The Wheat & the Tares
Old Testament Reading- Genesis 4:6-16
New Testament Reading- Matthew 13:24-30
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -October 17, 2021
Back in my landscaping years, I often took on jobs that were just weeding. Pick-up truck loads of weeds from the smallest beds to the largest ones. As the nineteen-eighties moved on into the nineties, more and more people wanted perennial flowers planted in their gardens. Perennials being the type that will come back every year, as opposed to annuals, that are tender and must be replanted every summer. These perennials were rather new to mainstream landscape usage in the everyday landscapes, when mainly people had planted shrubs before, now they wanted a change. This change was welcome to them as perennials were much less expensive than shrubs and the variety of blooms and when they flowered was wonderful, but they do come at a cost, weeds were always much more of a problem in these types of beds because there was no competition from larger shrubs to keep them at bay.
Weeds, yes, weeds will grow anywhere, and they seem to grow with such ease that they often take over a landscape bed fast. When the people were using shrubs in their landscapes, it was easy for anyone to tell the plant you wanted to keep from the weed that you wanted pulled. Often, I would hear clients complain that a landscape company had come in and weeded, only to find out later that they not only took the weeds, but the prized perennials too. Unless you know plants well, you often cannot tell one plant from another, the weed from the desired plant. Also, when there are so many weeds, even the trained eye will make mistakes and take out some of the good before they realize it.
I remember going to one lady’s house that had planted a landscape bed three times, only to have it all get pulled out by someone she had hired to clean it up. Often the homeowner doesn’t know much more about it than the landscape crew in how to tell the difference between the two types, or they were not home when the work was done and when they got home and looked, well, let’s just say, by then it was too late, the damage was done and the good and the bad all went out together in the bed of a dump truck.
Gardening goes back all the way to the beginning of creation in the Garden of Eden. Our Creator is the author and master of gardening and grand landscapes. Our first ancestors were created and lived in the Garden of God before they fell and committed the first sin. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us,
“To Adam, God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
We will never escape weeds, not in this world. It is part of the penalty of sin, that not all things will go your way and that you will have to work hard to eat and live in this world.
Jesus tells His disciples this parable in Matthew 13:24-30,
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Jesus goes on to explain the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13:36-43,
“Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Often people read into this much judgment and in a way, that is true, but who is doing the judging? God, for only God knows the true hearts of human beings. Like the perennials and the weeds in my story, we see that there is not always a clear delineation between what looks good and what looks bad. It is the same for people, often people misjudge this and would harm the good with the bad. How different are we from the people in prison? For some, there is a huge difference, but others, maybe they just got caught and we didn’t.
In the ‘Parable of the Weeds,’ the type of weeds that they were talking about is thought to be a plant called, ‘Darnel,’ which is a type of rye grass, sometimes even called ‘false wheat’ or ‘wheat’s evil twin.’ It looks much like wheat until the seed appears and if eaten can cause a drunken nausea, dizziness, or if in large enough quantities, even death. Darnel is a ‘mimic weed,’ that so looks and behaves like wheat that it has become dependent on humans for its survival. Its seeds are stowaways, and it relies on people to harvest it with the wheat crop and to sow it’s seeds the next year at planting time. Also, anyone that has done enough pulling weeds knows that when you are pulling even well-known weeds near the plants that you want, you must be very careful or you will pull out the good with the bad, especially when the plants are young.
Jesus was always using parables to teach His followers. He would use commonly known things and everyday tasks to help illustrate what we needed to learn about ourselves. These parables required thought, we will often not listen when we are taught about ourselves directly, becoming defensive about our actions, thoughts, or deeds, but if we are told a story to illustrate the same point and to think about how this may apply to us, then change can take place.
St. Augustine of Hippo, a third to fourth century theologian and philosopher points out that the slight differences between the “wheat and the tares” is also evident in the Church,
"O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! The harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who can make the separation, and who cannot make mistakes. ... I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.”
Toleration, that is what this parable is all about. We are the ones growing in the field of God, all of us, from the dawn of creation, till now and going on until the final judgment. How hard it is for us to know the good from the bad when they all look the same at first inspection. But God knows and He is patient to allow us the time to choose which we want to be.
Watch what God does with Cain in Genesis 4:6-16,
"Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So, Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
God is tolerant, knowing that Cain is guilty of murdering his own brother, He still allows him to live, showing us a picture of God’s great mercy in not uprooting all the bad from within the good, knowing that even the bad have influence in all lives and not always in a bad way. How many children have overcome abuse by a parent in their lives to grow up and become an advocate for hundreds of children who suffer the same thing? How many people have suffered war, that have gone on to fight for peace, so that others did not have to go through what they did?
Martin Luther, one of the fathers of the Protestant Reformation, preached a sermon that affirmed that only God can tell the bad from the good, the true believers from the unbelievers and that we should be tolerant of people giving them time to change in God’s good timing. He tells us the following in his sermon,
“From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them, and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions and wish to merit something special in heaven.” He concluded with, “although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold.”
What do we learn from all this? Not to judge each other? That weeds and the crop desired are not the same? Yes, but much more. We learn that God is in charge, and He wants us to be more like Him in how we deal with others. Matthew 5:43-48 tells us Jesus’ words,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So, ask yourselves, are you the wheat or the darnel, are you the wheat or the tare, are you the weed or the desired crop? It is not so easy to tell from the outside, in fact, it is not always so easy to tell from the inside. Sometimes we are both, depending on which day it is, or what mood we are in. This is not alright. Which one will you be when the last day comes and the angels are swinging the sickles? None of us knows when that day will come, so be ready and decide to be the wheat right now, it takes work, but it is worth it. Eternity is at hand and God is more patient than you could ever imagine, but you still must choose. That is why bad things happen to good people, when we all grow so closely together, sometimes the good can’t help but be affected by the bad. In Christian love though, we hope that the bad also cannot help but be affected by the good.
"That is why bad things happen to good people, when we all grow so closely together, sometimes the good can’t help but be affected by the bad. In Christian love though, we hope that the bad also cannot help but be affected by the good." ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty
This is a hard lesson; we all want to believe that if we do good then only good can happen to us. I am sorry, but that is not how it works. Jesus was perfect and look what happened to Him. In fact, He told us before His crucifixion that the world hated Him and that it would hate His followers as well. We have to remember that God is in charge of all things and His will is to save as many souls as possible, even when bad things happen to good people, we are still expected to persevere till the end and to do our very best to serve God in the ways in which we are required.
This life is hard sometimes, extremely hard, but it is also sometimes extremely great. Some days the sun shines and sometimes it is rainy, but all are directed by the Almighty. Know that all we feel, God knows full well our needs and our concerns. Jesus experienced every emotion that we do while He was here, and He desires for us to trust Him that this plan that God has made is a good one. Make your decision to be known as wheat to God, not just look like wheat to the world. Make your decision today to be the wheat, that when the harvesters come you will be taken into the barn, not thrown in the fire. Make your decision today to be the good product of God that sheds its goodness on even the bad, affecting change that God will smile down upon and bless your ways with all that He is. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen.