SCRIPTURE: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
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CHAPTERS 12-13: THE CONTEXT
Chapter 12 seethes with conflict. Pharisees criticize Jesus (12:1-8) and set out to destroy him (12:14). But chapter 13 offers hope in the midst of this evil. It includes seven parables that deal with the reality of opposition and evil, promising that these will not define the ultimate outcome. In the end, God and those faithful to God will win and win big.
VERSES 24-30: THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD AND THE BAD SEED
24He set another parable before them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while people slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel weeds (Greek: zizania –– bearded darnel) also among the wheat, and went away. 26But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then the darnel weeds appeared also. 27The servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where did this darnel come from?'
28"He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.'
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and gather them up?'
29"But he said, 'No, lest perhaps while you gather up the darnel weeds, you root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, "First, gather up the darnel weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field" (v. 24). The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are roughly synonymous, and refer to the realm over which God reigns.
"but while people slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel weeds" (v. 25). Jesus mentions a weed (zizania –– bearded darnel) that in its early stages closely resembles wheat, making it almost impossible to identify. As the plants mature, the roots of the weeds and wheat intertwine, making them almost impossible to separate –– any attempt to pull the weeds will also pull the wheat. Separation, however, is necessary, because darnel is both bitter and mildly toxic. If not removed prior to milling, darnel will ruin the flour. The usual solution is to separate the grains after threshing by spreading them on a flat surface and having people remove the darnel, a different color at that stage, by hand.
Matthew has a serious concern for ethical behavior, because the church of Matthew's day faced serious ethical lapses. The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) is especially significant in this regard. At the sermon's climax, Jesus says: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (7:21) –– a disturbing word for a salvation-by-grace church.
Matthew clearly would feel more comfortable in a purer church. Nevertheless, to his credit, he also includes a different perspective. He knows that scribes and Pharisees, who personified high ethical standards among the Jews, caused most of Jesus' problems. Therefore Matthew mutes his concern for purity, and includes Jesus' words, "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged" (7:1).
"But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then the darnel weeds appeared also" (v. 26). This parable deals with a very practical problem. In the church, we find bad mixed with good. Every congregation has members whose sexual conduct is embarrassing –– or whose business ethics are questionable –– or who treat people unkindly –– or who advocate questionable doctrine.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest perhaps while you gather up the darnel weeds, you root up the wheat with them'" (vv. 28b-29). But, in this parable, Jesus calls us to patience and faith –– patience with those who fail to meet the standard (this is the concern of the parable itself –– vv. 24-30) and faith that God will deal with them at the right time (this is the concern of the interpretation –– vv. 36-43). Jesus calls us to withhold action lest we create more problems than we solve –– lest we destroy the good with the bad –– lest we "root up the wheat along with them (the weeds)."
"Let both grow together until the harvest" (v. 30a). "The point here is not that we should abandon efforts to keep the church pure (18:15-20)…. The point is that the kingdom remains obscure in the present world and only the final day will bring God's true children unto their vindicated glory and banish the wicked from among them" (Keener, 244)
God has not equipped us with the insight necessary to weed the garden. Reapers will accomplish the separation at harvest-time –– in God's scheme of things, soon enough.
The disciples to whom Jesus addresses the interpretation of this parable include Judas, who will betray Jesus (26:47 ff.) –– Peter, who will deny him (26:69 ff.) –– Thomas, who will doubt him (John 20:24 ff.)–– and James and John, whose concern has more to do with personal ambition than the kingdom of God (20:20-23; cf. Mark 10:37). In the end, only Judas will be lost –– and I am convinced that, had he asked the resurrected Christ to forgive him, even he could have been redeemed.
That said, we must also note that Matthew also includes a methodology for reproving sinners (18:15-20). Jesus charges the church, when faced with evil, to confront it. Confrontation begins at the level of the individual –– and then the whole church –– and finally the removal of the sinner from the fellowship.
"and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, 'First, gather up the darnel weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn'" (v. 30b). Jesus will treat this principle in greater detail in chapter 25, where he changes the metaphor to sheep and goats (25:31-46).
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VERSES 36-43: THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE
36Then Jesus sent the multitudes away, and went into the house. His disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the darnel weeds of the field."
37He answered them, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the Kingdom; and the darnel weeds are the children of the evil one. 39The enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40As therefore the darnel weeds are gathered up and burned with fire; so will it be at the end of this age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity, 42and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
"Then Jesus sent the multitudes away, and went into the house" (v. 36a). Jesus goes into the house, out of the reach of the crowds.
"Explain to us the parable of the darnel weeds of the field" (v. 36b). In the privacy of the house the disciples request that Jesus explain the parable, just as he had done with the Parable of the Sower. The private setting and interpretation are Matthew's way of highlighting the "insider" status of the church –– and of the reader of this Gospel.
"He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man" (v. 37). Jesus' interpretation is allegorical (an interpretation in which things have a hidden or symbolic meaning). He says that:
• The one who sows the good seed = the Son of Man (v. 37).
• The field = the world (v. 38).
• The good seed = the children of the kingdom (v. 38).
• The weeds = the children of the evil one (v. 38).
• The enemy = the devil (v. 39).
• The harvest = the end of the age (v. 39).
• The reapers = the angels (v. 39).
"the field is the world" (v. 38a). Jesus identifies the field, not as Israel or the church, but as the world.
"He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man…The enemy who sowed them is the devil" (vv. 37, 39a). Jesus accounts for the presence of evil in our midst. We are uncomfortable today with the idea of the devil and, for the most part, we ignore it in our preaching. However, "the ignored devil sneaks in by back doors –– through the appeal of the occult, the magical, the falsely supernatural, prophecy conferences, astrology, New Age, or other irrational movements" (Bruner, 507).
"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (vv. 41-42). Jesus does not provide this graphic description so that we might gloat, but that evil people might be warned. Those in danger of fire are "all things that cause stumbling (panta ta skandala –– all who create stumbling blocks) and those who do iniquity" (tous poiountas ten anomian –– those who practice lawlessness) (v. 41). The skandala are those who cause others to sin (cf. 16:23; Romans 14:13; 16:17; 1 John 2:10). Evildoers are those who practice anomia –– literally a (without) nomos (law) –– the lawless –– those in rebellion against God's law.
"and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (v. 42; cf. Daniel 3:6 for the "furnace of fire" imagery). We are uncomfortable in the presence of this fire-and-brimstone language. We want grace, not law –– love, not demands –– affirmation, not condemnation. But Jesus warns instead that "There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (v. 42 –– cf. 8:12; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
But the good news is that "Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father" (v. 43a). This beautiful image comes from Daniel 12:3, and promises us in poetic language than the faithful can look forward to a wonderful reward.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (v. 43b). Jesus issues a call to hear and to heed the lessons of this parable. It is both a way of providing emphasis and a veiled warning that those who fail to heed the parable do so at their own peril.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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