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PROPER11 Thistles Among The Wheat

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Proper 11

Pentecost 9

Ordinary Time 16

5. Thistles Among The Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven

may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

25but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds

among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came

up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the

slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you

not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds

come from?' 28He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' 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.'"

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his

disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of

the weeds of the field." 37He answered, "The one who sows the

good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the

good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the

children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the

devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are

angels. 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. Let anyone

with ears listen!"

The parable of the weeds and wheat is intriguing. It raises

a number of issues that are complex and can be confusing. Some

resolutions of the issues are suggested while for others you need

to look elsewhere for more adequate explanations. Some

differences are found within the parable itself and the

interpretation given to the disciples.

One of the issues is the question about the nature of the

church. Does this parable apply to the church as part of the

kingdom of God? If so, is the church a divine or a human

institution? How should the church deal with differences and

dissent among its members? Should a person ever be excluded from

membership in the church? What kind, if any, of discipline

should the church exercise? If so, when, why and how? Is the

church intended to be inclusive so that it encompasses anyone who

wants to belong? Or is the church exclusive, so that certain

conditions are established for entrance into and continuing in

membership in the church? It is the issue posed by Troeltsch in

his description of the church as inclusive or the sect as

exclusive. Which should be the true form of the church?

Another broad issue raised by the interpretation of the

parable is the presence of evil in the church and in the world.

Should the church advocate the eradication of the evil by

destroying the perpetrators of evil? What is the role of the

church in supporting attempts to remove the evil? It even raises

the question of why a good and powerful God permits evil to

persist in the world. Can we trust that God will ultimately

overcome all evil? If so, when and how will that happen? How

should the church and Christians behave toward the evil in the

world during the interim until God brings the end of history,

especially when evil seems to be overwhelming the good?



The parable is one of three in the current series, all

having a similar purpose in understanding the nature of the

kingdom of heaven.

Context of Matthew 13

Three parables from an agricultural setting are given in

succession in Matthew 13: the parable of the seeds and the sower

for the previous Sunday, the parable of the weeds and wheat for

this Sunday, and the parable of the mustard seed which interrupts

the flow from this Sunday's parable and its interpretation in

verses 36-43. Three additional parables are found in Matthew 13.

They will be the Gospel reading for Pentecost 10.

Context of the Lectionary Lesson

The First Lesson. (Genesis 28:10-19a) Jacob is in flight

after having tricked his brother Esau into giving him the

inheritance in exchange for a mess of pottage. As he sleeps at

night he has a dream of God's messengers ascending and descending

from heaven. In the dream he gains assurance that he is in the

line of Abraham and will be the recipient of the promise of his

covenant. When he awakes he memorializes the place and calls it

Bethel, the house of God.

The Second Lesson. (Romans 8:12-25) This lesson deals with

the universal need for deliverance from sin. Those who accept

God's deliverance will be his heirs. The Gospel account waits

for the harvest. This passage waits with hope for a full

deliverance of all creation.

Gospel. (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43) The parable uses a story

about weeds in the midst of wheat and Jesus' interpretation of it

to the disciples. He deals with the issue of evil in the midst of

the world and the church. It addresses God's prerogative in

dealing with the eventual elimination of the evil.


Psalm. (Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24) The psalmist acknowledges

that nothing can be kept hidden from God. God knows our

innermost being. Though Jacob could flee from his brother Esau

in the first lesson, the psalmist asserts that it is not possible

to flee from God. Jacob in his flight also did not escape from

God's presence. The psalmist concludes by praying for God to

examine him and to lead him in the way everlasting.

Context of Related Scriptures

Daniel 12:3 Ä An earlier use of the expression "then the

righteous will shine."

2 Esdras 7:36 Ä Mention of the furnace of fire.

Matthew 3:12 Ä Another instance of gathering the wheat into

the granary and winnowing the chaff with fire.

Matthew 18:15-20 Ä The process for dealing with sin within

the church.

Matthew 28:20 Ä A favorite phrase of Matthew about "the end

of the age."

Mark 4:26-29 Ä Has some parallel ideas of wheat growing and

harvested, but without the weeds growing in the midst.

Precis of the Parable

The parable tells of an incident that would be familiar to

those who heard it. In a society which was basically rural and

agriculturally related in character, the growth of weeds in the

midst of a grain field would be common. Weeds growing in a field

of wheat can still be seen where farmers do not use herbicides.

