The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Mt.13:24-30) is unique to Matthew and is one of the few parables for which Jesus provides a detailed interpretation (Mt.13:36-43). The farmer represents Jesus as the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed are the children of the kingdom who are in relationship with God the Father. The enemy is the devil and he sows his weeds – the people of the evil one. The workers are not identified but are most likely Jesus’ disciples. The harvest is the end of the age and is symbolic of final judgment. The weeds are gathered first then burnt in a fiery furnace, symbolic of punishment, while God’s people are finally rewarded. They will shine like the sun, reflecting God’s glory. The message of the farmer is to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together until the time of harvest when there will be a clear separation. In the end, good will triumph.
Most parables are a crafted teaching aimed at answering a specific question. If we can determine the implied question to which Jesus was responding, then the path to correct interpretation of the parable becomes much easier. Discerning the implied question must be done through a combination ofobserving both what is said in the parable and what the context is into which the parable was spoken.
(1) Was Matthew trying to deal with issues within his own mixed community, possibly warning them of separation from Judaism or of trying to purify the church of wrongdoers? (2) Is this parable about a Christian response to evil or heretics within the church? (3) Is this parable an apologetic for Jesus gathering a mixed community of people and therefore a justification for the time he spent with people seen as impure (tax collectors and prostitutes)? (4) Is the parable addressing the conflict of good and evil with the individual disciple?
Although each of these views contains a potential application of the parable, the most likely interpretation is that Jesus is answering questions about how the kingdom of God can be present when there is still so much wrong with the world. The mystery of the kingdom is that it is already present but in unexpected ways. Yes, the kingdom has arrived but it is like a field with both wheat and weeds growing together until one day when they will be separated.
Reflections on this Parable
1. God has a plan that he is working out over time (be patient!). It doesn’t take much insight to realise that we live in a world where tragedies and accidents occur every day and where injustice and violence still wreak havoc in people’s lives. Where is God and why doesn’t he do something? The first disciples had similar questions. Why are the Romans still in power and why is evil still at work if the kingdom has arrived? This parable teaches us that God does have a plan for this world and he is working to accomplish it. However, it is unfolding over time and that means there’s some waiting to do, something we find difficult. We’d all love God to do more and to act faster in bringing in his kingdom but Jesus is teaching us patience – the patience of a God who chooses to delay his judgment. God is not in a hurry and we must be prepared to trust him and wait for his time. In the end, God will win and good will overcome evil.
2. There is an enemy at work in the world (be alert!). Alongside the power of the kingdom another power, an illegitimate power, is at work seeking to disrupt God’s plan. Not all actions in this world can be attributed to God. The action of this enemy, identified as the devil, is a prominent feature in Jesus’ ministry. The parable presents us with a worldview that accounts for and is not surprised by evil in the world. It also teaches us that that evil will not be completely removed until judgment day but that does not mean that we should not fight against evil in all its forms in the mean time – in our own lives, in the church and in our society. This awareness calls us to live lives on spiritual alert while avoiding the extremes of being ignorant of the devil’s schemes or of becoming overly preoccupied with his activity.
3. God alone is the judge of all people (be humble!). Right from the beginning of history there have been two seeds or two generations of people – the righteous and the wicked (see Gen.3:15). We find our place in either group not by birth, by fate or by our good works but by our response to the grace of God that he shows toward us in unique ways. God desires everyone to be saved (John 3:16. 1 Tim.2:1-7. 2 Pet.3:9) and to become his children and we have to trust that he makes provision for that possibility. Each person will ultimately choose to be either for God or against God and will be treated accordingly. God will be to us what we are to him. However, in the mean time it is vital that we not get caught up in determining who is IN and how is OUT. God alone knows the human heart and He will be their judge, not us (see Rom.14:12. 1 Cor.4:5. Jas.4:12). Wheat and weeds look very similar … until the time of harvest when their true nature is revealed. In fact, Jesus hinted that we may be surprised who is in and who is out (Mt.21:23-32). We ourselves are a mixture of wheat and weeds – people in desperate need of the grace of God. This should cause us to be humble in our approach to other people.
When it comes to judgment we must avoid caricatures of God that turn him into either a sadistic monster ready to unfurl his wrath on people OR into a soft grandparent who stills give the kids chocolates even after a day of continual misbehaving. God has revealed himself as a supremely loving, wise, beautiful, holy, just and true God. It is that combination of attributes that we must learn to see when it comes to the matter of judgment.
4. We are called to partner with God's purpose (be fruitful!). In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is the word of God (Mt.13:18-23). In this parable, we become the seed. God plants his people in his field – this world – and he desires us to be fruitful for him. A partnership mentality helps us avoid the extremes of apathy (thinking that God will do it all) and of a messianic complex (thinking that we will fix the world and rid it of evil all by ourselves).
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Reflect on the perplexity that the first Christians must have experienced in believing that God’s kingdom had already come yet having to come to grips with the fact that they still lived in a godless and cruel Roman Empire. In what ways is our experience today similar?
2. Read these Scriptures about the devil (Mt.6:13. Eph.4:26-27; 6:10-20. Jas.4:7. 1 Pet.5:8-9) and reflect on how well we appropriate them today.
3. How can we be more discerning (Mt.7:15-20) yet not become judgmental (Mt.7:1-5) of other people?
4. Are there some "weeds" in your own life that need attention?
5. In what ways can we BE the good seed of the kingdom in our world today?