Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Parable of the weeds

The following is a short address given at a midweek service in St. James today (23rd July 2014)

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 uproot 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.’”
36. Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37. He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39. and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus gives the parable of the wheat and the weeds other than just providing us with information? I mean, what are we expected to do with it? What use is it to us? As I asked that question and looked a little closer at the parable I found a few things we can learn from it:

First, Jesus is telling us that we should avoid judging others—who is in and who is out of the Kingdom. That is God’s job. That is why Jesus said, “Judge not, or you will be judged..” (Matthew 7:1) It is God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” (1984 Welsh Prayer Book). He is the one, says Psalm 139 who has “searched me out and known me...and who is acquainted with all my ways…” Don't play God - and get it wrong - leave that to Him!

Second, Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that we must make sure that we are walking with God. Paul writes to the Philippians and tells them they are to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 4:13).  In other words that should preoccupy their thinking and their energy. Of course we must help others whenever we can through encouragement and prayer, but ultimately we must stand before God alone and be judged on what we have or have not done with what God has revealed to us in Jesus.

Third, Jesus is warning us that the devil is very real and on the prowl. He is not a fairy tale or a fabrication to frighten children into behaving. Jesus is very certain about this. He is warning us that whatever the Son of Man does, the devil will try and counterfeit or counteract in some way. Whenever God's Kingdom makes advances, you can be sure that the enemy of our souls will be working to undermine it in some way. But, says Jesus, he will have his day and in the end be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Meanwhile we are to resist him firm in our faith knowing that if we do he will certainly flee (James 4:7).  "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)" promises Jesus.

Fourth, although Jesus points to the last day, the day of judgement when this age will come to an end, there are various points in history when God does weed His church. I believe that such a time is now, in the West, when through decline and materialism the church is having the life choked out of it. But God is using these things as tools to cut away that which is hindering growth so that the wheat of the Kingdom will have a chance to grow again.

That is to say the weeds won’t come again. They will. But we must hold in tension the parable of the weeds with its talk of infiltration and infestation by the devil and the parable of the mustard seed which promises that the kingdom will grow to the four ends of the earth. But it wont be plain sailing and every now and again, if the church is not careful about its teaching and its witness, weeds will cause problems and setbacks, and God, the divine gardener, will have to step in and sort things out.

There are other things I could add - about the weeds that can grow in our own hearts - those besetting sins and addictions that can hinder our own walk with God and need to be weeded out by prayer and the spiritual disciplines.  We could also ask questions about "the blazing furnace" Jesus refers to in verse 42 -is it hell, is it literal etc.? And what does Jesus mean when he say that "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom"? But for now let us heed Jesus' teaching. Don't judge, be sure to work out your salvation, the salvation Jesus has won for us and offers with such grace, beware the devil and resist him, and trust God to weed and grow His kingdom and do all you can to help Him.

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