t was a bright early fall morning. The sun was shining, the temperature comfortable and the air crisp and clean, an absolutely prefect morning. I walked leisurely to my office, rode the elevator to the 33rd floor and settled in with my first cup of coffee. My wife Maryann started work a little later than I and would follow a similar path to her office about an hour later. She entered the glass menagerie called the Winter Garden, walked across the broad covered pedestrian bridge, high above the busy avenue below, when a passenger jet, high above her, slammed into the North tower of the World Trade Center. She turned and ran.
I heard and felt the booming explosion, looked immediately out my window and confronted the gaping fire-filled hole torn in the building that I had walked through just a short time before. A short time later the horror repeated itself. At the end of the day nearly 3000 people had died with 6000 others wounded. September 11, 2001.
More recently, a bomb delivered by a suicide terrorist shook Manchester, England to the core. Scenes of carnage, destroyed lives, confusion and chaos looked eerily familiar—a bad dream being played over and over again.
Then there was the madman who drove his vehicle into a throng of children who were receiving candy and toys from American soldiers in Iraq. In a flash, countless children lost—families wailing in grief and disbelief.
Trucks used as weapons, in the UK, France, and one in Germany driven into a Christmas Fair crowded with shoppers – the world stunned again by the horror of yet another evil act.
This ongoing struggle captures the harsh reality of evil spoken of in today’s parable.
Of the weeds so prevalent among us … Jesus explains the parable by saying that the sower or the master is the Son of God, the field is the world, and the good seeds are the children of the kingdom of God. The bad seeds or the weeds are of the evil one – the enemy, who came in the night, and sowed them into the field alongside the wheat.
By the time it was discovered—the weeds and the wheat were growing side by side.
Logically, why not just pull out the weeds?
The servants in the parable suggested doing just that. But the master said no. Jesus tells them, you cannot tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds. Since the roots of the weeds and wheat have become entwined it is likely that the wheat would be damaged if the weeds are removed.
The weeds, referred to as tares, look just like wheat to most people. It can be nearly impossible to tell them apart.
Called bearded darnel or scientifically “Lo-li-um tem-u-lentum”, they are a species of rye-grass and the seeds of which are a strong soporific (sɑpəˈrɪfɪk) poison. It causes dizziness and sickness, and even a small amount has a bitter and unpleasant taste. For farmers in Palestine then, and still today, battle the dreaded bearded darnel.
What does this tell us about the nature of evil?
First, it seems to suggest that evil lives all around us—a hostile power eager to contaminate the good wheat growing in good soil—an enemy ready to infiltrate and corrupt when one least expects it.
It’s analogous of those World Trade Center victims going to work like any other day, only to encounter an explosive act of terror ripping apart any sense of security and normalcy.
It seems killer weeds can crop up anywhere—no place appears to be safe. Like the darnel weeds, they are difficult to recognize and almost impossible to stop. What can we do? That’s the perplexing question…
And our church does not give us the option of saying, “This one stays, but this one goes.” “Judgment is mine, says the Lord.” So where does this leave us? Wheat and weeds, together.
There are daily painful reminders, that none of us can completely isolate ourselves from the far-reaching destructive power of evil.
As the parable suggest, some forms of evil cannot be easily distinguished from the good. This is the insidious subtlety about the nature of evil—which cannot be easily detected.
For example, the London subway suicide bombers surely did not fit the profile—they were completely off the radar screen of prospective terrorist. No prior record, no known connection to terrorist groups…but in the end … they were willing to die for some religious and political ideology that offers the promise of eternal rewards for taking and destroying the lives of others.
Sadly, the curse of the weeds grows, and grows—the fields of every Nation are vulnerable to its destructive ways. The parable stresses that the reality of evil co-exist and thrive right alongside with the good wheat—sharing the same soil—even intertwined with the good roots of the wheat—making it very difficult to separate out the good from the bad until the harvest.
When we are confronted by such evil, we yearn for justice now, today. We want to eradicate this evil from impacting, even destroying our lives and the lives of others? We want a solution to these perplexing problems! A spiritual weed killer!
Yet, the interpretation of the parable paints a picture of a cosmic and earthly battle between good and evil. We are told, there will be a day of reckoning—a Day of Judgment—God will have the final say.
Unabashed evil will not go unchecked—justice and righteousness will prevail—enemies of God will be tried, sentenced and brought to judgment.
Listen to Jesus’ explanation in verse 36…“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!”
In the sovereign reign of God—we would expect nothing less than a day of vindication. Yet, this does not take away the sting from the long reaching tentacles of evil.
Nonetheless, we should not remove ourselves too quickly from the truth, which lies below the soil of this parable. We cannot be too quick to separate ourselves from the real evildoers—those who commit the crimes.
People who cannot or do not recognize their sinful nature are the ones who tend to perpetuate evil. Evil thrives in a state of denial—perpetuated by deception and lies.
Evil acted out in what the Scriptures define as sin thrives under the guise of self-justification for every action—protecting one’s self interest at all cost.
Remember the plight of the Pharisees. They were the spiritual fat cats in the time of Jesus and they did not feel humble in spirit.
They were the ones who knew the score—who deserved to be the culture leaders in Jerusalem and Palestine. And they were the ones who ordered and demanded that Jesus be executed.
The truly humble in spirit refrain from such acts of evil. Usually, people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, do not commit such acts of evil—though not immune from sin.
The atrocities of evil committed are often the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin defending some self-proclaimed noble cause—unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination.
Unpleasant though it may be, it’s this strong sense of our own sinful nature that precisely keeps our sin from becoming a weed-infested garden.
The poet Samuel Coleridge had a conversation with a man who believed that children should receive no formal religious instruction—in fact children should be free to choose, under no influence from adults, their own religion when they reach adulthood.
Coleridge did not openly disagree, but he later invited the man into his rather unkempt garden. “You call this a garden?” the visitor exclaimed. “There are nothing but weeds here!”
“Well, you see,” Coleridge replied, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.”
The moral is… left to our own vices without God … the curse of the weeds will appear and overrun our lives and choke off the good wheat.
In essence we have a moral responsibility to uproot the weeds in the spiritual field of our lives … the evil that we can control … and leave the rest to God.
For in the sovereign mystery of God, God indeed has the final say.
When the close of the age does come, and the harvest of the world is ready, then the angels will separate the evil ones from the righteous ones. And, the evil ones will be burned in hell and the righteous people will live with him for eternity—that’s the way it should be.
That’s the way it is.
Preached by Thom Hagerth