At first glance, our Gospel text for today captivates us with the story of the wheat and the weeds, with the sowers, the enemy, and the householder. The wheat is grown in the fields, later to be harvested, and the weeds along with it. Jesus, who seems to always talk in parables that leave us scratching our heads, does attempt to make this one clearer: “The one who sows the good seed – the wheat – is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”
If only Jesus could be this clear in all of his parables! And, if only life could be so clear. We hear a vision of what is to come in the future with such certainty from Jesus – that we, like wheat, will be harvested, or brought into what is to come, separated from the “bad seed” or the “weeds” of our field, by the reapers, or angels, of our master’s house. Jesus presents a straightforward image to the disciples, but the story only alludes to the conclusion of the reaping season. We don’t actually experience this reaping in the parable. We don’t hear the ways by which the angels come into the field, or the actual reaping. Just as the sowers have to rest in the belief that the reapers will come, so too do we have to rest in the knowledge that God has created a plan for us as well.
And we see that, in the way the sowers trust the householder. We don’t hear any disagreement – though, given the human condition, there’s likely some – but instead, they heed the householder’s insistence that gathering the weeds, now that they have been sown, would harm the wheat as well. The two are already intertwined. It simply must be resolved at harvest time. Until then, the two must grow together.
Naturally, no pun intended, I wanted to learn more about the structure of the weeds and the wheat, to see what they may have resembled and how they would have grown in Jesus’ age. As it turns out, the type of weeds Matthew is likely referring to are a type of wild grass that would have looked identical to the wheat that had been sown until the plant reached full maturity. The weeds don’t harm or choke out the wheat of the field, the two grow alongside each other, looking identical until it’s time for it to be harvested. There was no way to know which were weeds and which were wheat. Maybe not weeding things out then, is a protective measure, to avoid losing any of the wheat. To create the most plentiful harvest, as is suggested for most who farm their land. Maybe it’s also a sign that we might not know what is right or wrong, good or evil, simply at a single glance, and instead we must live with some risk to achieve the maximum reward.
The one who sows the good seed, be it the householder or his sowers, are not the ones who make the decision on what will be removed in this parable. Sure, the householder may aid in the decision later with the reapers, but one thing is apparent: the decision is not made by the sowers, and is not made in the course of the story. It is alluded to, but does not occur as we hear the parable. This is a clue to stay within the growing season of the story, rather than rushing past it to get to the harvest. It is so easy to rush into the part of our lives that is good, that is a celebration, or that has answers. Maybe we’re anxious to switch jobs, get those test results from our doctor, or have our kids out of the house or home from school. Yet, Jesus is reminding us to stay in our present, in our growing season, before we can reach that harvest.
The sowers offer to gather the bad seed, but instead, the householder gives the sowers the instruction to refrain. The weeds and the wheat are to grow together, and yes, it is not up to the sowers to determine the seeds that are good or bad, but it is also now their role to nurture both wheat and weed. Both must grow in order for there to be a plentiful harvest. The wheat and the weeds, the children of both the kingdom and the evil one. That does, to me, sound like Jesus – befriending and engaging with everyone, telling them God’s plan for us and making miracles along each step of his journey, whether they are disciples, tax collectors, followers, or sinners. Everyone is watered, tended to, and included in this earthly world and human experience among one another.
It’s interesting to me that the householder knows, intuitively, who has planted the weeds. He knows, or at least believes, that it must be an enemy. The story doesn’t say anything about whether the householder saw someone in the middle of the night, or whether he’s had an ongoing feud with his next door neighbor. But, he has determined, perhaps even expected, that an enemy has sown the seeds for weeds to grow. He has expected this possibility and, for all we know, has done little to stop it. Maybe he’s accepted there’s only so much he can do to prevent someone from coming into his garden late at night. Yet he doesn’t seem dismayed, instead he seems hopeful that his wheat will still grow abundantly, with plenty to harvest in the reaping season.
We also, interestingly, never find out who the enemy is. No one even attempts to seek them out. If we heard this story today, I’d guess that the householder would send his sowers out to find who’s done this and seek vengeance, or the sowers would suggest an opportunity to make him “swim with the fishes.” Instead, the sowers ask “do you want us to go and gather them,” those weeds? There’s no “how do we seek vengeance on this enemy?” or “how do we prevent this from happening in the future?” There’s a focus on the thing at hand over the source. The thing at hand, the seeds of weeds germinating right in front of them, probably felt more controllable, more present and pressing, to the sowers. Yet they are told that any uprooting will harm the plants they are nurturing and growing them together will be their best success. We, as humans, are often quick to fix things, to make things right. But what about when we can’t, when seeds have been thrown into our fields? When something comes into our lives we don’t know how to take back, prevent, or alter?
God knows that evil is in this world, that bad things happen, and while they are not created by or of God, we can still be watered and shielded, nurtured by the one who created us, and ultimately, we will be brought into God’s kingdom. In Jesus’ parable, we are reminded that God did not create the evil of this world, just as we hear that the householder and sowers did not plant the seeds of weeds. Yet, God knows and understands that it is alongside us, and will still help us grow and prosper despite that presence. We are being tended to, just like the wheat, by the one who has created us, who is caring for us as we grow.
Jesus tells us that he, the Son of Man, is the one who sows the good seed. We, as human beings on earth, are the wheat and the weeds. I was admittedly tempted in this story to see myself as one of the sowers, asking the householder what to do about these weeds. I found myself struck by the notion that, as a sower, as someone hoping to follow as God is leading, it is not up to me to determine what is a good or bad seed. There’s a letting go of control, to let my life be in God’s hands, when I realize that living as a child of God requires an awareness of the reality of sin and death, but not being frightened by it and not jumping in to “fix” things that seem so insurmountable.
Yet what a loss of control it is to be the wheat! To live directly alongside the weeds, the children of the evil one, as Jesus says, and perhaps not even know which is which! We are called to live as the wheat, to grow among the weeds. To know that judgment is not ours to cast, as it will be made, sure, but that we are only responsible for our own growth, and are not even the ones who can pluck the weeds from our field. We are not responsible for the evil of this world, but we likewise cannot preemptively harvest.
Or, even further, that the wheat and the weeds are not just human beings. To expand the notion of children to all of God’s creation, that this wheat-and-weeds includes the actions, moments, or situations in our lives. We know that sickness, death, and harm happen in this world, sometimes seemingly at random. We ask God why it’s allowed to happen, why would a God who loves us make someone sick or allow our loved ones to die. Yet, we see that God has not sown those seeds. The evil one has come, sowing seeds of injury or of discord, and we don’t even have the privilege of distinguishing the differences in its early germination.
Evil is inevitable. We must live alongside it.
We might rest in the knowledge that it is when we return to God’s kingdom in the harvest, the wheat and the weeds will be made separate. It might be helpful to focus on the end, on the comeuppance of the text – that the bad seed, now grown to full weeds at harvest time, will be gathered and burned. Yet the parable is far, far from the harvest, and the growing season is long – the life of the wheat, too. Just as we consider the movement of our own lives, we shouldn’t rush to suggest that all will be figured out at the end of the story. We have to lean into the complicated, messy part of the growing season. Instead, our parable suggests, it’s important to focus on the present, that the wheat and the sowers have to focus on the growth of all, and living in the midst of that. That yes, we know what will come, but we have to focus on our growth – not letting ourselves be uprooted by the messiness of sin or the fear of death – but instead existing within and among, allowing ourselves to grow and be at peace in that process.
The parable is highlighting that it is not about the threat of the weeds – the threat of sin in our lives and in our world – but it’s about how we handle it. How do we react when things go poorly, when sin comes into our lives?
It’s as Paul reminds us, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
When Paul says, “live according to the flesh,” he is referring to choices in sin, and sin being ways in which we separate ourselves from God and God’s plan for us. When we choose to do things we know will hurt our neighbors, friends, loved ones, or ourselves. When we know it will keep us from God. When Paul refers to death, he means a death that is of our Spirit, of our relationship to God, and of the promise of the good things God has planned for us. If we, then, live according to a relationship with God through prayer – which can be messy, and difficult, and confusing, but also so raw and real and good – and of service to the people around us, we will be given the reward of the good things God has promised to us, including the promise of freedom from suffering and of eternal life.
To be reminded of the greater part of God’s plan for us is our greatest pleasure. Sure, we might find comfort in the things that are easy, and fall into the temptation of earthly satisfactions, but our reward comes as we remember to pray and love our neighbor through word and deed. To sow the seeds of wheat, and to be the wheat that God has planted.