5 Pentecost Proper A11
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 Sermon
July 17, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
294 "O Word Of God Incarnate" (now playing)
400 "Take My Life And Let It Be"
445 "Am I A Soldier Of The Cross?"
GROWING A GOOD CROP ISN'T EASY
TEXT (vs. 40-43): [Jesus said] “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 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. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
If I were to go into your garage, or your garden shed, or wherever you keep your lawn and garden equipment, where would I find your weed seeds? Don't you keep some on hand, just in case you might need them? Haven't you ever looked at your lawn or your garden and said to yourself, "You know, I don't think there are enough weeds growing here; I need to plant some more."
And so, you get out your bag of crabgrass, or bindweed, or dandelion, or cocklebur seeds, and you plant them. And then you wait for the weeds to appear; and when they have completely taken over everything, then you feel like you've been successful. You've got a good crop to show for all your hard work.
That's absolutely ludicrous, don't you think? I'd venture to say that there is absolutely nobody who keeps a bag of weed seeds on hand, just in case they might need them.
The only person who might need to legitimately have such a thing on hand, would perhaps be a research chemist or botanist, with the attempt to test out different herbicides and weed killers. But apart from that, about the only people I could imagine having such a thing would be somebody who's up to no good. And it has happened.
One neighbor has a fight with another neighbor. So he goes and throws a bunch of weed seeds into his picture-perfect lawn. When somebody has a vendetta against somebody else, it can escalate into contaminating gardens and ultimately whole fields. Weed seeds can be very destructive indeed.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is once again using an illustration that almost anybody could recognize. Things in Jesus' day weren't that much different than today when it comes to planting and growing seed. People just don't intentionally plant weeds on their own property. It simply doesn't make any sense to do this.
The story is a simple one. A farmer plants a field with wheat. Anybody living in Nebraska certainly knows what a wheat field looks like. Wheat is an excellent cash crop, because it is so versatile. Wheat is one of our main staples, because it is milled into flour, made into breakfast cereal, and even used for snack crackers. Wheat is used for baking, for cooking in general, and even in candy making. And unless you have intolerance for gluten and take special note of it, I seriously doubt if most of us know how much wheat we consume every day.
However, the wheat farmer is about as aware of this as anybody would be. In order for him to make a living and to survive, he counts on the money he gets for growing a good crop of wheat. A healthy, well-cultivated field is something vital for his existence.
So who would go and sow weed seeds in a perfectly good field of wheat? It certainly wouldn't be the farmer. It would have to be an enemy of the farmer. It would have to be somebody who would intentionally want the farmer to fail with his crop. And so this enemy goes and sows weeds amongst the wheat. And the results are not good at all.
Now here’s where things get kind of tricky. In our English translations of the Bible, the generic word “weeds” is used; or in the case of the King James translation, the word used is “tares.” When we think of weeds or tares, we would almost automatically think about the weeds that usually affect farmers here in the USA. There are things like cockleburs, scotch thistles, milkweeds, button weeds, and any one of a number of different species of weeds that threaten crops.
However if we look in the original Greek text, the word translated as “weeds” is the word “zizania,” which refers to a specific kind of weed known only in that particular area of Israel and the Middle East. Zizania so closely mimics wheat that it is virtually impossible to tell them apart while they are growing. There’s a plant in the United States known as darnel rye, which is almost identical to the zizania Jesus is speaking about.
Zizania competes with the wheat for soil nutrients and water; and when it is all mixed up together with the good wheat, the yield is greatly reduced. But the biggest problem is that it is impossible to detect until it is too late. When the wheat heads, so does the zizania. But unlike the golden kernels of the pure wheat, the kernels of the zizania are black, poisonous, and completely unfit for consumption. If one were to look at a field where zizania was growing with the wheat after it heads, the heads of wheat are bowed over with the weight; but the zizania heads stick straight up.
Even though it is realtively easy to spot at this time, it is impossible to get rid of the zizania, because the root systems are so intertwined, that attempting to get rid of the zizania would also tear out and destroy the root system of the good wheat.
So the workers ask the farmer if he wants them to try to pull the weeds. The farmer’s reply is recorded in verses 29-30: “`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 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.'"
That's a lot of work, isn't it? But that's the only way that the two can be separated. The zizania, or darnel rye kernels cannot be mixed with the good wheat. It's poisonous, and anybody eating something made with this tainted wheat could find themselves seriously dead. So it's crucial that these things be separated.
