‘Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?’

July 19, 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy hasdone this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus speaks to a crowd beside the sea. It is said that because the size of the crowd is so great that he has to socially distance himself from the crowd, get into a boat and speak from there, while the people listen from the shore (vv. 1-2).

And while speaking to the crowd, all Jesus does is tell parables, and parables only (v. 34). Jesus starts with the Parable of the Sower and then he shares the Parable of the Weeds, or also known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.

As I shared last time, parables are ways to reveal the secrets—mysteries—of the kingdom. In her book “Short Stories by Jesus,” Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School, writes,

Jesus told parables because they serve … as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life that God wants us to live. They are Jesus’ way of teaching, and they are remembered to this day not simply because they are in the Christian canon, but because they continue to provoke, challenge, and inspire.

So instead of looking at these parables literally, it is more fitting for us to read or listen to these parables in awe, because these parables can unlock the mysteries we face and reveal the secrets.

So, what is so mysterious about today’s story?

Like the earlier parable, here Jesus takes his time toexplain what the parable of the weeds means. Well, more accurately, he explains because the disciples ask him to do so once they all returned from the beach.

The parable they heard at the beach with the rest of the crowd was this,

A farmer planted good seed in his field. And his enemy came by at night and sowed weeds among the wheat. So, the wheat and weeds (or tares) started to appear together in his field. Then, the servants came to the farmer and asked, “Master, didn’t you plant good seed?Where are these weeds coming from?” The farmer said, “Some enemy did this.” The servants asked, “Should we pluck out the weeds?” The farmer said, “No, if you pluck out the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat also. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull the weeds and tie them in the bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.”

And in the house, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples allegorically.

The Son of Man planted the kingdom children in the world. And the devil came by at night and sowed the evil children among the kingdom children. So, the kingdomc hildren and evil children started to appear together in the world. Then, the servants came to the Son of Man and asked, “Master, didn’t you plant the kingdom children? Where are these evil children coming from?” The Son of Man said, “The devil did this.” The servants asked, “Should we pluck out the evil children?” The Son of Man said, “No, if you pluck out the evil children, you’ll pull up the kingdom children also. Let them grow together until the end of the age. Then I’ll instruct the angels to pull the evil children and tie them for the furnace of fire, then gather the kingdom children and put them in the kingdom of the Father.”

Did you notice something strange?

As Jesus explains this parable to his disciples, helinks the symbolism of the farmer, the enemy, the wheat and weeds, harvest time, harvesters, and barn to the Son of Man, the devil, the kingdom children and evil children, the end of the age, angels, and the kingdom of the Father. He explains everything in the parable except for the servants working for the Master. Jesus decides to give no explanation on what these “servants” symbolize.

Hmm. Why?

Perhaps because it is the disciples who requested the explanation of the parable, there is no need for Jesus to explain whom these servants symbolize. In other words, it is up to the disciples to see themselves in the last remaining allegorical figure. And rightfully so, it is also up to us, the readers of the parable, to see ourselves in what these servants symbolize.

We are often so self-righteous that not only do we think we can differentiate between wheat and tares but also have the audacity to question God, saying, “Aren’t you the good God? Where, then, are these badthings coming from?” And I believe there is nothing wrong with us questioning God, as it is a very biblical thing to do as we have seen throughout the Bible, especially in Psalms. But what this audacity often leads to is that we take matters into our own hands. We become proactive about bringing the realization of our own understanding and interpretation of the kingdom to this world, which is often a kingdom of efficiency and manufacturability. What also happens, is that this realization becomes a reality through violence, as it is implied in the servants’ offer, “Then do you want us to go and gather the weeds?”

About a year ago, when I moved into the house that Iam currently living in right now, the lawn care service team that worked with the house for a long time reached out to me, asking if I was interested in cleaning out the weeds around the house. Until this house, I was more of an apartment guy, so I had no idea what they were referring to and did not know what their offer entailed. So, I said yes, thinking that a little trim would not hurt. But what happened next was a group of people working all day to pluck and uproot all these weeds that I thought were normal plants and the cost ending up being way more than I anticipated. But I also received a lot of compliments from neighbors and visitors on how the company did a great job with my yard; how itlooked all clean and nice.

See, the servants’ reaction and response to the weeds are not only natural as humans but would be also considered as appropriate and responsible in our world’s standard, and their works appreciated and applaudedby the rest of us. When there are weeds, we ought to pluck them.

But Jesus says in today’s parable that his kingdom is like the farmer who said no to the servants’ offer of getting rid of the weeds. Rather than plucking the weeds to secure more space and more resources for the wheat, the kingdom is like the farmer who would rather see both wheat and tares grow together until the harvest; because as the farmer explained, by pulling the tares with force, both the wheat and tares would be plucked out. In other words, violence jeopardizes the lives of both tares and wheat.

Historically, acts of violence are used to separate onegroup from another, to distinguish ourselves from the others, because we often consider and deem the others as the evil ones. Whether through words, actions, policies, wars, or even through Social Media posts, we continually commit acts of violence today, knowingly and/or unknowingly—we separate ourselves, we distinguish ourselves, we put ourselves above the others—all for the sake of efficiency and manufacturability which are closely tied to the security and comfort of our own wealth. We fear that we would lose control of our own goods if we share a field with the others. We fear that the field would go out of control if we do not pluck out the weeds.

Today’s parable, just like every other parable is not about us, but about the kingdom. Maybe that’s why Jesus does not even take the time to mention whom these servants symbolize. The Son of Man is the farmer. The angels are the reapers. We are here to grow and to let the others grow too. We are on his field to live and let the others live together. This is not to suggest that we are to be complacent towards the evil deeds and evildoers around us. Rather, this is about the call for kingdom people and kingdom churches, a call to be nonviolent in our violent world, a call to bring peace into our unpeaceable world, and a call to trust and hope in the Lord who fulfills the vision of the prophet Isaiah (11:1-9), which says;

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Amen.