Who is In and Who is Out?

This week in worship, Pastor Doug shares with us the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat from Matthew 13 to remind us prior to God’s final separation at the judgment good and bad are mixed in the field of the world and in the field of the church.

We cannot discern people’s hearts and if we try to, we may commit serious errors in judgment and uproot good wheat along with the tares. As servants of Jesus, we are to patiently endure wrongs in the present.

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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE, and below that you’ll find the text for the message.

Who is In and Who is Out?

I freely admit I don’t know a lot about plants or flowers other than they’re pretty. There are many I see that I cannot name. I don’t tend to pull many things up in our yard because I never know what something might turn out to be.

Some of the plants that some people call weeds and consider undesirable, to another person are pretty wildflowers. Some folks think having clover in their yard is bad. I like clover because I enjoy watching the rabbits nibble on it and the bees use it to make honey.

To an untrained or uneducated eye, it can be difficult to tell what a young plant may become when it matures. Often the same is true of people.

This is important to remember because sometimes we can be even more zealous about judging and attacking people than we are about going after weeds. Jesus tells a parable that deal with this in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

“He put before them another parable: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?’

He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him,

‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied,

No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ 

He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels and collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Some spiritual questions seem to be asked in every generation – we see them reflected in the Bible and in some of our own questions today. Questions such as: “Who’s in and who’s out? Who’s good and who’s bad? Who is going to make it in the end and who is not?” Jesus’ parable touches on some of those questions.

Earlier in Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist said that when the Messiah came he would, “gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Some religious folks who heard John’s words and had Jesus under surveillance, were disturbed by the fact Jesus wasn’t doing what John the Baptist said the More Powerful One would do.

In their view, Jesus wasn’t separating the wheat from the chaff or in this parable the wheat from the weeds. In fact, he was drawing and attracting folks who didn’t know God’s law or live it and didn’t have a moral leg to stand on before a Holy God.

To people who thought of themselves as wheat, Jesus was surrounded by people they regarded as weeds. 

Then and now some people are eager for Christ to separate the wheat from the weeds. It seems some people look forward to other people getting what’s coming to them for their sins.

Many of us have felt that way or even expressed those thoughts from time to time.

In the parable the trouble begins with an enemy who comes under the cover of darkness, sows weeds among the wheat and then goes away. When the weeds appear among the wheat, the servants question the farmer about his seed selection and he replies, “An enemy has done this.” 

The servants want to take action and strike back against the work of this unseen enemy by wading through the fields ripping up the evil weeds wherever they may be found. That way the only plants in the field will be the ones they know are good.

The farmer in the parable doesn’t advocate this course of action and advises patience.

The most important words in the parable are: “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” 

To those who know anything about gardening or farming, the approach Jesus is advocating sounds like no way to run a farm.

Two bad things happen if we never weed a garden or a field.

The weeds choke out the good plants we want, as Jesus describes in his parable of the sower earlier in this chapter (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23).

You also end up with a bumper crop of weed seeds to plague next season’s planting.

Based on some of his parables Jesus may have been a better carpenter than he was a farmer.

It’s likely he was more interested in teaching life changing spiritual truth than advocating proper farming techniques.

The spiritual idea Jesus is expressing is that prior to God’s final separation at the judgment good and bad are mixed in the field of the world and in the field of the church. Allowing the servants of the farmer to separate or sort the good from the bad is expressly rejected for very good reasons.

The weeds, tares, or darnel (Lolium temulentum) are an annual grass that looks very much like wheat. This says something significant about the relationship between the kingdom of heaven and evil in the world – they can look very much alike and can be difficult to distinguish.

Many people make mistakes in this regard thinking someone is good and serving God when in truth they are evil and wicked, or believing someone is lost or beyond redemption when in fact they are not.

The early stages of wheat and darnel resemble each other closely as do true disciples and false believers.

This was a crucially important concern to Matthew who was greatly disturbed by the mixed state of the church which then and now contains many who enthusiastically call Jesus “Lord,” but who refuse to follow his ethical teaching and don’t commit themselves to living, thinking, and relating to people and God the way Jesus demands (Matthew 7:21-27, 13:47-50, 22:11-14).

