On 07/17/2011, I was again honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO. With a focus on the Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30/36-43, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
36Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Pastor probably already mentioned that the 13th Chapter of Matthew is a chapter of parables – seven of them: The Parable of the Sower; The Parable of the Weeds; The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast; The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl; and The Parable of the Net. Our Lord Jesus called them “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.
These parables, according to Scofield’s Reference Notes, “describe the result of the presence of the Gospel in the world during the present age, that is, the time of seed sowing which began with our Lord’s personal ministry, and ends with the ‘harvest’.”
Mark and Luke have their own, more concise, versions of the 13th Chapter. The 8th Chapter of Mark and the 4th Chapter of Luke share some of the same parables. Those Books included two additional parables that were not included in the 13th Chapter of Matthew: The Parable of the Revealed Light and The Parable of the Fruitful Earth. I count 9 in total.
At this time in His ministry, Jesus is traveling and ministering in Galilee. These parables were spoken on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and this teaching takes place between the 2nd and 3rd Passover Feasts of His ministry. More than ‘The Twelve’ were regularly traveling with Him, and the Gospel of Luke goes so far as to list three of the women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.
The Chapter begins with Jesus leaving the house and sitting by ‘the lake’. He then boarded ‘a boat’ to be heard by the large crowd that had gathered. In other versions of The Bible, ‘the lake’ is ‘the sea’ (The Sea of Galilee) and ‘a boat’ is ‘a ship’. I wondered whose house he had left, and found in my readings, that it was the house of Peter.
In my last sermon, I calculated that Peter was speaking to at least 3001 people at the Pentecost of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we could probably surmise that a similar or larger crowd would gather to hear Jesus’ words – especially this far into His divine ministry. Several times throughout His ministry, Jesus boarded a boat (or a ship) to better be heard by the crowds. I’ve read of natural amphitheaters along the sea in Galilee that would amplify Jesus voice to be heard by the thousands gathered.
What kind of people do you think were in this crowd? Pharisees? Sadducees? Wealthy landowners? Military men? Probably not many. The crowd was likely made up of peasants, workers, slaves, small farmers, merchants, and entertainers. However, our story today is based around the activities of a wealthy landowner.
He had fields and barns; he had slaves, servants and harvesters. He had a lot of land and was likely very wealthy.
And…he sowed some seeds.
Now, I’m not a wealthy owner of fields, and the only garden I have is one of those upside-down tomato plants. But, I’ve sure spread my share of grass seed around the yard, and I’ve seen exactly the results that Jesus describes in last week’s Parable of the Sower. Some of it fell on the sidewalk, and of course, the Robins ate it. Some fell right next to the driveway, and it grew fast. But it didn’t have room to spread out its roots, so it died. Some fell next to the weeds, and the sun never had a chance to make them grow. And some fell in the front yard on good soil, and grew a beautiful lawn… …this past spring… …but is now arid, dry and dying in the hot summer sun.
I’ve also had a similar horticultural experience to today’s Parable of the Weeds. I think it was in in 2007. I did everything I knew to do. I used a 25-Gallon sprayer on the back of a 4-wheeler to kill the weeds; I waited; I put down the Weed and Feed; I waited; I put down the grass seed; I watered; I watered; and I watered. Then as the summer went along, a beautiful dark green grass spread across the lawn. I watered some more. One of my neighbors commented about how nice the lawn looked. But as time went along, I became unhappy with how the grass grew. It grew sideways across the lawn. It was so thick that I had to keep cutting it higher and higher. It sent shoots over the sidewalks and the driveway. It had ugly seed pods that quickly shot above the growth line of the rest of the grass. I, like the servants, wondered what kind of grass seed I had sown.
I turned to the Master – in this case, the Internet. I pulled up pictures of grass, and quickly found that I was the proud owner of a lawn filled with Crabgrass. For all my 40+ years, I was absolutely sure that Crabgrass was this other horrible thing that I had seen from time to time. I too couldn’t tell the difference between the good grass and the Crabgrass until well after it had grown throughout the lawn.
The positive side of that story?!?! …my neighbor obviously didn’t know it Crabgrass was either.
