“Let both grow together until the harvest”
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30 ESV)
Today we will look at Jesus’ 3rd parable of the kingdom. One of the first things you should notice is the similarities of this parable to the last 2 parables. Again Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God and again Jesus uses seeds and a farmer as the picture. Let me tell you in advance the thrust or thesis of this parable. I believe that the key verse is verse 30. It is where the entire story is leading. It is the main idea or the take away. What should we learn from this parable? Verse thirty tells us. Lets look at it before we walk through the entire parable.
“Let both grow together until the harvest…” (Matthew 13:30)
So, although the kingdom is present or, as Jesus puts it “at hand,” it is also still future. And in the mean time we are living in a kingdom that has both good seed and bad seed. There is good and evil living together. One day, it is true, evil will not be here in God’s kingdom. But, for now, we must suffer it. That is the point of this parable. Now – lets walk through it slowly together.
vs 24 – He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to… Again Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God. We spent some time last week on the kingdom and – because Jesus’ parables are primarily about the kingdom of God – we will continue to spend time seeking to understand this thing called the kingdom of God. N.T. Wright, a very prominent biblical scholar said,
“One of the extraordinary things about contemporary Christianity is that though the kingdom of God is THE MAJOR THEME of the gospels and the teaching of Jesus, many christians only have a very sketchy idea of what it’s all about. N.T. Wright
We tend to only think in terms of heaven. Most Christians think that the eternal plan of God looks like this; there is life here on earth, and then there is new life up there in heaven. And, unfortunately, that nearly guts the message of the gospel. The gospel message is not primarily about what happens to us after we die it is actually and precisely about what God is doing in space, time, history here and now. The good news is not “you get to go to heaven.” The good news is “God is with us.” He is here and now and he is doing things here and now. The good news, as Jesus puts it, is “the kingdom of God has come upon us.” (Matthew 12:28)
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a heaven. And I do believe that Christians go to heaven when they die and that Jesus is now sitting in heaven, at the right of God the Father. However, we are here on this earth – now – and we have been taught that while on this earth we should: (1) pray, “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” and (2) seek, “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:10; 33) How can we pray for God’s kingdom to come if it won’t? If it is just heaven? Or how can we seek heaven – now – with out putting a gun to our heads? I believe, along with most conservative theologians who take the Bible literally, that the kingdom of God is a literal kingdom that is still yet to come to this earth. C.S. Lewis said it like this:
“The Kingdom of God is to be realized here—in this world. And it will be.” C.S. Lewis
See Figure: The End of the World as We Know It
…a man who sowed good seed in his field… Jesus interprets this parable further down in Matthew 36 and there he tells us that the ‘field’ is ‘the world.’ So, again, the kingdom is in this world. And Jesus tells us that the good seed are “the sons of the kingdom,” that is, the offspring of the kingdom.
The word seed in this parable is different from the previous parables. Sometimes the word seed can refer to a literal seed but then other times it can refer to descendants or progeny. Like in the case of “the seed of the woman” or “the seed of Abraham.” In this parable the Greek word (kalon sperma) refers to “what grows from the seed rather than to the seed itself.” (Capon)
“Interestingly, it is just this usage of “good seed” (and “bad seed”) that eventually made its way into English: “he’s bad seed,” for example, refers not simply to a man’s origin but to his subsequent character and actions.” Capon
So, in this parable the farmer is not planting the kingdom but seed that will grow into the sons of the kingdom.
…but while his men were sleeping… Just like last week’s parable the farmer sows then goes to sleep. That is all he has to do. The kingdom will grow automatically. But… this parable has a unique twist.
…his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat… Jesus tells us that the enemy is the devil. That is a bit disturbing to me. Jesus confirms that we live in world that has good seed and bad seed. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom and the bad seed are the sons of the devil. And… the devil planted them here and they live among us? That’s kind of spooky.
Wait… why did I say “us,” how do we know that we are not the bad seed? Are you a good seed or a bad seed? The Greek word is very interesting. It’s amazing how much you can learn about this parable from one little Greek word. The word that Jesus used is zizania, in English it is translated “darnel.” Here is the interesting thing about darnel:
Darnel usually grows in the same production zones as wheat and is considered a weed. The similarity between these two plants is so great that in some regions, darnel is referred to as “false wheat”. (wikipedia)
By the way, wikipedia actually sites our passage here in Matthew. So the weeds, or the sons of the devil, look very much like wheat, or the sons of the kingdom. What does that say about the world in which we live in? What does it say about the church? It says that good and evil can look very much alike.
