The parable in today’s Gospel is commonly called “The Parable of the Weeds in the Wheat” or “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” The earthly side of this parable is based on a very nasty way to attack or take revenge on an enemy.
There is a plant that many people call darnel rye. It looks like wheat, it grows like wheat, it competes with wheat for resources, but it is not wheat. The point is that most people can’t tell the difference between this plant and real wheat … that is, until the seeds begin to ripen.
Sowing this plant in a wheat field would be devastating. This false-wheat would compete with the wheat for moisture, soil nutrition, sunlight, everything. No one would discover the damage until it was too late. By the time that the seeds were mature enough to tell the difference, the wheat yield would be reduced considerably.
Intentionally planting this seed in someone’s field indicates a very long-term and deep-seated hatred. No sane person would have a stockpile of darnel rye seeds in their own storehouse. Accidents happen. The seeds could get loose and infect your own fields. No one kept these weed seeds around unless they planned to do damage with them. The planning for this type of attack had to begin during the previous growing seasons. Servants had to go throughout the countryside collecting these seeds during the previous harvest. Either that, or the enemy needed to set aside a patch of valuable ground to grow his own weed seeds. Either way, sowing these seeds required long-term planning. This is the attack of someone who is willing to risk harm to themselves in order to take revenge on another.
Jesus began His explanation of the spiritual meaning of this parable by comparing the wheat field to His church. He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. (Matthew 13:37–38) Jesus often talked about Himself as the Son of Man. So, Jesus is talking about Himself as the one who sowed the good seed. He said the field is the entire world. This means that His salvation is for all people in all places and times. The meaning of this parable crosses all borders and transcends all cultures. The Children of the Kingdom are those who believe that Jesus is their savior which is another way of saying The Holy Christian Church.
This has all been pretty good news so far, but nothing in this sinful world remains untouched by sin. Jesus continued, “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” (Matthew 13:38–39) Here Jesus tells us that the devil sends his agents to infiltrate the earthly institutions of the church. Just as darnel rye looks, acts, and grows like wheat, so these unbelievers look like Christians and act like Christians, but they are not Christians. They are hypocrites. In this parable, Jesus tells us that every church has hypocrites who are sons of the devil.
Martin Luther put it this way: “Wherever God builds a church, [the devil] builds his chapel or tabernacle next to it.” Daniel Defoe wrote a poem that says about the same thing. Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The devil always builds a chapel there; And ’twill be found, upon examination, The latter has the largest congregation. i
Even when Jesus Himself was the visible pastor of a congregation, there were hypocrites. Think about it. When Jesus sent the disciples out to do mission work among the lost sheep of Israel, Judas Iscariot was one of those disciples. He cast out demons. He preached the Word of the Kingdom of God. He even held the office of treasurer. That is how much the other disciples trusted him. They did not realize that he was a weed in the wheat field until after he betrayed Jesus in Gethsemane.
The early church had its weeds. The Apostle Paul wanted to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and a group of weeds followed him everywhere he went. They infiltrated the congregations that the Holy Spirit established through Paul and tried to teach that a person must fulfill the ceremonial law of the Jews before they could become a Christian.
Jesus’ parable helps me understand a very puzzling behavior. There are people in every denomination of Christianity who want to change the teachings of that denomination. Most recently, these people want the church to go along with the idea that suicide and elective abortion are valid solutions to life’s problems. They want the church to promote the gay and transgender life style. They want the church to treat the Bible as a quaint, but old-fashioned book of fairy tales.
I have often wondered, “Why don’t these people join an organization that agrees with them? There are plenty of religious organizations out there that agree with what they want. Why don’t they join them? Why do they have to cause trouble and heartache among those who simply wish to follow the Word of God?” This parable helps us understand these people. They are the sons of the evil one. It is not enough for them to have an organization of people who agree with them, but the evil one drives them to destroy all organizations who do not agree with them.
Of course, there are times that all of us have acted like weeds. We often try to get what we want without checking the Bible to see what God wants. Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves. Instead of loving our neighbor, we seek to exploit our neighbor. When God’s Word specifically teaches something that we don’t like, we try to find a work-around that will let us do what we want instead of what God wants.
That part of us that acts like weeds should terrify us. Jesus teaching in today’s Gospel is clear. He said, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:39–42) Jesus very clearly teaches that hypocrites in congregations will suffer an eternal fate that is like a fiery furnace … a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I imagine many of you are reacting the same way the disciples did when Jesus said one of them was a betrayer. In Matthew 26 we read: When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:20–22)
Many of you are thinking to yourself, “Does Jesus mean me?” We all, like the disciples, know that we have been hypocrites. As someone once said, “Saying that the church is full of hypocrites is a lot like saying that a hospital is full of sick people.” So, it is normal … it is natural … for the true wheat to ask Jesus, “Lord, are You talking about me?”
The Good News is that Jesus died for all sinners. That includes hypocrites. He invites all hypocrites to come to Him for healing. Where else can hypocrites go to receive healing? Where else can hypocrites go to get rid of their hypocrisy? This is the comfort we receive in God’s Word. There we learn that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for ALL sins. The Bible says, “He died for all.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) 2He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) There is no question that Jesus paid the penalty for every sin with His suffering and death on the cross. There is no question that God the Father accepted that sacrifice as payment in full, for Jesus did not remain in the grave, but He rose from the dead.
Jesus offers forgiveness, life, and salvation to all people through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. By creating faith in us, the Holy Spirit quietly goes about the miracle of converting fake wheat into the real thing … He converts the sons of the devil into the Sons of God.
Jesus ended His parable with the end of all things. When the wheat matured, it was time for the harvest. Jesus said, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:39–42) For most of us, this Day of Judgment will come at our earthly death, but there will be some who live until the end of the world. In either case, those who refuse God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation will be gathered up and thrown into the eternal fires of hell. In that place, they will cry and clench their teeth in pain.
Jesus also said, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:43) On that Day of Judgment, those who have the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit created in their heart will have the righteousness that Jesus earned for them on the cross. They will share in His glory … a glory that shines like the sun. Jesus will share all things with them. His kingdom will be their kingdom and His Father will be their Father.
There will be a day when Jesus will send His angels to remove the fake wheat and take the true wheat out of this sinful world to Himself in eternity. There the true wheat, that is all those who truly believe in Jesus as savior, will live in joy forever. Amen
i Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).
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