The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

THE PARABLE OF THE WHEAT AND THE TARES FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER, WHICH WE HEARD LAST SUNDAY. SINCE IT IS FOUND ONLY IN MATTHEW, IT APPEARS TO COME FROM A SOURCE OTHER THAN MARK OR Q, AND ITS ONLY PARALLEL IS FOUND IN THE NON-CANONICAL GOSPEL OF THOMAS. JESUS USED EXAMPLES FAMILIAR TO HIS LISTENERS, MOSTLY DRAWN FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF THOSE WHO WORKED THE SOIL. IN THIS CASE, A MAN SOWS GOOD WHEAT SEED IN HIS FIELD, BUT WHILE HE AND HIS WORKERS WERE ASLEEP, SOMEONE CAME AND SOWED WEEDS ON HIS FIELD, AND THEN WENT AWAY. WHILE THIS ACT OF BIOTERRORISM SOUNDS STRANGE TO US, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN FAMILIAR TO THE FARMING COMMUNITY, SINCE THE ROMANS HAD A LAW AGAINST DOING THIS. THE WORD USED FOR WEEDS IS ZIZANIA, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS TARES, DARNEL, OR COCKLE. IT IS A WEED THAT LOOKS A LOT LIKE WHEAT AS IT IS GROWING, BUT WHEN MATURE THE WHEAT HEADS WILL BOW BECAUSE OF THE WEIGHT OF THE GRAIN, WHILE THE ZIZANIA WITH EMPTY HEADS WILL REMAIN UPRIGHT. THE ZIZANIA HAS A FUNGUS THAT CAN SPREAD TO THE WHEAT, AND, IF EATEN, CAUSES DIZZINESS AND EVEN DEATH. ALL OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO EVERY WHEAT FARMER OF THE FIRST CENTURY.

JESUS COMPARES THIS SITUATION WITH THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN; THE GOOD WHEAT HAS BEEN CONTAMINATED WITH WEEDS. THE FIRST RESPONSE OF THE SLAVES OF THE LORD OF THE FIELD IS TO GO OUT TO RIP UP THE WEEDS, BUT THIS THE LORD FORBIDS. HE KNOWS THAT IT IS HARD TO TELL THE GOOD WHEAT FROM THE TARES, AND IN PULLING OUT THE WEEDS, THE GOOD GRAIN WILL BE DAMAGED. HE TELLS HIS WORKERS TO LET THE WEEDS GROW WITH THE WHEAT UNTIL THE HARVEST. WHAT HE LITERALLY SAYS IS, “FORGIVE THEM TO GROW TOGETHER;” THE SAME WORD HE USED ON THE CROSS WHEN HE SAID, “FATHER, FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY DO.” AT THE HARVEST, THE LORD WILL SEPARATE THE WEEDS FROM THE WHEAT, BURN THE WEEDS AND GATHER THE WHEAT INTO HIS BARN.

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ATTEMPTS TO EXPLAIN THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL IN THIS LIFE; NONE OF WHICH LEAVES US WITH A TRULY SATISFACTORY ANSWER. JESUS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT WHAT WE CAN CALL THE ACCIDENTS OF EXISTENCE. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS LISTEN TO THE NEWS TO BE CONVINCED OF THIS REALITY, OR SIMPLY LIVE LONG ENOUGH. HE IS TALKING ABOUT THE EVIL IN THE HEARTS OF HUMAN BEINGS; HOW SOME PEOPLE CAN APPEAR TO BE GOOD, BUT ARE NOT, AND HOW HARD IT IS TO TELL THE GOOD FROM THE BAD EVEN IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. GOOD PEOPLE, OR I SHOULD SAY PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY ARE GOOD, WHO TRY TO ROOT OUT AND GET RID OF WHO THEY CONSIDER THE BAD PEOPLE AMONG THEM, CAN AND OFTEN DO DESTROY THE WHOLE FIELD IN THEIR MORAL FERVOR. THIS JUDGMENTAL ATTITUDE HAS LED TO MANY RUINED CONGREGATIONS, SHISMS IN THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE, AND THE INTOLERANCE OF THOSE WHO ARE DIFFERENT. MATTHEW PROBABLY PRESERVED THIS PARABLE TO ADDRESS THE CONFLICT IN THE 1ST CENTURY CHURCH ABOUT WHO WAS A GOOD CHRISTIAN AND WHO WAS NOT.