Some commentators raise the question as to whether the

parable is a variant of the parable recorded in Mark 4:26-29

since the parable only appears in Matthew. In Mark's parable the

point is that God gives the increase which results in a fruitful

harvest. Perhaps Matthew expanded on the parable to explain the

experience of the early church when it became evident that not

everyone in the church acted purely.


A somewhat different emphasis is given in the interpretation

in verses 36 to 43. Many commentators are inclined to believe

that this interpretation did not come from Jesus. It seems to

have more linguistic characteristics from Matthew than from the

sayings of Jesus recorded elsewhere. The commentators speculate

that the interpretation which seems to shift the locus of the

field from the church to the world and introduces a second sower

who accounts for the weeds as a deliberate act represents the

experience of the later church.

Thesis: God is the judge of what is ultimately good and


Theme: The experience of evil and good in history is

ambiguous. Human perceptions of what is real and what appears as

evil are not certain.

Key Words of the Parable

1. "Asleep." (v. 25) This term may be an echo of Mark 4:27.

In both instances the growth took place while persons slept, so

they cannot take full credit for the harvest. In the final

analysis it is the work of God.

2. "Enemy." (v. 25) The interpretation in v. 39 describes

the enemy as the devil.

3. "Weeds." (v. 25) The weeds were darnel (lolium

termulentum). When they grew up they had a similar appearance to

wheat, though they were slightly darker in color. They did grow

as tall as wheat. Their seed was poisonous. Rabbis considered

them as a perverted form of wheat.

4. "Slaves." (v. 28) Probably the disciples if from Jesus,

or, if from Matthew, others in the later church who wanted to

purge the church of all whom they considered unfaithful.


5. "Let them grow together." (v. 30) This is the main

point of the parable. It calls for a measure of tolerance for

sinners in the church, and later, as part of the interpretation,

in the world.

6. "Weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned." (v.

30) An image of the last judgment. God had promised after the

Noah experience not to destroy the world by flood. In the New

Testament period, the final judgment was anticipated to be

accompanied with destruction by fire. See, for example, 2 Peter


7. "Then he left the crowds." (v. 36) The interpretation

was not given to the multitudes but only to the inner circle of


8. "The Son of Man." (v. 37) The term sometimes referred

simply to a person when used with the indefinite article, "a son

of man." In this case where the definitive article was used, it

denotes the title of the apocalyptic figure associated with the

final outcome of history.

9. "The field." (v. 38) The figure is of a global nature,

not the "world" as sometimes used in a missionary sense.

10. "Children of the evil one." (v. 38) Some commentators

think this is a harsh judgment of the Jews.

11. "Evildoers." (v. 41) Literally from the Greek "doers

of lawlessness."

12. "Weeping and gnashing of teeth." (v. 42) Except for a

use in Luke 13:28, the phrase seems to be used only in Matthew.

It appears elsewhere in Matthew 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30,

always as a transhistorical event.




1. The Age of Redemption vs. Judgment. Jesus came as an

agent of redemption. His message was one of repentance, grace,

and forgiveness. Only at the "end of the age" would Christ be an

agent of judgment. Now in history is the opportunity to avert

the consequences of judgment and to prepare to participate in the

full glory of the heavenly kingdom when it is revealed in its


2. The Way of Invitation. The method Jesus used and to

which he called his disciples was that of inviting all people to

enter the kingdom of heaven. It is not the way of coercion,

forceful conversion, or the destruction of those who decline the

invitation or oppose the kingdom. Instead it is to woo them by

the attractive power of the kingdom and to warn them of the death

to which they are tending when they refuse the invitation.

3. Confidence in the outcome of history. The parable

manifests a confidence about the working of God's kingdom in

history. If the seed is sown, we can be confident that it will

germinate without our having to force it. It will produce fruit

and the harvest will come. We are not the servants who are to

try to sort out the ambiguities of good and evil in history.

Rather we are to sow the seed and wait in confidence that the

harvest will come, that the good will endure beyond the fruits of


4. Evil is found in the world. Dante in his Divine Comedy

says the evil is an absence, excess, or distortion of a good. In

a world created by God anything that is absolutely or totally

evil could not be allowed to exist. Nevertheless, evil is real

and we need to contend with it. We need to recover the good

intended by the Creator from the evil. In the world and in

history, evil exists and we need to participate both in the

struggle to overcome it and to discover the good that lies beyond

the evil. We do so in the faith that the good is more enduring

than the evil because God is both good and powerful.


