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As humans, we find it difficult to reconcile the existence of an omnipotent (he is all-powerful), omniscient (he knows everything), omnipresent (he is present everywhere) and omnibenevolent (he only does things that are good) God with the existence of evil. On any given day, someone is shot down by a criminal, someone is (accidentally) maimed by a drunk driver, and someone is killed in a terrorist attack. Evil runs rampant in our world—but why?
Jesus addresses this question through this week’s parable.
Often, we try to simplify this parable into seven words: “the devil is responsible for all evil.” Not only does this conclusion attribute too much power to the devil, but also it keeps us from understanding the deeper meaning of this parable!
When you read the scripture today, focus first on the character of God. What does the sower see? What does the sower do? How does the sower react? Don’t let yourself be distracted by the workers or the enemy: focus on the character of the sower.
There are many interesting things going on in this parable—were you able to focus on the sower?
In this parable, the character of God is portrayed through a man who sows good seed (wheat seed) in his field. However, while his workers sleep, an enemy comes and sows weed amongst the good seeds. For a while, the workers are unable to tell the difference between this good seed and the weeds—why?
It turns out that the word Jesus uses for weed (in Greek, ζιζάνια) refers to darnel, a weed that looks exactly like wheat in the early stages of development. Even darnel seeds look identical to wheat seeds!
Today, we have developed machines that are able to distinguish the two. However, in Jesus’ time the only way to differentiate the two was to wait until harvest time. As wheat develops, it turns brown and its top folds over. However, darnel turns black and its tip stands straight up. As wheat and darnel develop, it becomes easier to tell the two apart.
Unlike crabgrass or dandelions, darnel is actually toxic to human beings. The word “darnel” actually comes from the French word for “drunkenness.” This is because poisoned individuals exhibit symptoms akin to drunkenness—they struggle to speak, walk, and think. They often throw up.
Unlike wheat, which sustains life, darnel has the potential to destroy life.
This is why the workers are so concerned.
“Didn’t you sow good seed in this field?” They ask their master.
Unlike the workers, however, the master knows exactly what happened.
“An enemy did this,” He tells the workers.
“Ah,” The workers say. They understand this situation and they think they know the next step. “So we’ll just pull the weeds, then.”
The sower stops them.
“Wait until harvest,” He orders.
Although it isn’t visible from the surface, the roots of the darnel become entwined with the roots of the wheat. The sower knows that if his workers pull out the darnel, they may uproot the wheat along with it. And the sower isn’t willing to take this risk.
So he instructs his workers to care for and harvest both the darnel and the wheat.
However, the sower does not plan to treat the darnel and wheat indiscriminately after the harvest.
“When harvest comes, gather the weeds, bind them, and burn them,” he instructs the workers.
What does this tell us about the character of God?
As we already know, Jesus has faced a great deal of rejection in the chapters before this passage. He was rejected by the religious leaders, by his hometown, and by his family. Even John found himself doubting Jesus.
Why did the people doubt?
People expected certain things of their Messiah. The prophets and the scriptures had taught that when the Messiah came, he would destroy the wicked and break the yoke of the oppressor. John even claimed that the coming Messiah would “baptize [people] with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11)!
However, when Jesus came, sinners continued to sin and oppressors continued to oppress. What’s more, Jesus didn’t strike down these sinners and oppressors—he spoke with them and ate at their houses! What kind of Messiah was this?
Like the workers in this parable, the Jewish people assumed that the Messiah would come and “de-weed” the fields. He would remove the noxious darnel and nourish only the life-giving wheat. However, Jesus seemed to be doing no such thing! In fact, according to the religious leaders, Jesus couldn’t even tell sinners apart from saints (Luke 7:39)!
Through this parable, then, Jesus is explaining to contemporary audiences (as well as to audiences throughout history) why it is that even after he—the all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent God—became manifest in human form, people continued to murder, perform acts of hedonistic negligence, and terrorize innocent human beings.
The first thing that Jesus makes clear in his parable is that God is much more aware of evil than we are. Although the servants are unaware that weed has been sown in their fields, the sower is fully aware. When the servants come to him, the sower not only knows that there is weed; he knows why the weed is there. Likewise, we might be completely unaware of the darkness that lies in the heart of another. When this darkness reveals itself, then, we may feel startled and betrayed. God, however, is neither; he knew that the darkness was there all along.
God knows the difference between the wheat and the weeds.
Why, then, doesn’t God step in and destroy the weeds? Why does he instead choose to treat the weeds like wheat (and instruct his workers to do the same)?
God knows that if the weeds are uprooted, the wheat will be damaged in the process. Of course, some wheat will be not be affected by the uprooting of the weeds. However, we know from Luke 15:3-7 and Luke 15:8-10 that God will not allow even one shaft of wheat to be lost. He loves his children. As Jesus says in John 6:39, “I shall lose none of those whom he has given me.”
For the sake of the wheat, then, God cares for the weed.
It is important to remember that we are not the sower. We don’t know whether a person is wheat or weed—and God does not invite us to make this judgement. Instead, we are commanded to follow Jesus’ example in showing God’s love to everyone—even to those whom we believe are weeds.
If our brothers and sisters throughout church history have taught us anything, it is that we will almost always judge others incorrectly. Sometimes those who we think are weeds actually turn out to be wheat and those whom we think are wheat are actually weeds. There have been accomplices to murder who, upon receiving Christ, became giants in the faith (Paul, for example.) In addition, there have been well respected Christians who have scandalized the world by using the faith to cover (or even advance) their own heinous desires.
“But if the weeds continue to grow among the wheat, then won’t the wheat suffer?” We may ask.
“Of course,” Jesus may then respond. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
We spend all our time demanding that God pull out the weeds so that we may flourish—but if God were to pull out these weeds, we might find ourselves uprooted! Instead, we should give thanks in the midst of suffering, since we know that he allows this short period of suffering for the sake of our eternal flourishing.
One day, everything will be harvested and the weeds will be separated from the wheat. The Nicene Creed tells us that on this day, Jesus will return to earth and judge both the living and the dead. On this day, the weeds will be tossed into a fiery furnace filled with weeping and gashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42)—and the wheat will shine like the sun (Matthew 13:43).