So what do we do? Well, what can we do? It seems to me that we are are often addicted to determining who is good and who is bad. We want clear categories. Just like in the parable of the sower. We want to know who is what kind of soil and if they get to go to heaven. I think it is very intentional that this parable immediately follows the parable of the sower as a warning not to get into the temptation of categorizing who is saved and who is not saved. The truth is, there are counterfeits among us and God allows it.
…and went away… This is interesting to me. Just as the farmer sows the good seed and then goes to bed, evidencing the automatic-ness of the kingdom, the devil also sows his seed and then simply “goes away.” He does not need to stay and watch to see if his evil plan worked. No… it always works. In fact, all he really needs to do is set up distractions and inconveniences for the sons of the kingdom. If you haven’t read The Screw Tape Letters you should. C.S. Lewis masterfully illustrates how the evil one doesn’t have to get us to be evil, he just has to distract us from the good we were meant for.
…So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ Did you notice their question? It seems to me that the servants are mostly concerned with that age old question. “Why?” Why are there weeds in the field? AKA, “Why is there evil in the world?” At least…that is their first question? If God is good, why is the world bad? If God planted good seed, then why is there bad seed?
We have spent 2000+ years philosophizing over that question. Where has it gotten us? I’ll tell you where, with no good answer. There is no good answer. At least not an answer that helps. In fact, Jesus actually answers the question for us in this parable. But we really don’t like it and it certainly doesn’t help.
…He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ That’s the answer? There is evil because of the devil? In other words there is evil because there is evil!? It doesn’t help. And do you know what’s worse? This parable actually makes our questions about evil even harder to swallow. Because in this parable Jesus literally says, “Yes there is evil and it looks just like you. It is everywhere and it is so hard to determine good from evil that we can’t pull it up.”
…So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?‘ This seems like the logical thing to do. Doesn’t it? Get rid of those weeds. In fact, by not getting rid of them – immediately – it is going to create great trouble in the future.
“The practice of not pulling out weeds until harvest time is no way to run a farm. All that such neglect insures is two undesirable results. First, it contributes to the choking out of the good plants that Jesus deplored in the Sower; second, it guarantees a bumper crop of unwanted weed seeds to plague the next season’s planting.” Capon
…But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest… What does that mean? And what does it mean for us today? What are we supposed to do with that? How are we to hear this parable?
What does it mean for us today? What are we supposed to do with that?
Jesus says, essentially, that:
“All they will accomplish by their frantic pulling out of the weeds is the tearing up of the wheat right along with them. Worse yet, since good and evil in this world commonly inhabit not only the same field but even the same individual human beings – since, that is, there are no unqualified good guys any more than there are any unqualified bad guys – the only result of a truly dedicated campaign to get rid of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.” Capon
Remember, God is not going to knock heads together and ‘git’er done.’ Instead he uses left handed power. He works in hidden and mysterious ways. He beats evil by dying not killing.
“Goodness itself, in other words, if it is sufficiently committed to plausible, right-handed, strong-arm methods, will in the very name of goodness do all and more than all that evil ever had in mind.” Capon
…and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ But wait, doesn’t this say that God uses right handed power and that he actually does knock his enemies heads together? Well – yeah! He absolutely will! But not until the harvest. Oh – don’t confuse his grace and mercy, his patience and slowness as weakness. God is not weak. At the harvest, at the end of this age, he will finally get rid of all evil, but today, in this inaugurated – “already and not yet” age he doesn’t use right handed power. He is doing something different.
In this parable he is teaching us that at the end of all things, or the escaton, “I will take care of it! Don’t worry about it now. I will do it.” And we just love that part of the story. Don’t we? How many books have been written and how many films have been produced about the apocalypse or the end of the world?
