The Kingdom Underground: Weeds

A response to the "small group questions" for the 17 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

[...]

Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

“Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Even our pastor struggled to pronounce "wheat" and "weeds" distinctly and correctly during his preaching. For the curious, the word used for "wheat" is σῖτον (siton) and the word used for "weeds" is ζιζάνια (zizania). If only christ had been more cognizant of potential tongue twisters when his words would be translated into English.

What color is your thumb? As we come to Spring, and as we come to this passage today, discuss your own experience with gardening or farming.

Um... I'm bad at it. It speaks to a larger problem I have with forming good habits, which I suppose is part of the exhortation we've received from the messages over the past few months; so that's fair enough.

This is another passage where Jesus appears realistic (pessimistic?) about the state of His church. Are you personally prone to optimism or pessimism when it comes to the state of global Christianity? Why?

No question is ever simple for me, is it? Here, the question of my assessment of the state of global Christianity is mixed up with my ongoing, long-term meditation on my personal escatology, prompted largely by my encounter several years ago with An Evening of Escatology, a round-table discussion between respected Reformed theologians debating their respective escatalogical positions. In watching this I found the post-millennial view most resonant with my experience, and as part of that viewpoint it seems to me that the church is ever-growing, ever-increasing in glory to God. Limited perspectives on the health of the church, in our very recent past intersected with our very-limited western/European/North American context, leads some to believe otherwise; but I believe that we both under-estimate the impact that Christ and his church are having in parts of the world that we pretentiously dismiss and that we under-estimate how different life is in the church age with the state of the world before Christ.

This might be a good place to bring up one of my problems with the message, which is triggered in today's benedictory exhortation to "be the wheat." Christ makes clear in the passage that we are not the wheat but the seed, planted in the world. It's part of my longstanding caution against interpretations that encourage pride. We are not the fruit; the fruit is the glory of God. Anything that does not glorify God will be removed, and the world--the field--will be redeemed.

If you were to try to summarize this parable into one sentence, what is the meaning of this parable?

Wait patiently for the LORD. [3]

Thinking parabolically [ed: even I don't know what is meant by this, and I'm a pretentious big-word person], if the workers can't "pluck the weeds" what can they do in the garden that would be helpful? What would be the equivalent in the real world?

Again, I think this begs the question of whether we are the workers in the field. We are not, and we are not called to separate the wheat from the chaff. The angels are the harvesters; we are not responsible for the harvest; we are the seed. The carriers of the gospel. Trying to come up with something "helpful" to do misses the entire point of the passage. We are to trust the lord, and wait patiently for him, both us and the angels. We carry the gospel; we don't tend the field.

How does this parable help (or not help) to understand the problem of evil in the world?

It's an interesting story in this context, because it counters a strictly Reformed view of the soverignty of God. [4] Here, Christ identifies the source of the weeds as the work of "an enemy," the devil. I tend to go to Romans 8, believing that "what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." [5] But further than that, this passage teaches that the weeds are allowed to persist to maximize the ultimate glory of God. Peter taught that the work that God is doing through Christ and the holy spirit is so great that even the angels marvel at it. [6]

How do you react when it comes to the idea of a final judgement? embarrassed, eager, denying or something else? Why do you react that way?

I think it's easy to shy away from the idea of a final judgment because we're used to imperfect judges; but if we have faith in God through Christ we can trust that the final judgment will be wholly just, wholly gracious, wholly merciful, and wholly good. Where we run into trouble is where we start trying to put ourselves in God's place, being judges now of the future children of God. But, again, we are not the judge, nor the harvester, but the seed. We should not be jealous because of his kindness to others. [7]

What does this passage make you think you should do or change about your own following of Jesus?

Clearly I have conformed the meaning of this message to my own pre-existing understanding of the scripture; so at least in this instance I have received mostly an exhortation to patiently wait on God, to conform my life to Christ, and to be a branch that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [8] I don’t mean to say that I perfectly (or even reliably) embody the spirit in this way; but this is where I am facing, and where--by Christ's grace--I am being led. [9]

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Weeds
[2] Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
[3] Psalm 27
[4] Sovereignty of God in Christianity (Wikipedia)
[5] Romans 8:18-30
[6] 1 Peter 1:10-12
[7] Matthew 20:1-16
[8] Galatians 5:19-23
[9] Philippians 3:1-14