Colossians 3:12 – 17
St. Matthew 13:24b – 30
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Let us begin this morning by a brief examination of the Collect for the day. The Collect reads: Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The key phrase in the Collect is this one: “to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion.” In this phrase, the Collect shows us the theme for our meditation this morning. Certainly we are all aware, particularly in the current age, that the Church is constantly under assault from the devil and his agents. It is only through the power of Jesus Christ that the Church is protected, day by day. With these thoughts in mind then, we turn to the Gospel lesson.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is the familiar parable of the wheat and the tares sown together. Let me begin by re-reading that to you:
Matthew 13:24-30 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. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 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? 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.
On first reading, we might be inclined to take the parable as simply a description of agricultural sabotage. The word “tares” refers to a noxious weed, quite possibly the darnel. The enemy comes at night, quietly sowing weeds in the crop, so that the farmer is induced to continue to invest his resources and labor in a crop that will ultimately produce little. Because the farmer does not know the damage has been done, he will continue to water and fertilize this crop, only to discover later that his yield has been corrupted. Does this seem far-fetched? It is reported that, in Ireland, a tenant farmer who had received notice of eviction, sowed wild oats in his fields which later proved almost impossible to eradicate. Similar stories come from India as well. While this is very sly, and perhaps interesting to us as an act of Machiavellian intrigue, what is that to us today?
But then we didn’t read very closely. The opening words of the Gospel lesson say, “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field…” The kingdom of heaven is definitely a matter of concern to us, so we need to pay more attention to what is being said.
This particular parable is remarkable in that we have the interpretation of the parable also, given by Christ himself, and we find ourselves identifying closely with the disciples.
Matthew 13:36-43 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; 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. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Look what Jesus has said. Jesus tells us that he Himself is the farmer, the one who sowed good seed which is His message of salvation to the world, where the world is represented by the field. The wheat, grown from good seed, represents the kingdom harvest, those that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Conversely, the tares represent those who have chosen evil and will ultimately be condemned. That condemnation is a dreadful and final end, as indicated when He says, “the tares are gathered and burned in the fire.”
In the original recitation of the parable, the farmer says, “an enemy has done this.” It is particularly significant, and entirely correct, that Jesus identifies the devil as His own enemy. Thus the words of the parable reflect the eternal truth of conflict between the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ on the one hand, and the powers of evil led by the devil on the other. The parable shows vividly the active efforts of the devil to subvert the will of God and destroy mankind.
In the seed form, both the wheat and the tares look very much alike and are essentially indistinguishable. As the parable says, “but when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” This is exactly how it is in the world. While life goes on, we cannot completely distinguish between the “good people”who will inherit eternal life, and the “bad people” who will be condemned, until the fruit of their life is completely evident. If the farmer had chosen to act too quickly, telling his servants to go into the fields and pull up all the tares, then it is obvious that much of the wheat would have been uprooted and some of the tares, no doubt, overlooked. As Jesus says in His words of explanation, the proper separation can, and will be, made at the final harvest, the end of the world. Then, the fruit of every life will be evident, and there will be no mistaking the wheat and the tares.
So what does this all mean for us? In particular, what does this mean for the Church? The parable is telling us that good and evil are allowed to coexist in the world, but that we must not think that God does not notice. There will be a judgment, a dreadful judgment, not in our time but rather in God’s time. Until then, both the wheat and the tares must live together in the world, until the fruit of each is fully manifest. Then, in His time, at the judgment, God will separate them. The good will go on to their reward in the kingdom of heaven, and the bad will go to their reward in hellfire. We must not let our impatience drive us to try to uproot the tares among us, but rather wait for the Lord’s judgment. In the meantime, the Lord will continue to cultivate His field, the world, providing for it and protecting it.
Jesus ends His explanation with the ominous words, “who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” He is telling us that the meaning of the parable is plain, and that we avoid this truth at our own peril. And so it is. We must understand that we are planted in the Lord’s field, His field to manage as he sees fit. We dare not think that we know better than the Lord Christ how His field should be managed. Our role is simply to be faithful and true to the end, trusting in Christ for all things.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.