Romans 8. 12 – 25

Matthew 13. 24 – 30

Fr Alex


A parable for all the gardeners in the congregation this morning, as Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven in terms of wheat and weeds. 

The more permissive gardeners among us might let the odd weed come up from time to time.  This spring I let lots of poppies come up through the cracks in the paths around the house, and they’ve been lovely.  The bees have certainly been very grateful.

It’s said that a weed is simply “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.”  They’re usually pretty harmless, and can often be quite beautiful.  But the weeds that Jesus refers to today – known in other translations as ‘tares’ – are a different kind of weed altogether.

Their roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up nutrients and precious water, so that it’s impossible to drag them up without damaging the crop.

They look identical to wheat until they begin to bear seeds; but those seeds couldn’t be more different from wheat.  They can cause hallucinations and even death.

And it’s no surprise Jesus uses this kind of image.  Repeatedly in the Gospel Jesus warns against “false messiahs and false prophets” – people who seem to be of God, but end up leading people astray.

And just before he tells this parable, the Pharisees try to trick him and begin their plot to destroy him.  They look like true leaders, but they are as false and deadly as the weeds of the parable.

And so this parable reads as a kind of illustration of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus comes to the earth, his field, and sows the seeds of the kingdom wherever he goes.  But at the same time his enemies are planting the seeds of division and doubt, plotting his destruction and trying to undo all his good work.

When the disciples see this, they react just as the workers in the parable.  “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?”  Think of James and John wanting to “call down fire from heaven” to consume the Samaritan village that rejects Jesus.  Or Peter taking up his sword and fighting to defend Jesus in the garden before his arrest.

This is the kind of attitude that Christians have had throughout the ages, from the Crusades to the persecutions of the Reformation – to seek out the evil and destroy it themselves.

But, as with the master in the parable, so in his ministry Jesus models a different and unexpected way.  When the workers offer to go out and tear up the weeds, the master says “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

Once again we see Jesus defying expectations.  He is working to bring in God’s kingdom.  But instead of calling his followers to rise up, to replace the faith leadership and kick out the oppressive Romans – he waits.

And on the cross, we see the consequences.  By waiting for the harvest, allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together rather than sorting it out himself, Jesus suffers and dies.

The disciples found this patient forbearance extremely challenging and frustrating.  And we might feel the same – because this parable is a great challenge to those who would work with Jesus in bringing in his kingdom.

The world is not yet the perfect kingdom we might wish it to be.  Jesus tells us today that it is a kingdom of wheat and weeds.  We don’t know, this side of heaven, who are the wheat and who are the weeds; they look the same, until at the judgement it can be seen who has borne fruit.

And the challenge for us is to live in this difficult and dangerous kingdom with the same patient forbearance as Jesus shows us.  Not to rush to judgement ourselves, to decide who is wrong, and who is right.

Today’s society is so quick to cancel and exclude those it deems to be undesirable.  Working with Jesus for this kingdom means modelling a different way; a more patient and generous way.

And it runs deeper than that.  It also means being more patient and generous with ourselves.  Each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed, of holy and unholy, of potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.

And like the plants in the field, it’s really difficult or even impossible to tear out those weeds – they are part of us, part of what makes us who we are, whether we like it or not.

Ultimately, the great challenge of this parable is to learn to trust God.  To trust that, no matter the situation, God has the power to sort it out.  To trust that God will sort us out too, in the end; that he is continuing his work of perfection in us, as we walk with him in faith; and in the fulness of time, we will be gathered into his barn.

Jesus in his patient suffering and in his death shows us the power of that trust; the resurrection is the proof that that trust gives us the power to overcome the difficulties and dangers of living in this kingdom of wheat and weeds.

But of course, we don’t just sit back and wait for all of this to happen.  The call to trust is active, not passive: to follow where God is leading us.  And, like good gardeners, to be attentive to those parts of our lives that might be slowly sprouting into weeds; and to tend with patience the potential for holiness within ourselves.

What can we do to encourage the growth of holiness in our lives?  What are the parts of ourselves or our relationships that we have neglected for too long – that we have allowed to grow weedy and fruitless?  What can we do to strengthen our trust in God, and our faithfulness to him?