Jesus is saying we’re not capable of carrying out the separation effectively; we can’t truly know who’s in and who’s out. We can’t discern people’s hearts and if we try to make an effective separation, we’ll commit serious errors in judgment and uproot good wheat along with the tares. 

The impatient, retaliatory reaction of the servants, “do you want us to go and gather them?” is precisely the response the enemy is hoping for from the servants of the farmer.

The enemy knows he has no power against good; the wheat is in the field; the kingdom has been sown in the world and there’s not a thing he can do about it. But the enemy only needs the negative power of people to wreak havoc.

The enemy goes away after sowing the weeds because he has done his job and has no reason to hang around.

The enemy relies on people getting impatient and frustrated enough to do his work for him.

The farmer knows the servants’ idea for dealing with the menace as they see it – “Rip‘em out,” is even more of a threat than what the enemy has already done. 

Franciscan writer Richard Rohr describes how the desire for “cleansing the field” has been done by Nazism on the right, communism on the left and “puritanical believers in almost all religions.”

Without humility, it isn’t hard for people to become zealots and ideologues, more than incarnational believers who seek to live out the faith of Christ, loving their neighbors, and embodying the fruit of the Spirit.

There are many people wading into the field of the church and the culture who don’t appear very open to mystery, compassion, kindness, or patience.[1]

The disciples don’t understand the parable so they ask Jesus, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ They frame their question as if the weeds are the focus instead of the kingdom of heaven.

Often people do the same thing, “Didn’t you sow good seed in your world God, what’s the story with all the evil we see every day? When are you going to stick it to all the evil people?”

We will never have a satisfactory answer regarding evil. The parable’s answer to the question is, “an enemy has done this.”

The real issue for followers of Jesus is, how should we act in the presence of evil. 

To the servants and disciples credit, they want to confront evil, but they and we need guidance from Jesus about what to do. The question is: whose methods are you going to use in dealing with the problem of evil – your methods or those of Jesus?

Jesus’ method is “let, permit, or suffer” both good and evil to grow together until the harvest.

The Greek word translated “let” (aphienai) occurs 156 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Most commonly, 52 times, it’s translated “leave” (permit, let go, or send away). Second most, 47 times, it’s translated when applied to debts, trespasses, and sins as “forgive.”  This is same word we use in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”  Interestingly, in Greek the same word is used for “forgiveness” and “permission.” 

One of the most challenging aspects of this parable is Jesus stating that his servants’ response to the evil sowed in the field of the world is not to retaliate violently against it.

This doesn’t mean we do nothing if we know a person is being harmed or in danger, of course we intervene appropriately.

It does mean malice and evil, in the world and in the lives of people are not to be dealt with by attacking or trying to eliminate the persons in which it dwells.

Until the harvest, evil is to be patiently endured and suffered.

This is very difficult for us to hear or accept because we think it’s naïve and many of us reject Jesus’ teaching on this point.

We don’t think it makes sense or believe it is possible because we are thinking about it from a human point of view, rather than from the perspective of the kingdom of heaven.

When we feel we’re hurt, attacked, or wronged our pride gets up; we nurse anger, bitterness, and self-righteousness over how we’ve been wronged until we’ve whipped up our energy and emotion.

We then direct that negative energy against those who have wronged us; or against others who had nothing to do with it.

We go striding into the fields ripping up weeds and tramping down wheat in the process and then when we’ve expended our energy we turn and look at the mess we’ve made in the field and it looks worse than it did before. 

Maybe one day we’ll learn Jesus’ approach is not only possible; it’s healthier and more effective. Yet we fear if we respond as Jesus tells us to, that we’ll be taken advantage of.

It’s amazing to consider the farmer in Jesus’ parable has basically said the enemy is free to return any night and sow more weeds. I would say the enemy continues to do so.

But is hasn’t stopped the wheat of the kingdom from growing. And in the strange world of the parable, if you give some of the weeds enough time, they just might end up converting from weeds to wheat.

Even when he was crucified on the cross Jesus didn’t threaten, wipe out, or even condemn those who committed that evil. He forgave them.

Jesus told his followers they were to forgive their brothers and sisters 70 x 7 times. We just don’t do this, as we should.

Ask yourself, when someone in your family, church, work or school does something you don’t like, what do I do? I’ll tell you what we sometimes do. We get mad, we stew, we fret, we withdraw, we rant, we gossip to anyone but the person we have a problem with, and we try to get even. 