5. The Field is the World. "America: Love it or Leave it,"

"They ought to go back where they came from" and "Yankee go home"

are slogans often heard when persons do not agree with someone

who speaks out against an injustice or an evil. The kingdom of

heaven is not restricted by political boundaries set up by human

institutions. The call to sow the seed is to go into all the

world, to all of God's creation. It is all God's domain, and if

we are members of his kingdom and are to sow the seed in

faithfulness, our vision and our terrain is global in reach.

Homily Hints

1. Hope of Harvest. The parable offers an opportunity to

consider the evangelism process, whether it is within the church

family or as a mission outreach.

A. The Seed is Sown. What is the message of the gospel that

needs to be given to people?

B. The Seed Grows. How does the church nurture the seed,

but how do you let it happen without intervention?

C. The Harvest Comes. To what degree does the church screen

out who becomes members and to what degree does the church accept

members with the final judgment in God's hands?

2. The Kingdom Conquers Evil. People need hope in facing

the mixture of good and evil.

A. Evils in the World.

B. Good in the World.

C. God Assures the Greater Good.

3. Evil is Self-Destructive. Here deal with why we should

participate in the good and refrain from the evil.

A. Evil is Counteractive. Evil has no center of energy, no

organizing principle. Instead, various evils act against each

other in chaos that is self-destructive.


B. Good is Cumulative. Because God gives a center to good

actions, they reinforce each other in a harmony of order. This

means the power of a good increases the power of other goods and

then in turn is increased by them also.

C. History Moves Toward Good Ends. Despite the apparently

overwhelming evils of the moment, evil is transitory; only the

good persists.

4. The Church's Responsibility for the World.

A. When are we Responsible for the World?

B. When do we Leave the World to God?

C. Tolerance for Some Mix of Good and Evil.

5. The Deceptive Nature of Evil. Just as the weeds at times

look like wheat, so some evils are attractive because they look

like a good.

A. The Deceptive Nature of Drugs. Why do people think drugs

are good? What are the misleading aspects of them?

B. The Deception of Sex. Why is something as good as sex

and as necessary for the future of the race so wrong when

practiced promiscuously?

C. The Deception of Wealth. When does the pursuit of wealth

become an evil?


Points of Contact

1. The Weeds in the Christian. We all have biological urges

which help to maintain life and make us survivors. Yet the

greatest good can become a great evil. For example, the sexual

drive which helps to assure the survival of the race can lead to

the most intimate and loving relationship between two people and

lead to a caring, nurturing family. Yet the abuse of sex can

lead to the most bitter relationships if fulfillment of the drive

is perverted or abused. Crimes of passion are some of the most



2. Weeds in the World. A frequent puzzle for people is why

good does not always seem to happen to people of faith while

others seem to escape unscathed. People ask, why do I or a loved

one suffer an incurable disease or a fatal accident? They need

to prepare for the suffering of disease or a natural disaster,

not only at the time when it occurs, but ahead of such events.

3. The Mystery of Growth. In the spring of the year what

appears to be dead comes to new life. The work of the Holy

Spirit operates in a similar way in the life of people. It is

always something of a mystery as to how and when people are

aroused to faith. We can work at teaching and preaching, yet

people do not automatically respond. It is often surprising when

some people seem suddenly to respond and begin to show unexpected


4. The Illusion of Good and Evil. Our judgments of people

can be fallible. Our knowledge of how people turn out and what

brings change is faulty. Who would have thought that Saul when

persecuting the church would become Paul, the greatest missionary

in spreading the church to the Gentile world and leaving a body

of literature to guide the church for future generations? If we

call for the death of some person because of the appearance of

evil, how do we know whether we will prevent the ministry of a

significant agent for accomplishing God's will? We need a

tolerance for the growth of the weeds and the wheat together

because we cannot always know in the final analysis which is


Points to Ponder

1. Church Discipline. When, why, and how does the church

exercise discipline? Three reasons are often given for

disciplining church members: 1. To redeem the sinners. 2. To

keep the church from being infected by the example of the sinner.

3. To protect the reputation of the church in the world. If the

prime reasons become two and three instead of one, discipline

easily becomes punitive instead of redemptive. If no discipline

is exercised, it appears that the church is indifferent toward

sin. How do


you maintain the purity of the church and still allow for that

sin that befalls all of us at times?

