For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being. — Gregory of Nyssa
Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable. — Iraneaus of Lyons
As with the parable on the Sower and its explanation, the parable under consideration here comes from Matthew chapter 13, which I suggested last week, is bookended by two stories of rejection, one by Jesus’ family the other by his home village. At issue then is the same situation: The world will react to what the church is teaching and how she lives. Some of those reactions will not be kind or pleasant. The parables of the sower answered the question: “Is it worth it,” by saying: “it will pay off big time.”
Today, we approach the James and John question, asked on the outskirts of villages that would not offer hospitality to Jesus and his the disciples on the way: “Do you want us to ask for fire from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk 9:54)
But who would plant weeds in another man’s field? Jesus lived in a place where one inherited enemies the same way one inherited land or the shape of one’s nose: one was born into a family that had a feud with another. (Pilch) So, the 8 year old son of Bar-Hatfield walked past the field of Bar-McCoy with a hand full of mustard seeds and casually let them fly into the wind toward the field. Why? Because the mustard plant happened to have been there, and the field was there, and all his life the lad has been told and taught to despise any and all things Bar-McCoy. It was the way of life. Enemies came your way by virtue of your name.
In practical farming terms, there is in living memory of farmers a habit known as roguing. A crew, usually the family, would walk the field and uproot everything that did not belong. It is probably still done in small operations with limited funds. Most crops in our world are tended with chemicals these days, so the practice is going into disuse. Since all crops in the West are planted in orderly rows, roguing is fairly simple. The middle eastern practice of cast seed first, plow second probably made this a much harder as plants would be clustered, good and bad, in clumps.
When the landowner in Jesus’s parable takes the approach to wait for the reaper to do the sorting out at harvest time he is taking a gamble. He is saying: I trust that my grain is strong enough to survive in spite of the presence of the seed of the enemy.
Yes, as Jesus explains the parable, there is a strong hint of judgement in the air. The evil seed will burn. In the parable, the weeds are readily identified. It is not secret knowledge what is good and what is bad. The reapers and the angels will have no problem doing the separating. Neither will the disciples as everyone is known by their fruit. (Matt 12:33) But is judgement really the heart of the parable or of the explanation?
It would seem to me that the trust of the landowner is perhaps the central piece that one is to take home from this. The disciples, like Jesus, will discover resistance and outright contrariness to their ministry. No, God will not “make them go away.” Instead God trusts that the good planted in the disciples will bear fruit and they will be strong enough to live with it. In other words, even the seed that fell on good ground will deal with troubles. (This is not seed that fell among the thorns which would be the bushes at the edge of a field — Matt 13:7)
There are a few popular sayings out there along the lines of: “God never gives us more than we can handle,” or, “when one door closes God opens another.” More than simple platitudes, these might actually be true. Well, at least the first one, but here it is not that God “gives” us tribulation — though that is biblical as well — no here it is that God trust that believers will, in following Jesus, prevail against the weeds next door.
The believers in turn ought not be upset overly much about the weeds either. They just are. The angels will sort it all out in due time. Pay attention to Jesus and the Gospel and live gracefully. The harvest is God’s who will send the reaper soon enough.