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St Columba's Crosspool

Open to God, Welcoming All

Weeds amongst the wheat.

July 22, 2014

Recently I spent two weeks in Wales and one of the pleasures of being on holiday is having time to stop and stare to enjoy the beauty of the countryside.  Spending that time with our two small grand children meant that we could also  share in the excitement  of seeing in Josiah ‘ s words “a beautiful butterfly” or watch Aarya’s delight as she saw some two day old ducklings.

One of the things Rob and I liked to do was to look over the farm gate into the fields of crops and try to guess which plant was growing there.  Was it wheat, barley maybe rye or even oats? As our holiday progressed we watched the plants begin to develop and ripen, and we were able to distinguish the bearded barley from the smooth ears of wheat.

Our Gospel reading, the parable of the wheat and the tares was also about plant growing.  A story about a farmer whose crop was not entirely what he expected. He had sown good wheat seed, but as the crop grew, farmhands noticed a crop of weeds had also been sown amongst them “by his enemies.

As a gardener, my first thought on reading this story was:  Why didn’t the workmen notice the weeds earlier and do something ?  Jesus in his parables liked to use images from the everyday experiences of his audience, so those listening  would know that at first bearded darnel (the bad seed) grows in a similar way to the good seed, wheat, and only when the grain  appears do the heads looks different.

So the farmer  in the story is faced with a problem: should he send the men into the fields to pull up the darnel?  But pulling up the weeds at this point may endanger the good crop entangled with it.  His decision is to leave things as they are. Wait until harvest time he tells his workers. Then you can  separate the two crops and  destroy the weeds. The bearded darnel was prone to mould so to destroy it at this point makes sense!   Otherwise it would became poisonous and if   processed with the wheat  would contaminate the food supply.

Good advice from the farmer but what is this story about ? Jesus was not giving them a lesson  in good  agricultural practice, so what is he saying here?

In Eastern cultures, riddles and parables are often employed in education, to encourage the listener to have new thoughts, to look in new directions.  The premise being that if you work out for yourself what the teacher is telling you, or look behind the words to see what is implied you will remember the point.  In Jewish society Rabbis often used this method of teaching.  Jesus was not unique in using parables but was following a prophetic tradition using the imagery of the everyday world   to explain in concrete terms things which have a spiritual content.  The parable makes sense as one works it out in relation to life.

From our Gospel reading we can see that the disciples were struggling to make sense of this parable and when they are away from the crowd they ask Jesus to explain it to them.  He tells them

The sower is the son of man, the field is the world, the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the those who are evil and follow the evil thoughts sown in them.  The harvest will be the time when God assesses the crops and destroys that which is harmful. Some people have suggested that the parable concerns corruption in the church, but others feel it concerns the world at large. To me this makes more sense.

Jesus is looking at evil at work in the world and how this relates to the authority of God the Father.. Jesus is explaining that God is the one who will judge what is good and what is bad.Those who choose to live under his authority must leave this problem to God.  It is not for us to judge!

The problem of evil  in the world is a stumbling block for many would be believers.  If God is a God of love Why does he let these things happen?  Why is that people who try to live by God ‘s authority still experience terrible illness or have horrible life experiences ?  Why do wicked people seem to prosper?  These are hard questions that I guess most of us have been asked or have asked ourselves.  Why does God not get stuck in now and uproot evil in the world?

Like the farmer in the parable complications can occur.  Rather than risk injuring the good seed, his followers,  God chooses to wait to sort things out.  As a wise person once commented, if God did decide to destroy all evil at midnight who would be left by 1 o clock ?

In some ways, the parable of the wheat and the tares seems not to be terribly helpful in this respect.

It seems to imply that we will just have to WAIT AND SEE until  the final judgement.  Not much comfort there! However on reflection I think it also give us hope, that while things may seem desperate.  God is at work in the world.

In CS Lewis “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe the characters find themselves in the grip of eternal winter under the influence of the White Witch, who makes it always winter but never Christmas.

When Father Christmas appears to the children and their animal friends bringing gifts, they know that her power is waning; there is hope of change.  The kingdom of Aslan the Good Lion has yet to be firmly established but there are signs of a thaw and the promise that he is on his way. Jesus tells us that

things are changing,  God ‘s authority is beginning to be established.  As the disciples reflected on this parable they would recognise how Jesus had brought this change about.

As the old  Gospel Chorus explains

He’s alive he’s alive he’s alive for ever more

Jesus has risen from the dead

Death no longer has dominion

Satan’s power is broken down

He has triumphed Hallelujah

And he wears the Victor’s Crown

The lectionary readings for this morning also  include a passage from Romans 8

and I think this helps us to get a deeper understanding of the problem of evil in the world and God’s authority over it.  In this passage, Paul reminds his readers of the work of Jesus, how God’s Son has brought  us hope for the future and for the present.  Through his death and resurrection Hope has become real for us.  It has struck root in our lives and by God’s Spirit living in us we can face whatever the world throws at us in the knowledge that God is with us and will give us the strength to endure it.

A Christian writer who has helped my faith over the years is Margaret Silf ,who has written books and conducted retreats  with great spiritual wisdom. Margaret is very good at giving pictures to help us understand our faith journey.  She writes:  sometimes she says our life can feel desperate, like entering a canal tunnel, suddenly everything becomes dark, enclosed and without hope, in a canal you cannot turn your boat around you have to keep moving through the darkness. As we travel there appears in the distance a small pale glimmer of light which gradually develops until we are once more in full day light

We may not be able to see that light but it is there all the time and we travel in the hope of seeing it.

So it is with God’s presence. It may feel like we have been abandoned plunged into darkness and despair but He is there with us, and one day things we will reflect on how he has helped us through those difficult times and brought about change.

Paul reminds his readers that through our faith in Jesus we have become part of a new family.  Just as Christ suffered so may we may experience difficulty and hardship.  As Christ triumphed over evil so will we.  Being part of God’s family gives us confidence that whatever befalls we do not have to face alone we can draw on the power of God’s Holy Spirit living in us to help us.  Later in Chapter 8 Paul gives us that wonderful passage on hope:  “I am persuaded that in all things we are more than conquerors through God’s Spirit living in us.”Or, as one translation neatly puts it: “there may be lots of frustration on the way but God works through it.”

In conclusion, the parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us to trust God because he knows best.

We should draw hope from the knowledge that even if our lives and the world seems entangled with evil things it will not be forever. When we look at history we can see this in action:  how apartheid was removed from South African society, how the evil of Nazism was conquered; how the  Berlin Wall collapsed.  Jesus encourages us to pray “your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”To hope that God’s rule may become apparent in the world everywhere. We are also encouraged as Christians to live in that hope, to work for the coming of the kingdom, so that the good seed that God’s spirit has planted in our lives will come to fruition and that the whole of creation will be renewed.

When I was a teaching at  a primary school  the children had a favourite hymn they sang at  assembly entitled “Our God is a great big God and the chorus always encouraged me when life was challenging:

“Our God is a great big God but he holds us in his hands.”


Linda Furbey, July 2014