Of the Wheat or the Weed?
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away…The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. -Matthew 13:24–30, 40–43
As we approach late July, the crops are just above knee high. It won’t be long before the combines are in the fields for the harvest. Around my house, with an agricultural engineer of a husband and two future farmers for children, harvest season is one of the highlights of the year. Many nights, the three of them will take a ride to the nearest field to watch this cumbersome piece of machinery somewhat paradoxically glide through the field, effortlessly separating the crop from the chaff and the weeds.
Although the modern engineering marvels of 21st century farming were not even conceivable in the time of Jesus, the problem of managing and separating unwanted vegetation from the desired yield was there. And the analogy used in the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds – the harvest of crops for the harvest of humanity - remains a powerful one.
At first reading, this parable appears to be one of the more difficult to reconcile with a God of grace and forgiveness. These words of Jesus seem to instead point to an exclusionary God and predestination. From the beginning, those destined to be thrown into the furnace of fire – the weeds – are determined. It’s even in the genetic make-up of the seed itself. And while it is not possible to separate the bad from the good during the summer growing season, this is the fate at harvest. In this reading, a weed is a weed and the wheat is the wheat. Perhaps, this is in fact the way the text is meant to be understood.
But there remain perplexing questions with such a straightforward reading. While we can look at a field and easily see which plants are desirable and which are not, we cannot do the same with people.
One cannot look at another person, no matter how much we may think we can, and judge whether that person is purely good or purely evil. The same, arguably, could be said about the actions of another. How does anyone know who was planted by whom? (And how easily can assuming lead us down a path of judgment of others?) Who among us would not assume to be of the righteous wheat? (Clearly it is the “others” who are among the weeds to be separated, right?) But also who among us is without sin? Who among us is purely good and not in need God’s grace for our shortcomings? (Surely it couldn’t be that we are of the weeds, could it?)
With this straightforward reading – this either/or of the wheat or the weeds - there seems to be little room for redemption, forgiveness of sins, and grace. There seems to be little room for Jesus.
But, what if we are both? What if instead we are the wheat and the weeds?
Could it be that each one of us is an entire field made up of both the good wheat and the evil weed? Could this parable work to remind us to recognize the weeds in our own field? And could the harvest be more about the purging of sin from ourselves?
May we rest our hope in the belief that a generous farmer is at work in each of us, and upon seeing our fields of wheat and weed, looks forward still to a bountiful yield.
Discussion Questions: How is the parable of the wheat and the weeds at odds with the sinner and the saint in all of us? Where do you see yourself in this parable?
See more devotions from Holli and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.