Every Thought Captive

The Slow Work of God: The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

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.”’”

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons 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. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“Take a chill pill.” It’s a phrase I repeated often in my childhood as way to rebuff the immediate and irksome demands of a sibling, friend, and occasionally a parent. The phrase has resurfaced some twenty years later. The context is pretty much the same, however the person making the demands has shifted from peers or parents to my three-year-old. I’ll often use the phrase in the middle of typical three-year-old demand generally culminating in a meltdown. In great parenting fashion I am trying to impress upon my daughter, despite her struggles, to wait and that I will help her soon. Usually, and unfortunately, the request does not work.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is a fairly straightforward text. Jesus describes for the crowd and later interprets for His disciples what the world is like: a coexistence of good and bad until the day of judgement when the Sower, Jesus Christ, will sort things out. Eternal bliss for the good seed, or the sons of the kingdom, and damnation for the sons of the evil one, or the weeds. The sermon outlined comforts the sons and daughters of the kingdom can have in response to this coexistence. We acknowledge that God permits it to happen. The wheat and the weeds living side by side does not surprise God. We can acknowledge that God will use it. God will use this liminal time—from the sowing of the seed to the harvest—as a way to form and grow the good seed as He sees fit. Finally we can acknowledge that God will overcome it. The reality that good and evil coexist is not surprising to any of us either, and often it can feel as though good is always trampled underfoot by evil. However, we can rest assured that God will vindicate the sons and daughters of the kingdom and His own work on judgment day.

Patience seems to be in short supply these days, and yet from the text patience is the demonstrable attribute of the Sower. During this liminal time I think it bears upon us to think deeply about what it means as God’s people to live alongside the sons of the evil one. We should look no further than the Sower Himself in order to understand our responsibility.

As described in the sermon, the weed, or darnel, was a nuisance. This sort of weed was of no good or profitable use, and to sow it was a crime in the Roman Empire. The ability for a fungus to inhabit the grain rendered it toxic if consumed. Sowing the darnel among the good seed was an act of agricultural sabotage by, or understanding this in the grand scheme of Scripture, revenge by the Enemy. Regardless, the Sower’s reception to the bad news and his plan demonstrates patience. Two options lay before the Sower. He understands that with imprudence the good crop will be lost, so the weed must be left alone to coexist with the wheat. This means that the care of the good crop by the fieldworkers will profit the weed as well. Not only the attention, but the resources. Sunlight, good soil, and water are all things that make for a good crop, and the weed enjoys these things too. Since the wheat and the weed are intertwined, their immediate circumstances are as well. If the wheat receives “blessing” such as consistent rain or sunshine, then the weed receives the same blessing. This reminds us of Jesus’s earlier statement in Matthew’s Gospel account, “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). The Sower’s benevolence knows no bounds as both crops receive blessing.

The patience with the weed by the Sower, even attentiveness despite its inherent and evil nature, and in light of Matthew’s earlier statement given its full context, brings us to a critical point in how God’s people are to coexist with the weeds, or the sons of the evil one. God’s people by virtue of being sons and daughters of the kingdom, sown by the Sower, must demonstrate a patience with, and, to go further, love for the sons of the evil one. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 7:15-20) Jesus warns that any tree which does not bear good fruit eventually is thrown into the fire. Taking this into account, to be God’s people, to demonstrate the legitimacy of being part of God’s kingdom, one must show the proper outworking of God’s love in our lives and that is none better demonstrated in patience with the sons of evil. Jesus displays this in His own life with His disciples. Among them is Judas, a son of the evil one, and Jesus shows forbearance with His betrayer. Jesus was able to use Judas for good, despite his evil nature and intentions, for the larger, greater good of redemption.

Why is it important to extrapolate the character of the Sower? Because it’s the nature and character of the Sower that determine the destiny of both seeds. If the Sower were lazy, the destiny of the crop is death. If the Sower is impatient, the crop will not give its full yield. And yet the nature and the character of the Sower in the parable is strikingly different. The Sower is good because He sows good seed; His crop is a reflection of Himself. His work mirrors His nature. But not only that the Sower’s patience and diligence save the good seed from ruin. To hastily remove the weed from the wheat would have ruined the wheat. The Sower was, and still is, patient. As for the weed, its malicious nature runs counter to the Sower’s and so its destiny is the raging inferno. The patience of the Sower serves both as the foil and launching pad for our world and for us.

Stanley Hauerwas notes in his commentary on Matthew that, “The parable of the wheat and the weeds is given to encourage Christians to endure in a world that will not acknowledge the kingdom that has come in Christ.” Hauerwas goes on to say this parable, which clearly gives us a picture of the End, also states the necessity with which the Church is to be patient with sons of the evil one.

The sons and daughters of the kingdom should not be in a hurry. Our world operates with rapid fire. We have a proclivity for the immediate. We are conditioned for it by our very nature, and our modern era plays to it. Simply put, we become quickly hostile when an electronic device or system stalls for more than a few milliseconds or when a stranger is driving slower than necessary in the farthest left-hand lane. Our reactions to any number of situations, with respect to patience, is that we quickly run in and do so violently. We rush to tear down a foe, eliminate a nuisance, or crush any opposition.

Patience places a pause on violence and waits lovingly and works diligently to demonstrate a different reality. This different reality is constructed entirely by God’s own forbearance with a wicked world, and then when the time was right God sent His Son to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4). This reality, and our incorporation into it by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, serves as a launching pad for how God’s people should coexist with the sons of the evil one. Being patient demonstrates that God’s people have a different orientation to their way in the world and that God’s Kingdom is vastly different than anything else out there. What Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has to say is almost a prayer for God’s people as we wait, endure, love, and work between the time of sowing and reaping.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time.”

About the Author

Photograph of Austin Ariail

Austin Ariail

Austin Ariail served as the Director of Children's Ministry at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. He has over 15 years of experience working with children and youth in churches in South Carolina and Texas. He enjoys spending time with his wife and two precious, little girls as well as following South Carolina Gamecock sports.