Summary: A sermon exploring the dichotomy of good and evil existing side by side in the Kingdom of God.
Stories Jesus Told:
It’s All in the Mix
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
A story-teller usually has one thing to communicate, one point to make, when he/she tells a good story. Thus it was with Jesus as he began to weave a story for his listeners. Now a good story may have twists and sub-plots that bring secondary points into the story, or add shades of meaning to the main point, but there is still only one point the story-teller desires to pass on to hearers of the story. That’s the way it is with this story that Jesus told the crowds this day.
We also have with the story, one of the few explanations Jesus gives for one of his stories. He tells the story and his disciples ask after the crowds have gone away to explain the story so they can understand. Jesus obliges them, and plainly lays out the purpose of the story. Too often, we try to read too much into the stories, and we miss the main point by focusing on the elements that are only meant to enhance the primary meaning. It would be easy to do with this story.
One of the parts of the story that immediately catches our attention is the enemy, or the Devil, as Jesus offers in his explanation. It would be easy to let this revelation take us into a discussion on the personal nature of the enemy of our souls. We could talk about how we have moved the reality of a personal Devil to the side in our theological discussions, and how many people, Christians among them, deny the Devil’s existence. At the very least, we have painted a characatiure of the Devil as this harmless little, red-bedecked creature who sits on our shoulder trying to persuade us to satisfy our fleshly indulgences, but he certainly isn’t the enemy of our souls. That might be an appropriate discussion, but we would miss the point of the story.
Another element that would easily capture our attention is the reality of the judgment at the end of time. With the overwhelming attention given to discussions of end times events, and with the inordinate amount of books being published to help us understand apocalyptic expectations, it would be a timely discussion, but it would cause us to miss the point of the story. So what is the point of the story? Let’s see if we can discover it together.
Jesus began, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Perhaps there is a clue. This is a story about the Kingdom. Jesus wants to communicate to his disciples something of the truth of living in the Kingdom. When Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven he unmistakably is referring to God’s rule of grace in the world that was made a reality with the coming of Christ. Don’t be confused—Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, whenever you see the phrases in the Bible, refer to the same thing—Christ’s rule in the world, and though it has not achieved perfection, time and eternity is moving in one direction. So, Jesus was giving us a picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven was like, and that picture surprises us as the story unfolds.
The farmer sowing wheat would not have surprised us were we in that first century crowd. No, it was a scene well familiar to the people of Palestine. Any spring day would find a traveler passing many a field where a farmer was out working to plant his seed in preparation of the harvest. Remember Jesus had just finished telling the story of the sower who went out to sow seed, and some seed fell on rocky ground, and some on thorny ground, and some on good ground. Jesus simply continues the illustration he began earlier.
Nor would an enemy of the farmer been a foreign introduction into the story. In the first century, one of the greatest threats one person could offer to another was the threat of sowing bad seen in their field. It was an act of hatred. It was an act of total disregard, and it was sometimes done in retribution for some other event. The prohibition against sowing bad seed in a person’s field was codified into Roman law and carried punishment. The practice is still outlawed in India today. This, too, was a familiar scene to Jesus’ listeners.
Certainly, most of the crowd that day, would have also been familiar with the weeds Jesus was talking about in the story. The seed was darnel. In the King James Version of the Bible, or perhaps in some of your translations, the weeds may be referred to as tares. In the early stages of development, the darnel so closely resembled the wheat that it was impossible to distinguish between the two. Surprisingly, though, that is what Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Wheat and tares growing together. Good and evil existing side by side in the Kingdom, and there is something upsetting to us about that picture. But when we reflect for a moment, we begin to realize that it is true.