2. What are the Limits of Means to Oppose Evil? Are some

means of eliminating evil also evil? Can we ever use evil means

to cast out evil? When do we become guilty of playing God if we

try to eradicate evil by destroying the evildoer? Do we leave

the outcome of evil in history in God's hands, or do we take some

actions against evil, but refrain from seeking final solutions to

evil in history? When do we set bounds on our actions and leave

the harvest to God's wisdom and power?

3. Are the Weeds Only in the World? Does the parable only

have reference to how we deal with sin inside the church, or does

it have reference to the world and the church? If it only has

reference to the church, or both to the world and the church,

what are the implications for the actions of the church in

toleration of the mixture of weeds and wheat?

4. Our Mission to the World. To what extent should

Christians be involved in trying to deal with evil in the world?

Should the church be engaged in social action: solving problems

of unemployment, homelessness, crime prevention, drug addiction,

overpopulation, and similar issues? Is the church concerned

about the amelioration of evil by minimizing violence, correcting

violations of human rights, eliminating injustice, and working to

avoid environmental degradation? Or is it the church's task only

to preach the gospel and seek the conversion of persons, and to

leave the problems of society to other agencies? Is social

change a hopeless endeavor since evil and sin will continue to

exist along with the good in history?

5. Heresy and Dissent. What is the role of heresy and

dissent in clarifying truth? Have not the disagreements of the

past helped the church to arrive at a better understanding of

Christian doctrine? How do we deal with heresies to use them

constructively for the faith and not destructively?


Illustrative Material

1. The Seed of the Word. Including New Testaments, booklets

and tracts, the American Bible Society (ABS) reported that it

distributed 15,000 pieces to those who survived the midwestern

floods of 1993. They were active from North Dakota to Missouri,

supporting church groups, disaster relief agencies, the Salvation

Army and community groups. The ABS also distributed 21,000

pieces after the January 1994, Los Angeles earthquake.

2. Planting the Seed. In 1994 permission was granted to

evangelical Christians in Iraq to organize Bible studies in the

public schools. The Ministry of Religion also arranged with the

Bible League to receive materials. According to The Church and

The World, 2,000 Bibles were recently shipped to local churches.

3. Eradicating Weeds. In the sixteenth century in the

Netherlands, a church dispute arose. As it became increasingly

severe, two groups separated with each excommunicating the other.

An issue to be settled was the use of the substantial church

building. The two groups finally agreed to build a wall down the

center of the sanctuary. Both parties continued to worship in

the building, but a wall separated them!

4. Separating Weeds and Wheat. Some church groups have

sought to keep a pure church by excommunicating those with whom

they do not agree. In one instance it went to such an extreme

that a leader excommunicated everyone but himself and his wife.

5. A Bad Harvest. In the Middle Ages the Spanish

Inquisition tried desperately to root out all heresy. Many

persons were burned at the stake in so-called auto-de-fes. Some

historians have proposed that after the Inquisition executed many

of the best people the impoverishment of Spain lasted for

centuries and that accounts for its slow progress into a modern



6. Planting Thistles. "The Meanest Man"

He carried thistle seeds in his pocket,

and now and then dropped some on favorable ground Ä

favorable, that is, to his personal dislikes Ä

and pushed them in with his heel.1

7. Choosing the Right Seed. On July 29, 1994, a former

Presbyterian pastor, Paul Jennings Hill, shot abortion doctor

John Bayard Britton and his escort Herman Barrett and wounded

Barrett's wife June in the arm in Pensacola, Florida. A later

report indicated that Paul Hill was in part influenced in his

action by the Rev. David Trosch, a Catholic priest who was

removed from his parish by Mobile Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb

because he was advocating the slaying of abortion doctors. The

priest owns two guns, a .22 pistol and a .20 gauge shotgun. He

has never used them to kill anything other than a bird on one

occasion. The report said, however, that he has weapons that may

be a graver danger than his guns: that is, his mouth and his

clerical collar. The Rev. Trosch earlier had paid to advertise a

cartoon that showed an anti-abortionist shooting an abortion

doctor with the caption "Justifiable Homicide." The Rev. Trosch

is known to have been friendly with Paul Hill after the earlier

shooting of another doctor in Pensacola. Some would hold Trosch

equally responsible for the deaths of Dr. Britton and Herman

Barrett and the wounding of June Barrett.


1Millen Brand, Local Lives, (New York: Clarkson N. Potter,

Inc., 1975), p. 334.


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