Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Date: Pentecost V + Proper 11 + 7/17/11
This is the way the kingdom of heaven is, the way God rules His Church and His world for now. “For now” is all the days between our Lord’s earthly ministry and the Last Day of His return in judgment. We’re not there yet. When that Day happens, when this era is over, then will be unveiled the direct, complete, full reign of God in all the splendor, glory and perfection of the life of the world to come. But “for now” God’s rule is hidden. It is happening already and yet it is not seen fully with the eye. In the parable of the Weeds our Lord is reassuring and encouraging us to keep following Him, to “hang in there,” to endure patiently the struggle of living in this world, by faith, “on this side of the kingdom of heaven.”
We have heard Jesus tell the parable of the Sower to the crowds gathered around Him by the Sea of Galilee. Then we listened in to His explanation of that parable privately to His disciples in the house. Today He once again has gone out of the house back to the crowds to continue reaching out to them, teaching them with another series of parables beginning with the parable of the Weeds.
I like the Greek word translated “weeds.” Ζιζάνια [Zidzania]. It’s fun to say. But more than that it is helpful to a deeper understanding of this parable to know that this is referring to a particular kind or sort of weed, namely, darnel, sometimes called cockle. It is helpful because we are told that darnel germinates and grows up right next to wheat and looks almost identical to the wheat. In fact, in some places it is even called “false wheat.” It is only when the head of grain appears that you can notice the difference for sure. This detail, of course, helps to explain why the servants in the parable are forbidden to try to collect and separate out the weeds (the zidzania) lest they also uproot some of the wheat. More than that this is a picture of the Church in the world until the day of final judgment.
It’s like, and will always be like, wheat and weeds growing together in a field. Jesus later explains, the field is the world. The wheat born of the good seed are the children of the kingdom, the sons of the reign of God. The weeds? They are the unbelievers. I suppose we could identify two levels of unbelief. For one thing, all people born into this world are separated from God by our inherited sin. Therefore we all are “unbelievers” from the beginning. But then there are those who, even after baptism, after God has come to convert us to faith by His Word, still reject the saving grace of God outright. More than that, like the darnel or “zidzania” some unbelievers may even still appear outwardly to be like Christians. They may either be self-deceived or even purposeful hypocrites. So says the Bible and our Lutheran Confessions that the Church in this world will always be a mixture of true saints and unbelievers or hypocrites (cf. AC VIII, etc.).
While we are clearly told in Romans 16 “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” and even to “avoid them,” (Rom 16:17) still we are not to call down God’s final wrath and judgment upon them. As our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1) meaning the judgment of the private motives of the heart which only God can do, and this parable has the householder saying, “Allow both to keep on growing together until the harvest” (Matt 13:30).
This can, at times, be rather frustrating. Often we would rather take matters into our own hands. We are told and we know and believe that the harvest, God’s final judgment, is coming. But when? As St. John saw in his vision, even the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne cry out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:9-10). Every Sunday we confess in the words of the Creed that our Lord “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,” when the words of the Lord will come to pass, “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land” (Deut 32:43). Nevertheless, as the apostle Paul counsels us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12:19/Dt 32:35). No, if and every time we take judgment into our own hands we’re bound to make a mess of things. For one thing, on this side of heaven, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), yes, even the hypocrite or the enemy, or even you! Be patient.
Notice, however, in His explanation of this parable Jesus does not dwell on the frustrations of this time of letting the weeds and wheat grow together but moves on to describe with emphasis “the consummation of the age” when the angels of God will separate out the weeds to be burned with fire and “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then He ends on the bright note of hope saying, “Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the reign of their Father.” And who cannot hear the echo of the passage from Daniel in the Old Testament speaking of the time of the end and of the resurrection of all flesh, saying, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:1-3).
Above all, the assurance of our final deliverance and of the just and righteous and merciful judgment of God has already been sealed and declared in and by our Lord’s own death and resurrection. For then and there, on that dark Friday, God’s wrath and judgment against all sin was poured out and expended as the only Son from heaven stepped in as the substitute sacrifice, the scapegoat, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There the sin that kills us killed Him. Yet, unlike our puny and weak death, His death destroyed death itself. And in His resurrection He restores the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Now, in the mercy of God all believers cry not the question, “how long?” but cry out the prayer in confidence, “O Lord, let Your mercy by upon us, as our trust is in You. O Lord, in You have I trusted; let me never be confounded” (Te Deum).
Patiently endure. You are the very pleasant planting of God, the vineyard belonging to Him. “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Watch o’er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy,
Save it from evil, guard it still,
Perfect it in Thy love, unite it,
Cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
Was in this broken bread made one,
So from all lands Thy Church be gathered
Into Thy kingdom by Thy Son. [LSB 652:2]