COLUMN: Where did these weeds come from

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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Variety brings diversity. That’s true in cities, neighborhoods, companies, families and yes, churches. It’s why it seems we’ve got churches on every corner, still today, especially here in the South. 

In Matthew 13: 24-30 and 36-43, we pick up where we left off last week. Jesus goes right back to the agricultural planting and harvest mode to teach with a new parable. It starts off sounding a little like our last one. But, it’s not.

This is the “Parable of the Wheat and Tares,” as it is popularly known. There is not a person in our churches who would not know what Jesus is talking about. Sometimes, our own lives look like the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and good wheat all mixed in together. 

There is good and evil in each of us. The apostle Paul talked about this same dynamic in Romans 7:15 when he said, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” So this parable is about more than mere moments of occasional bad judgment, selfishness or impulsivity. What are we to hear?  

The writer Emerson has claimed that a weed is a “…plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” Talitha Arnold says, “The Bearded Darnel” is a devil of a weed. Known in biblical terms as “tares,” the bearded darnel weed has no virtues. 

Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and scarce water, making it impossible to pull it out without damaging the good crop. What’s worse, above ground this weed looks just like wheat. It’s an insidious turn of fate that gave rise to its nickname “False Wheat.” 

Consensus seems to be that this weed is the one that farmers of Jesus’ time and place did battle with as they grew wheat. This story calls us to look within ourselves and to admit that where humanity gathers there will be imperfection. 

This much we know. At least I do, because by definition I am imperfect even if I don’t mean to be. What our Lord is talking about, though, is a little different. This imperfection Jesus speaks of is intentional and sustained, and is not healthy. 

Some are determined to be unhappy. There is an extent to which my efforts to win them over might be truly poor stewardship of all God has entrusted to me.

Far deeper even than merely being unhappy, though, there will be evil among us from time to time, according to Jesus’ parable. It’s not popular or comfortable to speak this aloud. But, it’s true, as certainly as we breathe. 

This is not my editorial on the parable. This is Jesus’ own interpretation as recorded here in Matthew’s gospel. The question is what are we to do with this? What are we to learn from this awkward and uncomfortable teaching of Christ? 

Donald Hagner in his writing about this parable suggests that we start with a couple of things we know. First, the field didn’t turn out the way the man desired. Neither do life, family and church always turn out the way they should. Second, in due time the unpalatable job of plucking out weeds will have to be done. 

I believe that there are no perfect people. Not one of us. To be honest, there are both good and bad people generally. That I believe. Jesus’ parable is hard to read and not come to the conclusion that He believed similarly.

At my wife’s hometown church back in Georgia, there was a stretch about 25 years ago where they were churning through pastors pretty fast. They had about four pastors in a five year stretch. Finally, we and they agreed they had hired a truly wonderful one. 

I spoke openly to my father-in-law, arguably at the time one of the true leaders of the congregation. I told him, “You all have developed a bit of a reputation as a pastor-killer. If you value this one, you’re going to have to protect him. You’re going to occasionally have to step in between him and those who would do him harm. Y’all got some rough people who can’t keep being allowed to do what they do.” 

Not everything that pops up in the fields of our fellowships is wheat. Some of what we will see among us is weeds. Knowing who we are, and whose we are, is our only chance to discern when it is our time to harvest and when to pluck out.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.