Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wheat & weeds: to plant and to nurture?

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while he was sleeping, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.
But when the wheat spouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then to go and gather them up?'
But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares , you may up root the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares ad bind them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30)
A contentious commenter on one of my recent blog postings informed the readers, and me in particular, that in one of Jesus' parables, the servants of the master who had planted wheat did not know the difference between the wheat and the tares and they were therefore obligated to take good care of the tares as well as the wheat. He wrote:
“As Jesus points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, it is not up to the servants to decide before the harvest what is wheat and what is tare, and even at the harvest time, it is not the servants who will separate one from the other. Ours is to plant and to nurture, side by side, that which we think is good and that which we think is bad, because our Lord has told us that we cannot tell the difference.”
Although he did not acknowledge his mistake, which I pointed out, the servants did know, that is why they asked their master if they should pull out the tares (weeds). The reason the master said no is because removal of the weeds, which were probably “darnel,” a poisonous plant related to wheat and virtually indistinguishable from it until the ears form,” would destroy the wheat. As R.T. France states in his Tyndale commentary on Matthew, “In the case of heavy infestation the stronger roots of the darnel would be tangled with those of the wheat, making selective weeding impossible.”[1]

While France sees the contrast of the weeds and the wheat existing between those in the world and the those in the church, Calvin, in his commentary on the gospels, sees the contrast within the church. And Calvin uses this picture of the weeds and the wheat, within the church, as a means of comfort and hope. He also insists that the difference does not have to do with good doctrine or false doctrine but with immorality. As Calvin puts it, “But as soon as Christ has gathered a small flock for himself, many hypocrites mingle with it, persons of immoral lives creep in, nay, many wicked men insinuate themselves; in consequence of which, numerous stains pollute that holy assembly, which Christ has separated for himself.”[2]

On the need to point out false doctrine Calvin writes:

“These terms [tares and wheat] cannot be explained as referring to doctrine, as if the meaning had been that, when the Gospel is sown, it is immediately corrupted and adulterated by wicked inventions; for Christ would never have forbidden them to labor strenuously to purge out that kind of corruption. With respect to morals, those faults of men which cannot be corrected must be endured; but we are not at liberty to extend such a toleration to wicked errors, which corrupt the purity of faith.”

The tares are those who in their unredeemed state become a part of the church and continue in their habitual sin seeing it as a natural thus acceptable condition of humanity. They therefore insist that it is a acceptable condition for Christians. And as for affecting the purity of the church some who are redeemed will, in desperation, using the unredeemed as models, also see some sins as acceptable. And this is why the church must continue to proclaim the whole gospel which includes warnings against “wicked errors.”

As for the hope and comfort of this text it has to do with looking toward that time when the church will no longer struggle in the midst of either their own, as Calvin puts it, “infirmities of the flesh” or the immoralities that invade the church. That is the final day when the redeemed are separated from the unredeemed. That is the only time that the church will exist as a pure church, and the Lord of the church is working in the church preparing it for that day.

But what of the idea that “Ours is to plant and to nurture, side by side, that which we think is good and that which we think is bad, because our Lord has told us that we cannot tell the difference.” The whole idea is false.

First, although God uses Christians as his workers, it is the planting of the Lord. The text tells the reader that it is the landowner who has planted the wheat.

Second, even the Scripture text tells us that the servants saw that the weeds were weeds. And not just any weed but poisonous weeds. We can tell the difference between morality and immorality. Above all, Christians are not in the dark, we have the word of God. “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” (Psalm 119:160)
Third, we are not called to nurture what is bad, but are instead to warn, correct and pull others to safety. I have used this scripture over and over but it is so applicable for today:

But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatch them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 20-23)

The Christian is called to persevere in the midst of troubling times and situations but always with the promise that comes in Jesus' explanation of his parable; “Then the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

[1] R.T. France, Matthew, Tyndale: New Testament Commentaries, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press 1985).

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Picture by Melissa Tregilgas

1 comment:

Jodie said...

Dearest Viola,

You can use my name, you know, if you are going to quote me. Perhaps I have been led a little astray by all the Bible commentaries – some quite prestigious – that focus on the point that you can’t tell wheat from tares, at least not until they start bearing fruit. But you are quite right that in the parable of the wheat and the tares, it is when the fruit makes itself known that the landowner’s slaves become alarmed and offer to remove the tares and clean out the field.

Still they are instructed to continue nurturing the weeds with the wheat, because to try to remove the bad will cause irreparable damage to the good as well. (God himself makes it rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike – Mat 5:45)

Now, is the bad fruit merely immorality? Paul adds to the list of bad fruit such things as “impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these”. Note that strife, disputes, dissentions, and factions are up there with immorality and drunkenness. So that even if you have a case against a brother for his immorality, if you in your zeal to convict him create strife and factions, you are doing the same as he is. You are producing evil fruit and stand to be weeded out at harvest time, just as he.

In my opinion, the situation our church finds itself in is the one Jesus warned us against. Folks are going about trying to remove what they see as “the bad” paying no attention to the fact that by doing so, they are injuring “the good” along with “the bad”, perhaps themselves included, and are going against the very wishes of our Lord and Savior. It’s killing the Church.

This is what needs to stop.

Maybe it’s really a question of culture. We have adopted the conflict ridden culture of our World, attempting to defeat our foes at all cost, becoming One Nation under the god of War, all collateral damage to be ignored. Maybe we should adopt the Kingdom culture of loving our enemies, of doing good to those who wish to do us harm, a culture of forgiveness, reconciliation and nurture. We must purify ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb, not the blood of our vanquished enemies.

So now that I have acknowledged my error, will you address the question the parable really asks of you? Where do you see yourself in the parable?

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA