Preached February 6, 2011
St. Matthew 13:24b–30, 36–43
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
This is the fifth Sunday of the Epiphany season, wherein the Church continues to show us the nature of God. Today the revelation takes a somewhat different turn compared to previous Sundays which have focused primarily on the power and glory of God. Today we learn about the patience of God, and particularly about the implications of that patience for us. It means much more than that we still have time in which to repent and turn our lives around.
There are two well known parables told by our Lord in the 13th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The first is the parable of the sower, in which He describes a man who sows a field of grain. Some seed is eaten by the birds, some falls on shallow soil, some falls among thorns and weeds, but some falls in good soil and reproduces a hundred fold. This is the parable of the sower. The second parable is today’s Gospel lesson which is somewhat similar, the parable of the wheat and tares. I remind you of first because there are a few difference that we need to point out along the way.
Matthew 13:24-25 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. This is no imaginary sort of injury that one man might do to another, but instead it is very real. It is even practiced in some parts of the world today. It would take much effort to damage the man’s crop while it is still in the ground, but very little effort is required to sow weeds in with the crop. The sower of the seed is identified in Matthew 13:37b He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; so we see that it is Jesus Himself that sows the field in this case, exactly as in the previous parable.
In the parable of the sower, the seed is the Word of God, but here it is seen differently. As Jesus continues in His explanation, Matthew 13:38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; There is really no conflict here; only a progression from the Word of God by which men are saved to become the children of the kingdom. The Word has done its work; it has been received into the hearts of living men and thus incorporated them into the kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us, The field is the world; He is saying that He has sowed His good seed in the world, but that there also exist in the world tares, the children of the devil. Matthew 13:26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. In their early form, before the fruit forms, the wheat and the tares look almost identical. This is true with good and bad people; they look much the same until we see the fruits of their actions. The nature of the world is such that the wheat and the tares exist together, neither one having exclusive control — this is what we see in our daily lives.
Matthew 13:27-28 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? We can almost hear the indignant tone of the servants! They are outraged at the presence of tares in the master’s field, something for which they feel a certain degree of pride, ownership is not quite the right term, but it is their master’s field, and they are proud of what a fine field it is. An now look at it, full of tares! Then they want to want to go into the fields and rectify the problem, so they ask if they should go to gather up the tares. They are continuing in this thought process that says that the situation is not right and must be put right, NOW!
Here is one of the many places where the words of Christ have been difficult for us men to accept, Matthew 13:29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. The impatient servants want to correct the problem now, but the Master says, “Wait, let them grow together.” For those eager to get on with the advancement of the Kingdom, these are some of the most difficult words in the world to obey. We want to be active in making things perfect in the world today, rather than waiting for God to work in the fullness of time.
This was a key element in the Donatist schism in the fourth century. The Donatists said that the Church was to be a perfectly holy body. Holiness was not just one of the important attributes of the Church, but rather it was the absolutely essential attribute, the sine qua non of the Church. They did not deny that there might be hypocrites hidden in the Church, but they insisted that the Church must exercise rigorous discipline to remove any visibly ungodly members from its midst. If it fails to do this, it ceases to be the Church and the faithful members must leave or themselves become defiled. They quoted Scripture such as Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean in support of the idea that the Church must cut itself off from all those who are not holy. By their standards, the Church cannot exist in the world, but must remove itself entirely from the world. There are strong elements of such thinking to be found in the Church everywhere yet today.
It was St. Augustine of Hippo who clarified the doctrine on this issue particularly. He replied that the holiness that the Donatist sought was certainly a true note of the Church, but it was not the only such. The four notes of the Church are that it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, all four of these. The Donatist, in focusing on one of these attributes to the exclusion of the other three, were in fact losing the other three. They certainly no longer had any claim to unity nor to catholicity. Augustine said that Church Catholic is a holy fellowship, despite appearances, because her only true members are those in true and living fellowship with Jesus Christ. There are others who appear to be within the Church who are essentially just members of the crowd, following, trying to get to know Jesus. They are not driven out as some of them will indeed come to Jesus. In the present time, the Church exists as a mixed field, wheat and tares growing together until the harvest time. The Donatists were acting as the servants proposed to do in the parable, namely trying to root up the tares immediately to set the field aright.
Jesus identifies the enemy who has done this clearly when He says Matthew 13:39a The enemy that sowed them is the devil; The sower has been identified as Christ Himself, and the enemy is here identified as the devil, showing clearly that the devil is the enemy of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, it is rare to find the devil presented as working directly against the welfare of mankind, but here we see it very plainly; the devil is out to cause trouble for men by destroying the crops.
The Master’s instructions were Matthew 13:29-30 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. As Jesus explains later, Matthew 13:39b-42 the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The harvest is the end of the world, so that this is the final judgment that He is talking about here. He tells us that the reapers are the angels, the ones who are sent to receive the souls of men on the last day, and He says that it is these angels that will sort the wheat from the tares, those that belong to the Kingdom from those that do not, and they will cast them evil ones into the furnace. This is not a pretty picture at all; this is a picture of the Last Judgment.
But it comes in God’s own time, not in any man’s time. Until that time, God forebears and we are called upon to do likewise, despite our impulses to do otherwise. It is the will of God, that in so far as possible, all should have access to His Church for as long as possible that they may have the greatest possible chance to come to Him. This requires that we tolerate within the Church those who still have a long way to go in Christian life, those whose lives do not well reflect the life of Christ at all as well as some who are well advanced in the Christian life. The Church accepts us all, wheat and tares together sown, unto joy and sorrow grown, until the end of time. This is the message of the parable in today’s Gospel lesson. Let this broaden our understanding of the Church, and of our own place within it. We see here the patience of the Lord of the Church, and the patience that He calls for from us as well. We can do no less.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.