"Wheat Field with Cypresses" (1889) Vincent Van Gogh
The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 13:36-43....
Then 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.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!This parable is part of a collection of three in Matthew's Gospel that are all about waiting. A farmer has to wait for harvest time when he can effectively separate weeds from wheat. Birds have to wait for a tiny mustard seed to grow into a large enough plant for them to be able to nest in its branches. A woman has to wait for yeast to work its expansive effect in dough before she can bake it. Jesus' main point seems to be that if we are part of his kingdom, then we are going to have to wait for some things.
There is a "now" but "not yet" to the kingdom of God. The kingdom can begin now in our lives as we receive Jesus to live in and through us. But the fulfillment of the kingdom, when it will truly be spread to every corner of the earth, when evil will be eradicated, when no one will ever have a stroke, or get sick, or die--that is "not yet". And so we must wait.
While we wait, we inevitably ask questions. These three parables wrestle with three distinct questions. One of them is: why does God allow evil to persist in the world?
The parable of the weeds and the wheat makes the clear point that evil does not come directly from God's hand. God, or in this case, the Son of Man as God's agent, sows good seed in the field of the world. Everything about God's original creation was good.
Then where did evil come from? According to the parable it comes from the devil, the one who sows weeds among the wheat. And how did the devil get to be the devil? He got to be the devil by free choice. God gave free choice to his angels and to human beings. We have the choice to serve God, or not. The teaching of the Bible is that all evil in the world stems from wrong human and angelic choices, either directly or indirectly. As someone once said, "God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves." God permits evil to exist in the world, something he hates, in order to accomplish that which he loves--his creation freely choosing to love him in return.
Alright, so evil exists in the world because God gave us free choice. But why then doesn't God put a stop to evil here and now? The answer of the parable is that if God had the weeds pulled up right now, some of the wheat would be harmed in the process.
The particular weeds Jesus was talking about in this parable were, at a certain stage, indistinguishable from the wheat and often entangled with it. They could only safely be separated from one another at harvest time.
Why doesn't God harvest his wheat and burn up the weeds right now? Human beings, unlike weeds, have free choice. God is continuing to give us the opportunity to freely come to him. As it says in 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
Right now we all have a window of grace opened to us. There will come a time, however, when that window of grace will close. God is like a good teacher. He knows when giving a student another chance at an exam will do some good, and he knows when it won't. There will come a day when the Lord knows that giving us more chances to repent won't do any good. On that day the weeds will be pulled up and burned in the fire. And in that day the righteous will shine like the sun.
C. S. Lewis once said in a sermon,
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. (The Weight of Glory)
Which destination are we headed toward? And which one are we helping others toward as we wait for the consummation of the kingdom?