The weeds of today’s parable are also called “Tares” or darnel (in Latin: Lolium temulentum). It’s a poisonous weed that is actually related to wheat and looks just like wheat in the early stages of its growth. Its poisonous properties are believed to come from a fungus that, when poisoned, gives on a feeling of drunkenness. It can cause death.
Matfran, a Biblical commentator, notes that to sow darnel amongst a person’s wheat was punishable under Roman Law, and this parable may well have been drawn directly from events which were known to most of Jesus’ hearers.
Considering that rival farmers often feuded at the time, it is not surprising that Roman law would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another’s field. If you found an abundance of such weeds in your field, you would certainly suspect your enemy’s hand.
One can easily see that the Wealthy Landowner would blame an enemy. He certainly cannot sell poisonous weeds among his good grain. Let’s not poison our customers, eh.
At this point, it would be very helpful if I were a well-studied Pastor or other theologian that had much much more knowledge of Scripture… …because as I studied for today’s sermon, I came across two different interpretations of The Parable of the Weeds. If I was more learned, I could better discern the correct interpretation and discuss it with you. So indulge me and we’ll review them both, and we can decide for ourselves.
The difference in the interpretations was centered on Jesus’ explanation of today’s parable in verse 38. Specifically verse 38 starts with the words, “the field is the world”.
- Most of the interpretations I reviewed considered ‘the field’ to be the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth – in other words, The Church. It was the seed that God, through Jesus, spread during his ministry on Earth.
- The other interpretation considered ‘the field’ to be, literally, the World.
Well, if ‘the field’ is only those within The Church, then we better start looking at who’s sitting here today, cause we’ve got some weeds within our mix. I immediately thought of Phil… …just kidding.
I could certainly be that weed in our midst. With the thoughts that go through my head regarding Christianity and religion-in-general, I could easily find myself to be judged as a weed if today were the harvest and the end of the age.
Maybe it’s all of us. The Central States Synod of the ELCA certainly may think that all of us here at St. Mark are weeds; the Baptists over the hill may think we are weeds because we don’t practice full immersion baptism; the Catholics may think we are weeds because we don’t engage in priestly confession.
Maybe it’s all of them. I disagree with churches that don’t practice open communion. Does that make them the weed?
Pick any reason or difference between two Christians, two church buildings, or two denominations, and you can call out the other as weeds. The interpretation of the words in verse 38 as ‘the field’ meaning ‘the church’ is as correct as the other, but it sets up an environment where one person or one group might (incorrectly) judge another.
I have to say that I agree more with the second interpretation – that ‘the field’ is, literally, the World. We know that God’s realm, God’s kingdom, and God’s might rules over and includes all of the earth – indeed over all Space and Time. So, when Jesus sowed the seeds, he sowed them throughout the Earth, not just in the burgeoning Christian Church. And, the evil one came in the night and sowed the weeds… ..throughout the Earth.
And for all the time that man and woman shall inhabit the Earth, the weeds sown by the evil one will dwell among us. Or, if we are weeds, we shall dwell among the good seeds sown by Jesus. The Master has chosen to let us be until the time of the harvest.
There is a big omission in the explanation of this parable if you take the good seed versus the tares too literally. Without some serious and quick evolutionary steps, the good seeds cannot turn into the tares, and the tares cannot turn into the good seeds.
But, that is not true for the human race, and that is the part of the parable that Jesus did not explain. Men and women have the unique opportunity to turn away from the evil of being a weed and turn toward the righteousness of being the good seed. In other words, we can become children of the kingdom if we, simply, believe. That’s all we can do is believe. We are still sinners, but, if we believe, the rest is done for us through God’s infinite love and grace. That’s good news.
And, even better news is that through our work here at St. Mark Lutheran Church, we can become a big part of that evolution of turning others from the evil of the weed toward the Kingdom on Earth. And guess what, our part in this transformation is written on the front of our bulletins, and we talk about it every week.
Our mission is to: Celebrate the Word of God and Respond to Human Need.
By celebrating the Word of God and responding to human need, we can be that community of believers that awakens the bad seeds to the truth of God, Jesus and everlasting life. Through our efforts and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be like that light that is shining at the end of the age – a beacon that helps to draw those planted by the evil one to the love and abundance of our one God.