He knelt on one knee and narrowed his steely eyes. With a grim but determined gaze he surveyed the broad horizon that lay beyond the fields.
He was deep in thought.
His devoted field hands watched and waited.
The farmer was silent.
This tall, lanky man of the soil, weathered over the years by the unrelenting elements, looked down at the ground and pulled up a solitary plant. Then he again looked up and stared into the distance.
Finally, he spoke.
“An enemy has done this,” he said in a low voice of certainty.
The farmer had planted wheat and had hoped to harvest a good crop. But the enemy had quietly crept in during the dead of night. While the tired laborers slept after planting all day, the evil adversary had sown tares – weeds – among the wheat. Then he had craftily slipped away into the darkness.
After several weeks, as the wheat began to grow, the workers noticed a strange thing. There, growing right alongside the wheat, were weeds! A lot of them.
How could this be?
The foreman came into the farmhouse. “Sir, you better come and look at this.”
“We know the seed you planted was good. You planted in good soil. Now this field is full of weeds.” The foreman’s well-lined face was cast in anguished bewilderment.
“Where did these weeds come from?” he asked in dismay.
The wise farmer knew in an instant. It was the enemy – he had done it.
The workers volunteered to pull up all the weeds. This would aggressively deal with the unwanted infiltration. It would be a decisive defiance of the one who had committed this dastardly midnight deed.
It was the right thing – the only thing – to do. They must have been stunned when the farmer said no.
“If you do,” he explained, “you will also uproot the wheat – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference -they look alike.”
The farmer rose to his feet and faced his workers.
“No, let them both grow together for now. When the harvest time comes, I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds from the wheat. They’ll know what to do. We’ll gather the wheat and put it in the barn. Then I’ll have the harvesters take all the weeds and bundle them up and burn them in the fire.”
With that, the story Jesus told was over.
The crowd was silent.
The looks on his disciples’ faces must have mirrored the puzzlement on those of the farm hands in this parable. Because as soon as Jesus left the multitude and took his disciples “into the house”, they asked him to explain the meaning of the story. Matthew alone records this particular parable in his gospel (Matthew 13: 24-30; 36-43).
Jesus explains it.
He tells them that the field is the world. The good seed “are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels” (Matthew 13: 38, KJV).
When the end of the age comes, Jesus, who is represented here by the farmer and referred to as the Son of Man, “shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire …” (Matthew 13: 41-42, KJV, emphasis added).
This is the great separation – and it shall come.
Some of us might enjoy pulling up a few weeds – now. Battling for social, political and religious reform has been a zealous and time-honored tradition for centuries. Christians and the churches they attend have found no difficulty condemning all that is wrong in the world. Rooting out “all things that offend” in the kingdom of God has been a self-appointed task for many believers. After all, there is much that needs to be set right, much that needs to be changed and much that must be opposed.
The scriptures commend Christian action; courage in the midst of corruption; boldness in the midst of timidity and conscience in the midst of compromise.
For the Christian, there is a God-given charge to keep. In the keeping of it, you and I must be wise as serpents, harmless as doves – and brave as lions.
But in this story, Jesus reminds us that the wheat and the weeds, for now, grow together. This is his plan and his purpose. In every society, in every nation, in every culture; in every church and yes, in every home, weeds will grow. And they will grow alongside the wheat.
They grow too in every heart and in every mind; in every life. None of us escapes it. This is our inner struggle; our constant temptation.
The tension between morality and immorality; between justice and injustice; between good and evil will last until God’s final end game is played out.
Then – and only then – will righteousness finally and forever triumph.
What about those of us who have struggled to grow as wheat amidst the weeds?
What becomes of us in the end?
“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43, KJV).
It ends well.
But for now…