
But why? Why does God allow evil people with their evil schemes and their evil deeds to continue? Look at verse 29: "No," he answered, "because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them." If we were to try to rid the world of the weeds, we'd inadvertently rid the world of some weak believers. We'd accidentally throw out the baby with the bath water.
The word that's translated as weeds in the NIV and tares in the KJV is zizanium. It's thought to be darnel, a particularly tricky weed to deal with. You see, wheat and zizanium look almost identical in the early stages. Not until the heads of grain appear on the wheat can a positive identification be made. But what made zizanium even more dangerous, was that it was thought be poisonous.
The sons of the kingdom of God, that is, believers, and the sons of the evil one, the devil, that is, unbelievers, live side by side in this world. And often they look almost identical. They work at the same jobs, read the same paper, have the same customs, the same hobbies, enjoy the same recreation, they seek the same political goals, go to the same restaurants, even go to the same church… but they're entirely different. Christians are wheat and produce fruits of faith that last into eternity. Unbelievers are weeds and produce poison. But if we can't always tell the difference, we'd better not be too quick to condemn. We might pull up the wheat with the weeds.
None of us would like it if we were cut off from God's grace in a moment of weakness. Remember that you were once a weed. At one point you could do nothing but sin, rebelling against God with your poisonous actions. God would have remained perfectly just if he'd pulled you up and thrown you into the fires of hell. But that's not what he did. He loved you when you were a worthless, obnoxious, weed. He loved you so much, he sent his own Son to endure the hell you deserved to make you his wheat. So don't pull up the weeds, but be patient with them. For as St. Augustine said, "Those who today are weeds may tomorrow be grain." And we might add, just as we who were once weeds are, by God's grace alone, grain today.
And as you wait patiently, grow in your faith. For God's waiting for the wheat to mature…
II. Patiently Grow With Them
But it's not always easy to be patient is it? When God could easily end all wickedness, it sometimes seems like he's sitting on his hands. It sometimes seems that God is either too weak to help, or too cruel to stop it. Do you sometimes get tired of living in this weed-filled world? Do you sometimes wonder why God doesn't just end it all? Why is there evil? Why is their sin committed against God and against us? Why are there unbelievers in the world if God is all-powerful and wants all people to be saved?!
Well, Jesus points out that the evil that exists isn't God's fault. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away… 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, …Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied.'"
And you know who that enemy is. Ever since Adam and Eve Satan has succeeded in causing sin. He has been planting weeds ever since. Martin Luther once wrote, "Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel." And what a stealthy enemy he is, sneaking around at night when everyone sleeps so you never see it coming.
If Satan can't get you to live a life of reckless abandon with the "big" sins, he'll plant the seeds of self-righteousness in your heart so you become smug and think of yourself more highly than you ought, as if you've earned God's favor by your supposed obedience. If he can't get you to despair, thinking your sins too great to be forgiven by Christ's death in your place, he'll get you to view Christ's cross as a license to sin, thinking "I'm forgiven for whatever I do, so I'll live in a self-gratifying way." And Satan succeeds in planting weeds while you never see it coming. The wheat and the weeds often look identical even to themselves. So examine yourself and ask, "Am I really good seed? Or am I a hypocrite? Am I a weed that just looks like wheat?"
And watch out. Recognize Satan's stealthy ways and see who you really are. And trust in Christ who makes you good seed. Trust that you are good seed, not because of anything you do, not because you are good by yourself, but because God has made you good by cleansing you and taking away your sins by the blood of his Son.
And be patient. Jesus never painted a picture of some utopia on earth. He never promised life would be easy or problem free. He never said your life would be weed-free. But he is still in control. Be patient and trust his promise that he'll give you the strength you need in the Word. And grow in that faith. Jesus said in verse 30: "Let both grow together until the harvest."
As the weeds grow in their wickedness, you grow in your godliness. As they grow harder in their unbelief, you grow stronger in your faith. How? Stay connected to the showers of God's grace he pours out to us in that powerful Word we talked about last week. Like Psalm 1 says… "[The one who delights] in the law of the Lord, and on his law… meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Patiently grow with the weeds while God waits for the wheat to mature and the weeds to become wheat.
III. Rejoice at the Harvest
And finally, your patience in putting up with the weeds as you grow in your faith and wait for those weeds to become wheat, will pay off. God will prove that he's been in control all along once and for all on Judgment Day. And on that day, we will rejoice at the harvest.
Jesus explained, "40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
God is just. He will—he must!—punish sin. He will avenge those who rejected him and hurt you. He will weed out everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And he will destroy them forever in the fiery furnace of hell, with eternal torment—weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But thank God that we won't be among those burned in the fire. Through Christ, we're no longer evil. We've been cleansed and made pure. We've become good seed. We're God's righteous wheat. Jesus said, "Gather the wheat and bring it into my barn… 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." So, brothers and sisters, rejoice! God will bring you into his barn. He'll take you into his heaven, into the joys of eternal life. There you will rejoice for all of eternity for what God has done for you: that he didn't pull up the weeds, but made you wheat, that he caused you to grow in your faith and brought you to your harvest home. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.