The Clearest Parable Ever
What do I mean the parable of The Weeds among the Wheat is the “clearest ever”? Like the Parable of the Sower this one also gets an explanation. The parables of The Mustard Seed and The Leaven don’t get any. Surely, they are clearer. Well, the disciples seem agitated by The Weeds and the Wheat. Once they are alone with Jesus in a house the Greek says they came up close and personal to Jesus and say, “You must make thoroughly clear the parable to us!” The word the insert translates “Explain” is only used here in the NT. So, the explanation that Jesus gives makes this the clearest parable ever.
The Devil is in the details. You’ve heard that saying. It means that if you look close at any solution or even some apparently doable issue, you’ll find a problem. In this case, the Devil is literally the detail. Jesus says, “The weeds are the Sons of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.” In broad daylight Jesus sows the Good Seed just like He's doing right now. But the Evil One works under the cover of darkness. He sneaks in and literally over sows Jesus’ Sons of the Kingdom with Sons of the Evil One.
It’s important to remember that this parable deals with the world. Jesus says, “The field is the world.” Not the Church. So in this world you have Sons of the Kingdom of God right alongside Sons of the Evil One. You got sexual sinners, haters, liars, and thieves right alongside faithful Christians. And You got the really big sins of unbelief, and misusing the name of God as well as His Word, living right next store to those fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things. Side by side with those calling upon the Lord in every trouble pray, praising, and giving thanks, you’ve got those misusing His name. Hard by those eating, drinking, and living for the day you have those sanctifying the holy day. And since the late 20th century you have weeds, Sons of the Evil One, proclaiming themselves to be Sons of the Kingdom. I’m a gay Christian. I’m a Christian abortionists. We’re Christians; we go to the same church as you, and we live together. Deal with it.
When you get to this level, I mean depths, of depravity, the temptation is to use force. The OT burned witches; Luther, “favored punishing witches. Consequently he did not oppose the excesses of witch-hunts" (Brecht, Luther III, 255), so why don’t we do holy war against the enemies of God’s kingdom among us? Let’s be like Indonesia and criminalize extramarital sex, cohabitation, and apostasy from religion (WORLD, 14 Jan 23, 17). Let’s make a city on a hill. Let’s realize the kingdom of God visibly before our eyes. No Jesus says, and He doesn’t say you might root up the wheat (TEV. JB, NEB) or you may root up the wheat (NIV, NASB, AAT, EHV) with the weeds, but you will (AV, RSV, NKJV) (Buls, Sundays after Pentecost, A, 29-30). In the world, a pogrom against homosexuals, fornicators, or any other open sinners, will result in some Sons of the Kingdom being rooted up too. The Devil doesn’t tell you that, but it’s clear in the details.
Everything is clear in the end. You’re watching a show with kids, or even some adults, and they are anxious about this or that character, and you say, “Wait till the end.” You know that good authors or moviemakers, clear things up in the end. They don’t usually leave their audience hanging. How much more so the holy God. Everything is clear at the end of this parable and at the end of the world. Only Jesus doesn’t say end but synteleia which is in the telos family of words. It’s ‘completion’, ‘consummation”. “The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax” (Vine) . The NIV insert gets it correct. This is not about the consummation of the end of the world but of the age. “Aion is not the world, but a period or epoch or era in which events take place” (Ibid.).
We confess in the explanation to “Lead us not into temptation” that despair and other great shame and vice start with “unbelief”. More accurately we start with “misbelief.” That’s how it was translated from 1921 to 1991. For example, misbelieve this is the end; that our misery, our loneliness, our sinfulness is how this ends, and that means Jesus His holy life and His guilty death got nothin’ to offer. After the first Gulf War, as is now, suicide among troops was epidemic, so they had chaplains go through suicide prevention. The thing I found helpful is the potential suicide has concluded he only has 2 options and he can’t live with either. Convince him there is a 3rd option and he will have hope again. Jesus knows the depths we’re in; Jesus knows what it means to be tempted in every way we are. In Jesus there’s always a 3rd option; there’s always a way out of every temptation that we may endure it (1 Cor. 10:13). And, therefore, in Jesus we won’t give way to despair and other great shame and vice.
