Weeds or Wheat?
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

I see today’s parable as a kind of overarching description of our entire history and our future as God’s people.  It begins with good seed sowed in the field, the beginning of the journey, right back with Adam and Eve.  Then along comes the evil one and sows the weeds among the good seed, among the wheat.  The journey continues and the influences of evil rise up and change the whole landscape of humanity. 

Our desire is to rip up the weeds, to get rid of their influence among us, to destroy the evil ones with our own hands, wrenching control back for ourselves, so that we can live our lives without them having an influence over us and overpowering us.  But that’s not what the master wants; we are to leave them there, just in case as we rip out the weeds, we destroy some of the good with them.  We must be patient, we must wait for the harvest, that time when the Son of Man will send his angels to reap the harvest, but first they will collect the weeds, bundle them up and burn them in the fiery furnace, and then gather the wheat into the barn.

I was thinking about this whole scenario while I was at the MCG last Friday night and then again last night at Telstra Dome.  Being a St Kilda supporter at a Carlton home game at the MCG it was pretty easy to cast your eyes over the crowd of something like 55,000 people and quite easily pick the saints from the blues supporters.  If you made a decision to separate the two supporter bases you would probably be fairly accurate but there is also a strong chance that in 55,000 you would make some mistakes.  I remember going to a Saints v Port game in Adelaide once and wearing a Port scarf to keep warm and avoid abuse from the huge crowd of Power faithful at Footy Park, if you did a separation that night you would have picked me wrong!  Looks can be deceiving.

It’s pretty hard to tell, just by looking at someone whether they are evil or righteous, what are the criteria that you will judge them by?  I’ve met many a good and ethical atheist in my time, and unfortunately several Christians who could learn a thing or two about good living and ethics from the atheist!  That’s why I think Jesus is warning through the parable that we mere humans don’t have the right to judge each other. 

Sure God gave us the keys to the kingdom of heaven when he told Peter, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  But this isn’t necessarily about ultimate salvation, as we discover in the parable, it will only be at the end times, when the Son of Man returns that the angels will separate the weeds from the wheat, it’s not our decision to make, it is God’s.

Are there any gardeners here today?  I’m sure you would have had the experience of trying to pull out a weed in your garden and had to be very careful not to rip out the good plant that is in the ground right next to it.  I rarely get out into the garden, but when I do I tend to be a bit impatient and I have been known to just grab a handful of weeds and just pull, without much thought to what else I may be destroying in the process.  There have been times when I’ve done some damage to the plants nearby.

Most regular gardeners have a fair idea which plant is which in their own gardens, but when a beginner or a child comes out to help you weed your garden you can’t really be sure that they know the difference between a weed and a plant you’d like to keep unless you watch them very carefully and guide them along the way. 

That’s what Jesus is warning about, we don’t have the qualifications or the authority to weed out what we may think are evil ones or sinners, as it is said, let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.  When the end of time comes, then God will do the separating.

As you know, when I was a bit younger I spent a fair bit of time around grain silos, in that time I learnt to classify the grain, check it for screenings, skinning and count the weed seeds.  Once the grain is harvested it’s much easier to separate the weeds from the wheat.  It happens in part in the harvesting process, with large screens in the headers separating the weed seeds and the smaller grains and only allowing the good stuff to go into the storage bins. 

Once again there is some risk involved, it’s important that the machinery is set up correctly or the operator may be sending good grain out the back onto the ground or be letting too much rubbish into the good grain.

When the truck loaded with grain comes through to the silo a sample is taken and some is put into a machine to shake the sample through a couple of screens.  This again checks for how many weeds and damaged grain have made it through to the truck.  It’s at this point that it’s very easy to differentiate between the weeds and the wheat.  In the bottom of a tray lays the weed seeds, in the area where I was working, rye grass and mustard seeds were the most common, small but easy to identify.

Just like in Jesus’ parable the weeds were there in the paddock with the wheat all along, right through the growing process.  These days with selective herbicides it’s possible to spray a crop to reduce the amount of weeds and with broadacre farming it would be difficult to go around and rip out the weeds by hand, so farming methods have changed, but the concept is still valid.  It is too risky and haphazard to go around ripping out what looks like weeds when the plants are growing, still immature.  It’s only when they are fully grown and ready for harvest that it is feasible to start separating the weeds from the wheat.

Even then it’s up to the one doing the harvesting that has the ability to fine tune the separation process to ensure that the good grains aren’t lost and that no weeds make their way into storage.  The other grains can’t do it; anyone else involved along the way can’t do it, only the one in charge of the harvest has control.

Have you got the picture?  We run the risk of focusing on the negative when we read this parable of worrying about making sure that the weeds are taken out so that all of us good people (the wheat) can thrive and produce a good harvest.  In real life there is a change that isn’t covered in the parable, the weeds can be changed into wheat, and God has the power to forgive, to make the evil ones righteous, through his grace and forgiveness.  If we set about ripping them out before they grow fully, then God loses his opportunity to make the transformation through his Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As one theologian once said, the number one cause of atheism is Christians.

Ultimately it’s up to God when the time for harvest comes, when the Son of Man returns to oversee the harvest.  It’s his decision not ours, but we can be assured in the knowledge that the son of man has come before, and through his unselfish sacrifice has made us righteous before his Father and on that day when he returns you the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father, forever.  Let anyone who has ears listen!

Amen.