Matthew 13: 24-30; 36-43
Today we are faced with a with a firehose of information regarding the virus, the election, and news in Florida. Due to the internet and some televisions receiving hundreds of channels, plus talk radio being as prevalent as ever, we hear voices from the religious left and voices from the religious right; voices from the political left and voices from the political right. We have vaccers and anti-vaccers; we have maskers and anti-maskers. We have advocates for traditional worship and advocates for contemporary worship. The list is long, and if someone takes one side over another, it is almost like creating a sword fight in days of yore. So what do we do? Many people choose the lane in which they are most comfortable. In those lanes, is the truth slanted to be more palatable toward them and more critical toward what others think? Only baby boomers and older ones remember the news that seemed to be just reported, rarely with commentary, brought by Walter Cronkite, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, and other nightly news for 30-60 minutes a day, not all day long. We live in a different world now. News now is a-la-carte.
In our day, when it comes to sharing our message—the Christian message as we understand it from our Gospels—we learned last week that our audience might not be fully receptive to it. Some have heard personal witness stories before and don’t want to hear another one. Some have said “no” and don’t plan to say “yes.” Some, however, are ready to hear what you, or what I, have to say if we share a spiritual event that has changed our life. And last week we learned that the message could be polluted if the seeds we sow are not pure. We carry that thought over to today. Here we are, sitting as if we are on the banks of the Sea of Galilee with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is still in the boat as he was last week, and we get the next chapter in the saga of parables. We are still on the subject of seeds. Some parables stand on their own, but last week’s and this week’s Jesus decided explanations were needed. This week, Jesus’ tells listeners that his second parable is an allegory. Do you recall what an allegory is? It’s a story where things stand for something—or someone—else. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a spiritual allegory. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory. The Faerie Queens by Edmund Spenser is a moral allegory. Let’s set the allegorical interpretation aside for a moment as we hear Jesus’ second parable in Matthew 13. Someone sowed good seed (so that takes out the possibility that they chose inferior or polluted seeds to sow.) The assumption is that during the night after planting, someone came in the darkness and planted weeds in the field with the wheat. Just as some people in our day are quick to point fingers at others, trying to avoid any personal responsibility, in this story the servants came to the master of the field doing the same thing. They said to the Master, “Didn’t you sow good seed in the field?” (The story doesn’t tell us how they could tell there was bad seed planted after just one night, but the master answered,) “An enemy has done this.” Even the master puts blame on an unknown “enemy,” never asking how they could already tell how weeds were mixed with wheat. So the servants offer to go pull up the weeds, (how big can they be?) but the master says, “No, you might mistakenly pull up some of the good wheat while doing it.” When it is time to harvest the crop, then the reapers can collect the weeds first and gather them to be burned, but the wheat shall be gathered and put into the barn, or storehouse.” If that image takes you to a Thanksgiving theme, you are not alone. Truly the hymn “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” belongs more in a summer service with a Matthew 13 text, or in an Evangelistic revival than in our tradition time to use it in November. Remember since we are all moving to allegorical thinking, this hymn is not about farming; it’s about the Kingdom of God and people gathering persons in whom gospel seeds have grown in their soul. If you believe this passage is about that, then perhaps you’ll think about this hymn that we often sing at Thanksgiving differently: Listen:
“Come, ye thankful people come” (be thankful you’re being brought into God’s garner—the Kingdom—instead of being burned in flames.)
“All is safely gathered in …come to God’s own temple, come.”
Then these words: “All the world is God’s own field, fruit in thankful praise to yield,” (receptive people let the fruit of the Spirit grow in their souls.)
Now you’ll know this hymn belongs more with our text than with turkey dinners! “Wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown.” (Are you getting it?) “Lord of harvest grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.” …“For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home, from each field that in that day, all offenses purge away.” This is about people! Saints and sinners; not actually about grains. “Give the angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast, but the fruitful ears to store in God’s garner ever more!”
As we learned last week that the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” is not about farming, “Come, ye Thankful People, Come” is not about planting! It reminds us that our world is filled with good seed, and bad seed; that some have chosen to bear good fruit from the gospel seeds planted in their soul, while others have produced nothing redemptive.
Now we can turn to Jesus’s first century explanation of his parable. Jesus says he himself is the one who sows the good seed. He says the field is the world, the good seeds are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the seeds from the evil one. See, even here fingers are being pointed at others, blaming them for bad things. Those blaming actions go back as early as the Garden of Eden. Jesus said the one who sowed the bad seed was the devil, and the reapers were God’s angels.
What a strong message, encouraging people to choose Christ! The reward now is good, and the reward later is even better! That’s a reason to invite thankful people to “Come!” In our day, good pure information can become distorted by people, sometimes with less than honorable intent. When that happens, pure information can become propaganda. The evil one continues to use people to sow such weeds in our world. When propaganda or editorial opinion passes for truth, buyer beware. And early in the sowing of such information, it might be hard to tell if the wheat planted in our souls and minds is good information or evil. The master allowed both to grow together for a while. But at some point, the true colors of those bearing the fruit of Christ, and of those bearing the fruit of the devil, start to show. It is then that we take the highest ground by not putting our heads in the sand like an ostrich, or pretending we just don’t see. Folk singer Bob Dylan during all the governmental and societal issues of race and war in the 1960s wrote: “How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” [Blowin’ in the Wind] And it was Sir Edmund Burke who famously once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.”
Let’s not do nothing! Let’s join the angels of God in spreading the good seed, calling out those who spread counterfeit seeds as good ones. Let us work to encourage virtue and vanquish vice, as John Calvin would put it! This was the job of the first disciples, and the beloved Reformers 1500 years later.
Now it is our job too.
Let us pray: Jesus our Savior: who rooted out corruption and treated forgotten and marginalized persons with grace and justice: help us to go into God’s fields in the world and be able to recognize and name the wicked weeds, taking the good seeds into God’s garner, evermore. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 19, 2020