CONSIDER TO WHOM JESUS TELLS THIS PARABLE AND TO WHOM HE LATER EXPLAINS IT. HE TELLS IT TO THE CROWDS, AND THE MESSAGE IS THAT MAKING MORAL JUDGMENTS IS NOT YOUR JOB; IT IS GOD’S, AND HE WILL JUDGE AT THE END OF THE AGE. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT THE “DO – GOODERS” WANT TO HEAR. THEY ARE NOT INTERESTED IN AN ESCATOLOGICAL SOLUTION TO EVIL; THEY WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW. LATER HE EXPLAINS THE PARABLE TO HIS DISCIPLES; INCLUDING PETER, WHO WILL DENY HIM, JAMES AND JOHN, WHO WILL ARGUE ABOUT STATUS, THOMAS WHO WILL DOUBT HIM, AND JUDAS, WHO WILL BETRAY HIM. IN THE WHEAT OF THE KINGDOM THERE ARE TARES, AS THERE ARE IN EVERY HUMAN HEART.

THE RUSSIAN AUTHOR AND NOBEL LAUREATE, ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN, WAS ARRESTED AND SENTENCED TO A FORCED LABOR CAMP, WHERE HE WITNESSED CRUEL ACTS AND SUFFERED HARSH PUNISHMENT. ONE WOULD THINK THAT HE, OF ALL PEOPLE, COULD MAKE CLEAR DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL PEOPLE. AFTER HIS EXILE FROM THE SOVIET UNION, HE WROTE, “GRADUALLY IT WAS DISCLOSED TO ME THAT THE LINE SEPARATING GOOD FROM EVIL PASSES NOT THROUGH STATES, NOR BETWEEN (SOCIAL) CLASSES, NOR BETWEEN POLITICAL PARTIES, BUT RIGHT THROUGH EVERY HUMAN HEART. . . THIS LINE SHIFTS. INSIDE US, IT OSCILLATES WITH THE YEARS.” SOLZHENITSYN WROTE FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE, AND HELD THAT EVEN IN THE WORST OF PEOPLE THERE IS SOME GOOD, AND IN THE BEST OF PEOPLE THERE IS SOME EVIL.

WE NEED ONLY TO LOOK TO OURSELVES TO SEE THE REALITY OF THE WEEDS AMONG THE WHEAT, FOR EVEN WITH THE BEST OF INTENTIONS, WE OFTEN DO THE WRONG THING. THE PARABLE LAYS THIS OUT SIMPLISTICALLY TO MAKE THE POINT ABOUT US NOT JUDGING OTHERS AND LEAVING GOD TO JUDGE, BUT, AT A DEEPER LEVEL, IT IS MUCH MORE COMPLICATED. AS LUTHER PUT IT, WE ARE “SIMUL JUSTICE ET PECCATOR;” SIMULTANEOUSLY SAINTS AND SINNERS. LIFE IS COMPLICATED; WE ARE COMPLICATED AND FULL OF CONTRADICTIONS AND UNCERTAINTIES. WHICH IS WHY WE COME TO CONFESS OUR SINS ON A WEEKLY BASIS, AND WHY WE OUGHT TO BE DOING SO ON A DAILY BASIS, IF NOT MORE OFTEN. IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE ONLY ABSOLUTE IN HUMAN LIFE IS THE ABSOLUTION PRONOUNCED AFTER CONFESSION. IN CHRIST BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, OUR SIN IS ERASED AND OUR JUDGMENT IS LIFTED, AND WE CAN, RELYING ON THE SPIRIT OF GOD, LIVE AS HIS CHILDREN IN THIS WORLD IN SPITE OF THE ACCIDENTS OF EXISTENCE AND OUR SINS AND THE SINS OF OTHERS.

IT IS ONLY WHEN WE TURN AWAY FROM OURSELVES AND TURN TO JESUS, THAT WE CAN BE THE GOOD WHEAT OF THE FIELD OF THE LORD. JESUS FORGAVE PETER, THOMAS, AND JAMES AND JOHN, AND, HAD HE REPENTED AND TURNED TO JESUS, EVEN JUDAS WOULD HAVE FOUND REDEMPTION. AS PAUL WROTE, “WE OURSELVES, WHO HAVE THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT, GROAN INWARDLY WHILE WE WAIT FOR ADOPTION, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES.” IN CHRIST, OUR SPIRITS HAVE ALREADY BEEN REDEEMED, BUT WE STILL MUST STRUGGLE WITH THE EVIL WITHIN AND WITHOUT, AS WE WAIT FOR THE FINAL HARVEST OF THE LORD. ON THAT DAY, ALL THE DROSS OF SIN AND EVIL IN OUR LIVES WILL BE BURNED AWAY FOREVER. “THEN THE RIGHTEOUS,” THOSE WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD THROUGH THE REDEEMING BLOOD OF THE CHRIST, “WILL SHINE LIKE THE SUN IN THE KINGDOM OF THEIR FATHER. LET ANYONE WITH EARS LISTEN!”
AMEN

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