You may be one of those who reads the last page of a novel before you read the first or one who thinks that would spoil the ending. But everyone reads the last page. No one thinks the story ends without it. Whether you’re chased by fear, doubt, sin, or sinfulness, don’t think this is the last page. The last page comes at the consummation of the age. This is not the birth but the birth pangs; this is the engagement; the consummation will happen when the Groom calls for us. And do note in that joyful consummation the Sons of the Evil One, all that cause sin and all who do evil, are picked out, violently, forcefully by angels, but the Sons of the Kingdom are gathered. Read Gen. 25:8 and all the other places that talk about those in the Church being “gathered to their people.” That’s how dying is for the Christian. It’s a homegoing; it’s not being yanked out of this life but gathered for the next. At the consummation of a marriage, an age, an eon, an era, no Christian in that “end” is disappointed.
Everything is clear in the end, but even in the clearest parable ever there are hanging questions. Jesus often does this. In the Prodigal Son does the eldest son go into the party at the end or not? Even outside parables, we see this. Does anxious and troubled Martha set down her burden and sit at Jesus’ feet with Mary? With this parable the question that hangs for us all is am I a hypocrite? Am I just pretending to believe I am righteous because God for Jesus’ sake declares I am? That’s what a seminary professor said. “Sons of the Evil One” aren’t unsaved men in general but the hypocrites who appear to be Christian but aren’t (Buls, 30, 31).
It’s true; the Devil is described as sowing his Evil Sons not just among the Sons of the Kingdom but over them. In the field of the world the weeds look like the wheat until harvest time when the difference is clear. The Greek word Jesus uses is a species of darnel also called ‘spurious wheat’ because until the grains actually appear you can’t tell; the black grains give it away. Also it seems hypocrites are zeroed in on at the consummation: Angels weed out everything that causes and all who do evil. If you’re using Jesus’ blood and righteousness to excuse or hide your sin, keep an eye out for angelic weeders. In the consummation of all things you will be weeded out. Till then Jesus using the same word that is often translated ‘forgive’ but also means “to leave”; He tells His servants to leave the weeds alone. Hypocrites often mistake being left alone for being forgiven.
Another hanging question the parable asks is am I mistaking the Church for the world? We don’t expect the worldly to live by the standards of the Church. We don’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christians; we don’t expect weeds to be wheat. But if you identify as a Christian, as a member of the Body of Christ, we expect Christian behavior of each other. In the military, some chaplains when they passed through the barracks, which were big open bays in those days, would tear down any pin-ups they saw in an open locker. I didn’t. I only tore down the ones of soldiers who came to my Divine Service. He had identified himself as a Christian but was doing what non-Christians would do. Either in that Divine Service or at his locker he was being a hypocrite? Which was it?
One final question: are you expecting to be shining now? Are you expecting to be shining before the harvest? Jesus promises, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” But don’t forget, this sentence begins with ‘then’, i.e. not right now. In this life wheat and weeds grow right next to each other, and you know how many times in the garden you’ve wondered at how robust a weed was compared to your vegetable even though it got no more rain or sun. In this life we’re sore-covered Lazarus not the sumptuous Rich Man. In this life we’re the traveler beaten half-dead that needs to be cared for by the Good Samaritan. We’re still in the ‘feebly struggle’ part of For all the Saints we’re not in “in glory shining” part. St. John tells us this is as it should be now for now is not ‘then”. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God; but it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, then we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
In 1972 Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” was a #1 hit. It was a feel good song that matched the hopefulness coming at the end of 1972 because the end of the Vietnam War was in sight. But this was before Watergate, the resignation of a president, and the fall of Saigon. Nash could sing he can see everything clearly now because the rain was gone. But you know the rain always comes back. That’s why we don’t want to go by what we can see or not see but by what God in Christ sees. He looks at sinners and calls them saints. He looks at the dead and says they live. He looks at the damned and says they’re saved. It’s like the keeper of an orphanage saying good night to his charges with, “Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” They we’re anything but princes and kings, but in his eyes that’s what they were. That’s from John Irving’s book The Cider House Rules. Interestingly, Irving says he starts a book by writing the ending first. Jesus, goes one better, clearer even. He declares He is the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13) of all things. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (20230730); Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43