Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

by Robert Brow      (

(A sermon preached at Christ Church, Gananoque, Ontario July 18, 1999)

A farmer sowed wheat in his field. At night his enemy came and sowed weeds. As the plants grew, the farm hands asked if they could root out the weeds? The farmer said let both grow together, and at harvest time we will burn the weeds and gather the wheat into the barn.

The story is simple enough, but what does it mean? As in the parable of the sower, the disciples ask for an explanation. The farmer is Jesus himself. The farm hands are the servants of God. The enemy is Satan, and the harvest is the end of the age.

Some don't believe in Satan as a personal being. But it is obvious enough what he is up to. Satan hates the love, and joy, and peace, and freedom that God keeps planting in human hearts. As soon as things go well in a country, or a city, a family, or a church congregation we hear him say "Those people seem to be getting on well together. It's time to sow some weeds." Just watch what happens when a happy family tries to divide a large inheritance. Satan makes sure all hell is let loose. And as soon as a church congregation begins growing and praising the Lord, it just takes a few weeds to turn love and joy and peace into a battle zone.

The first reaction of the servants of God is to root out the bad guys who are causing trouble. Seven hundred years ago they asked for permission to begin the Inquisition. The Pope should have read this parable and let things be, but a few weeds and a huge amount of good plants were purged from our churches. Three centuries ago Protestants were obsessed with witches, and hundreds of innocent women were terrorized and killed. These days we don't kill those who bother us, but there are other ways to keep weeds from our churches. In Ireland the Protestants and Roman Catholics are still excluded from each others' community.

Jesus said "the field is the world" and we can see the same rooting out mentality at work in just about every other country of the world.. In Ruanda the Hutus massacred a million Tutsis. In what was once Tito's Yugoslavia the Serbs and Muslims, Croatians, and Kosovos are all intent on saving their country by driving out the bad guys. "If only we could get all the Jews out of our country, all would be well." And the feeling is mutual. In Canada some zealots think eradication would be the solution for the French, aboriginal Indians on reserves, Feminists, and Gays. "Just get rid of the bad apples, and the rest of us would be perfect."

So we wonder why the Lord of the Harvest is so slow to root out the weeds?

In our parable the farmer is the Son of God. He is sowing on a vast scale in every country of the world. He allows evil to flourish with the good, but only till he decides it is time for a harvest. After his crucifixion and resurrection he left the Pharisee and Sadducee establishment of Jerusalem to continue for forty years till the temple and city were destroyed in AD 70. Why didn't he come sooner? In this century why did he allow Hitler and the concentration camps to continue till the end of the holocaust? Russians were kept in terror of being sent to the Gulags of Siberia for seventy years. Then suddenly in 1989 the Lord tore up the iron curtain and Communist governments toppled all over eastern Europe.

Wherever evil has taken over, there will eventually be a harvest that removes it.

But there is another reason for delay. The Lord of the harvest takes great delight in changing weeds to flowers. Mary Magdalene must have been as bad a weed as they get, but Jesus loved her, and she became a saint. Saul of Tarsus was a virulent weed who persecuted and killed off all the good wheat he could find. Then suddenly he was converted on the Damascus road and became the great apostle. Even during the delay before judgment came down on Jerusalem, many of the people who had demanded the Messiah's crucifixion had a change of heart (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:7).

That is good news for us all. We don't have to fuss about identifying the bad guys, and trying to root them out. And every day when we feel we are not good enough to flower in the Lord's garden, we can trust him to make us beautiful in our own way.

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