We send emails or texts, we post something online, we martial people to our side, and unlike 1 Corinthians 13, we insist on trying to get our way.

In the midst of it all, we fail to forgive.

We respond this way out of our humanness instead of out of the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. We simply are not doing what Jesus teaches us, which is to forgive.  

The point of the parable is not that there will be an end-time payback of all wrongs from which we will be spared, but in which all the really bad, evil, sinful weedy people, will be punished.

The point is, as servants of Jesus we are to patiently endure wrongs in the present.

Not striking back against a trouble-making enemy is thoroughly consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where he said (Matthew 5:39), “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” 

The wheat and the weeds in the world and in the church are so difficult to distinguish, God the farmer knows that attempts to get rid of evil are likely to destroy much of the wheat the servants are trying to protect or help in uprooting the evil weeds.

Good and evil inhabit not only the world, but also individual human beings. No one is completely good and pure, nor is anyone 100% evil. If we tried to uproot all the evil in the world, we’d end up getting rid of virtually everyone. 

Jesus says patience is necessary because people can’t effectively discern or separate good from evil.

When we attempt to do so we often end up doing more harm than good because we can’t tell wheat from weeds the way God can. 

A poem put it this way:

A little seed lay on the ground,
And soon began to sprout.
Seeing all the flowers around
It wondered, “How shall I come out?
The lily’s face is fair and proud,
But just a trifle cold.
The rose, I think, is rather loud,
And its fashion’s getting old.
Of the violet some may think well,
But it’s not a flower I’d choose;
Nor even canterbury bell,
I’ve never cared for blues.”
And so it criticized each flower,
This haughty little seed,
Until it woke one summer noon,
And found itself a weed!

When it comes to judgment and who is in and who is out, Jesus says God has fixed the final moment of separation. That time has not yet come.

God is incredibly patient. The seeds must be allowed to ripen to reveal their true nature and character. We still live in the season of growing, not separation and harvest.

If you want to be sure that you are good wheat in God’s field then make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ that produces a life of growing discipleship and spiritual maturity that reveals to all that you are not a weed.

The opportunity for repentance, change, and transformation has not yet run out.

I don’t want to be criticizing others only to discover too late that I am a weed and not wheat.

Until that harvest day, all false religious zeal must be checked, the farmer provides no place for purges, pogroms or programs to strike back violently at the evil weeds sowed by the enemy. All seeds are allowed to ripen, with everything else left to the God who urges patience when people crave for punishment.  

“Let anyone with ears listen!”

Prayer: Grant Me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know, to love what I ought to love, to praise what delights you most, to value what is precious in your sight, to hate what is offensive to you. Do not allow me to judge according to the sight of my eyes, nor pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant persons, but to discern with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of your will. Thomas a Kempis, 15th century

Lord Jesus, by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit, purge our eyes to discern and contemplate you until we attain to see as you see, judge as you judge, choose as you choose; and having sought and found you to behold you forever and ever. We ask this for your name’s sake. Amen.  Christine Rossetti, 19th Century

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

1. Why do you think people ponder questions such as: “Who’s in and who’s out? Who’s good and who’s bad? Who is blessed and who isn’t? Who is going to make it in the end and who is not?” Why do such questions matter?

2. Why were so many people who were “weeds” in the eyes of those who considered themselves religious and devout in Jesus’ day, attracted and drawn to Jesus?

3. What do you make of the “farmer’s” attitude about the enemy and leaving all the plants to grow until maturity and the harvest? How does this conflict with the servant’s desire to wade into the field and pull up all the weeds?

4. What damage would have been done if the servants had done what they wanted? Have you ever felt like the servants or even tried to do some “weeding” with someone or some group only to have it go poorly? What happened?

5. How good are you at patiently enduring wrongs and not retaliating when you’ve been hurt in some way? What does this parable have to say about those situations?

6. Jesus encourages non-violence, patience, and forgiveness in the face of evil and suffering. Why do we find these so difficult and often leave them untried?

7. Take some time to contemplate the closing prayers by Thomas a Kempis and Christine Rossetti. Ask God to teach you and to reveal something to you about your own heart and spirit through their prayers.

[1] Richard Rohr, Things Hidden Scripture as Spirituality, see paragraph on page 34.

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