Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Today’s Gospel is the second in a series of parables Jesus told from a boat by the lakeshore of Galilee in order to teach those who had gathered around him something about the complex nature of the kingdom of heaven.
Actually, this parable, with its later explanation, is one of the easier of the parables to understand. It teaches us two things. The first of these is patience and forbearance for ourselves in regard to difficult situations in which we may find ourselves. This can especially be applied to cases concerning choices in the mode of action to be employed. The second thing it teaches us is an understanding of the patience and forbearance of God.
The situation portrayed by Jesus in this parable was not an uncommonone in a part of the world where feelings run deep, and enmities are rivalries are common.
I can easily imagine two farmers who have developed a rivalry. Perhaps one of them had better luck in his crop runs last season. Instead of congratulating him, his neighbor lets envy and resentment smolder. When seedtime comes he goes in at night and sows weed seed where the successful farmer has just sown good seed in his field. The type of weed that Jesus had in mind closely resembles wheat and other good grains, but has a bitter taste, and is even mildly poisonous. An impatient farmer would probably order his field hands to get out there as soon as the weeds begin to sprout. But the farmer Jesus has in mind is experienced with this sort of thing. He patiently explains that there is too much danger of pulling up the good grain along with the weeds, and their profit will be lost. If they wait until harvest time it will be easier to identify the weeds for what they are, and they can be pulled up and bundled, and thrown into a fire. Then they can safely harvest the good grain and take it to the threshing floor.
In his explanation to the disciples Jesus is more specific. He himself is the sower. “The field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” (Mt. 13:37-39) So far this seems to be a simple explanation. But we present day Christians tend to think of ourselves as being more sophisticated than the disciples of Jesus. When we look at this explanation there is a temptation immediately to try to identify the good grain with people we like and respect, and the weeds with people we dislike and distrust. It is not that simple. The weeds closely resemble the good grain. As was the case with Samuel trying to choose which of Jesse’s sons should be anointed as Saul’s successor, we can’t always tell the true character of another person just by looking. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Sam. 16:7)
We may speculate about who the good ones are, who will be admitted to heaven, and who will be condemned to hell. But if we have paid attention to what Jesus said, we should realize that we are not the ones who choose. “The reapers are the angels.” (v. 39) It will be the angels of God, God’s spiritual messengers and servants, who will be sent out to collect out of the kingdom “all causes of sin and all evildoers.” (Mt. 13:41) When this is done, “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.” (v.43a) It is not up to us to judge who will be counted as evildoers and who will be counted as righteous. We need to have patience and forbearance, as God is patient and forbearing with us.
Jesus concluded his explanation of this parable with the words, “Let anyone with ears listen!” (v. 43b). This echoes the word with which Jesus began this series of parables, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel reading, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” (v. 3b). In some versions of the Bible we read “Behold!” Jesus tells his hearers at the beginning, “Pay attention!” At the end he asks them, “Have you paid attention?” “Have you listened?”
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