Friday, January 14, 2011

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - "He presented another parable to them saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man..."

After you're done reading 13:24-30 be sure to skip ahead to the parable's explanation in verses 36-43. We'll return to the portion of Scripture we skipped next time.

This parable of the wheat and the tares uses many of the same symbolic elements as the parable of the sower we just looked at (see the previous three posts), except here these elements correspond to different realities. In the parable of the sower the seed is the word, and when the seed lands on the good soil of a believing heart a fruitful life results. In the parable of the wheat and the tares the seed no longer represents the word, for now there are both good and bad seed. Here the good seed are the sons of the kingdom which the Son of Man sows, but then the devil comes along and sows the bad seed which are the sons of his evil kingdom. The field is the world, a neutral arena that plays no part in the outcome. So in this parable it is not the soil that determines the result, but rather the kind of the seed and who has sown it.

Jesus' audience would have known that wheat and tares bear a close resemblance to each other. For the sake of us citified folks who can barely recognize a wheat stalk, let alone an impostor, here are some visuals.

This is wheat.

This is a tare
(aka Persian darnel).

The wheat and the tare in these photos are both fully mature. Yet I understand when these plants first spring up young and tender, they look almost exactly alike. That's unfortunate since tares are poisonous. They also have stronger roots than wheat so if the two plants are sown together, an attempt to pull up the unwanted tares would also uproot the desired wheat. Scattering tare seeds over someone's wheat field is a good way to sabotage their valuable crop, which is why the practice was forbidden under Roman law. Jesus was talking about a real life problem familiar to his listeners. No wonder the landowner in the parable exclaims, "An enemy has done this!"

The only solution to the problem is to let both the wheat and the tares develop to maturity until they have distinguished themselves fully. The wheat grow heavy with grain, their stalks often bowing under the weight, whereas the tares are light and stand straight even when fully matured. Someone once pointed out that the wheat are a fitting picture of the believer: the fruit he bears that teaches him to bow in humility. The worldly tares carry no such burden.

The devil has multiplied his own sons among the true sons of the kingdom, but Jesus is willing to wait until the harvest of the world fully ripens before he comes in judgment. While the Son of Man's ability to read men's hearts might enable him to render judgment on that basis alone, he knows that the most sound and prudent judgment is rendered on the basis of visible, tangible evidence: the deeds of righteousness versus the deeds of lawlessness. Even the angels whom he will send out to reap will be able to tell which are the true and false sons of the kingdom. The unrighteous are cast into the furnace like weeds, but the righteous are gathered into the barn.

People are always asking, "Where is God?" whenever they see evil running rampant, as if God is expected to act like the police rushing about to stop every crime whenever someone dials 911. A hard reality for many people to swallow is that God purposely allows evildoers to ripen in their evildoing so that one day his judgment upon them would be fully vindicated. He is letting the tares mature into their tare-hood, patiently withholding his wrath while they blossom into their true nature. In the meantime he expects the wheat to show themselves to be wheat by being patient in the face of present injustice, returning good for evil, and forgiving transgressions. That may sound harsh, but anyone who believes in the coming Judgment would gladly bear suffering for a little while under the brief reign of evil than suffering for eternity in the furnace of hell.

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