“The human race is hooked on eschatology: give us one drag on it, and we proceed to party away our whole forgiven life in fantasies about a final score-settling session that none of us, except for forgiveness, could possibly survive.” Capon
But, please notice that all that end times stuff accounts for only a part of one verse. The thrust of the parable is not, “God is gonna win – so there! One way or another, he’s gonna get you, get you – getcha getcha getcha getcha! (Blondie) No, as I said before, the thrust of the parable is that evil and good look a lot alike. So… lets not get side tracked by our blood thirsty, end times loving addictions and miss the point. What is the point, then? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Aphete – FORGIVE
So here we are, at the end of another parable, and we can’t help but ask ourselves a question. How do we know if we are the good seed or the bad seed? How do we know if we are the real deal or just a counterfeit? There is a lot of talk these days about “the true believers.” They are the ones that “do this” or “don’t do that.” And all of that talk is about as comforting as comparing your 3 year old’s birthday party to someone else’s perfect Pinterest party. It only leaves you feeling small and weedy. You might even be tempted to give up throwing parties all-together. Fortunately, that is not the point of this parable. It is about the simple truth, and the undeniable fact, that in our present world evil is permitted and God is patient, abounding in love and mercy, and full of grace.
In fact, that is precisely the word Jesus used in the parable. He said, “Let both grow together…” Some translations say, “Allow both to grow together.” Others say, “Suffer both to grow together.” The Greek word for ‘let, allow, suffer’ is remarkable. Listen to what Robert Capon says about the word:
“But then comes the most remarkable word in the whole parable: ‘Aphete [let, permit, suffer] both to grow together until the harvest.’ Simply to pause over this statement, however, is not enough; it calls for a full-scale application of the brakes – a complete parking of the theological car in order to take in an incredibly rich landscape.” Capon
If you look up the verb Aphiemi in a lexicon you will notice that it has serval meanings. Here are a few you’d see in a lexicon:
– to permit, allow, not to hinder
– to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit
Do you see that? ‘Permit’ or ‘allow’ could also be translated ‘forgive’ or ‘remit.’ That is why Capon says that we can’t simply pause over this statement – we need a full stop to take it all in. Listen as he explains:
“When that aphete was read in the early Christian church – say, during the liturgy on the Lord’s day – it would have rung a very large bell in the congregation’s mind. They had just prayed (or shortly would pray) the Lord’s Prayer: “Aphes,” they would have said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also aphiemen, forgive, our debtors.” On hearing, therefore, that the farmer’s answer to the malice of the enemy was yet another aphete, they might well have grasped the Holy Spirit’s exalted pun immediately: the malice, the evil, the badness that is manifest in the real world and in the lives of real people is not to be dealt with by attacking or abolishing the things or persons in whom it dwells; rather, it is to be dealt with only by an aphesis, by a letting be that is a forgiveness, that is a suffering – that is even a permission – all rolled into one.” Capon
But where does that leave us? Well it probably leaves us in a very uncomfortable place. You might be asking, “So are you saying that God is just gonna forgive evil? Well isn’t he? I mean, doesn’t he? Oh, don’t get me wrong, God is just. But come on now, do you really want justice? Do you want justice or forgiveness. I say, “Forgiveness! Please, give me forgiveness.”
Fortunately, in this parable, Jesus is saying that for now, in this age, he will permit and forgive. Yes the harvest is coming. There will be a weeding and there will be a fire. Yes, the good guys will win and the bad guys will loss. But stop and think about that for a moment. Which one are you? What kind of seed? They both look so much alike. How can you know and what can you do to ensure that you are the good seed?
The answer to that question, although I realize it is being phrased in a way that we might not be used to hearing, is always the same. How do we know if we are good seed, a son or daughter of the Kingdom? The only way is to trust in God’s aphesis, his forgiveness. And that forgiveness is revealed and found in the cross of Jesus Christ. That forgiveness is offered even to the worst of sinners. Sinners like you, and if I could say it like this, even sinners worse than you.
For instance, consider that scene of Jesus’ death on the cross. Who was it that nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to that cross? Who was it that mocked him and hurled insults at him. Or better yet, who was it that captured him and demanded that he be crucified? Were those guys bad seed? Were they good seed? I guess we can’t know really. But notice how Jesus responded to each of them.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
May I encourage you to receive God’s forgiveness while it is still being offered? Jesus said:
You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” Luke 9:62 MSG