The application is obvious. The good wheat represents the true believers in Christ. The zizania, or the weeds represent the unbelievers in the church, or the hypocrites. And yes, we will find both in the visible church on earth. With this parable, Jesus explains God’s logic in keeping the two together and allowing them to exist side-by-side.
If I were to have a group of people stand up in front of us, how could you tell who was a believer and who was an unbeliever? We really couldn’t tell, because we can’t see a person’s faith. It’s like trying to distinguish between wheat and zizania while they’re growing. You just can’t tell.
The evidence is shown in the fruit. When wheat and zizania form heads, then the evidence is clear. So it is with the believer and the unbeliever. In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul explains the different fruits. For the unbeliever, the fruits are: “…sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (vs. 19-21) But for the believer, the fruits are just the opposite: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (vs. 22-23)
As human beings, it is our natural reaction to want to go and do a little weeding. Our logic tells us that it would be best to simply eradicate those unbelieving hypocrites. Wouldn’t life be a whole lot simpler? Why don’t we just get rid of them? Why doesn’t God just reach down from heaven and eliminate those people?
Let's look at the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther when he comments on our Gospel lesson for today. He writes: "For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel. Yet, other than calling the unbelievers amongst us to repentance by his Word, and retaining their sin by withholding absolution and the Lord's Supper, we take no action but trust their conversion and our protection to the Lord."
"This Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified." [Luther's Church Postils]
Maybe we don't realize it, but this parable is a great example of God's love. Yes, God's love! And that's where the comparison of the tares and wheat ends. Regardless of what happens, a stalk of darnel rye, or zizania cannot be changed. It was, and forever will be a weed. The only thing it is good for, is to be fuel for a fire.
But that's not the case when it comes to human beings. As long as a person is alive, there is hope. A person can be changed. God can work faith in the heart of the most hard-boiled hypocrite. That person has a chance at salvation while they are still taking breath in this life.
The Bible tells us that: "God so loved the world." To carry this thought through to our Gospel lesson this morning, we could say, "God so loved the whole field, weeds and all." I know that doesn't make a lot of sense to the farmer who has worked hard to kill the weeds and produce a good crop. But here we're dealing with living breathing people with very real souls, and not a primary food source. There is a real difference.
We can bring this down to a more personal level too. We can look at ourselves, and see that we are like an entire field in and of ourselves. In our own lives, we have those things that are weeds growing in our own personal garden. That's the sin in our lives, and it is poison to our soul. It is like the black seeds of the darnel rye, or the zizania. When we sow the seeds of hatred, and controversy, and anger, and jealousy, and lust, and covetousness, and pride, and gossip, and so forth, we are contaminating ourselves. That's what the enemy, or Satan does to us.
Based upon this, God would have every right to just completely eliminate us. He could be well justified in treating us like polluted wheat, being unfit for any part of his family.
But that's not consistent with God's love. Because God loved us, he sent his son Jesus Christ to this earth. Jesus came to give us new life, and to treat us as a field worth saving. Through faith in Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are saved. Those weeds in our lives just vanish, and we produce the fruits of righteousness. It's nothing we do to ourselves; rather God is the gardener, and he will transform us into somebody fit for his kingdom.
The reality of it all on a larger scale, is that the visible church on earth will have hypocrites intermingling with God's people. They are the ones Satan uses to sow seeds of sin in God's garden. There will be those who have hardened their heart, and will ultimately reject the gift God has given them. It's a sad, but true fact.
So when people stay away from church and complain that the church is full of hypocrites, what do they propose the church should do about it? Would they advocate another Crusade or Spanish Inquisition to try to do some house cleaning? Is it God’s will that we should kill off the unbelievers? God's love dictates otherwise. Jesus says to let the two grow together. You can’t uproot one without doing irreparable damage to the other.
As Christians, as believers, we have the message of the Gospel that gives us hope. We have the promise that God will completely forgive us and restore us through faith in Jesus our Saviour. We have that hope ever before us that when Judgment day comes, we will be taken into the heavenly realms, and not burnt up with the weeds.
Therefore, we have a field to sow. We sow it with the good seed of the Gospel, and not the weeds of Satan. Through our lives and through our witness, we have to show the world that we are children of God, and that we belong to Jesus our Saviour. And as we keep in God's Word through worship, devotion, and study, we are keeping our field watered, fertilized, and cultivated, so God's harvest will indeed be plentiful and abundant.