(for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014)
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Matthew 13:24-30, NRSV).
Jesus followed the account of the generous sower with two farming parables and a brief story of a woman making bread. Each opens in a similar way: ‘ The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…’ and ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’
We should expect to learn about this kingdom.
The first parable offers something of an explanation for the weeds previously referred to in the parable of the sower. There they choke the good seed even as it grows.
Here, however, Jesus addresses the source of these weeds. Although the sower planted ‘good seed’, wheat is not all that grows. Weeds slowly revel themselves and inspire the worker’s baffled questions: “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”
The answer given: ‘an enemy’. All is not going God’s way.
This carefully prepared field must by now look unsightly – a mismatch of weeds and wheat. Appearance, however, is not the master’s priority. The field is still, before anything else, a place to grow wheat. Nurturing young plants remains the top priority from sowing to harvest.
Until then, however, the field must look particularly unpromising. Perhaps it even looks like a field sown exclusively with weeds. The plan to uproot and discard the weeds initially seems sensible. Why not start again?
The risk to the farmer’s young plants, however, is too great. This ‘Master’ would rather let them all grow together than risk his fruit. Soon, however, the time will come for uprooting. Until then God’s good world is not all it was intended to be.
Following this sobering parable are two more. Both point to the unseen growth of the kingdom: the good seed is growing. This kingdom may start slowly, but it will one day dominate. It may be small, but it will influence the whole.
So ours is ultimately a hopeful collection of parables. Although at times it may be hard to see, God’s good, gracious, and patient purposes will prevail.