I have been enamored with parables lately. Those of you from Temple know that they have been the impetus for and topic of my sermons of late. I have been so intrigued and captured by what Christ taught us about his kingdom (not just the "afterlife" but the present kingdom that we are ushered into when He saves us by His grace). Jesus' parables on the kingdom offer us real-life insight into what our lives with Christ in this new kingdom are supposed to look like, while also affording us a glimpse into why certain things in this kingdom operate the way they do. For more info/teaching on "the kingdom" and "parables" check out my sermons from 6/28 (The Laborers in the Vineyard), 8/23 (the Unforgiving Servant) and 9/6 (Parable of the Sower). You can find them here.
The parable of the Weeds is of significant interest to me lately.
A funny thing happened the other day. My family and I were out for a walk, enjoying the fleeting days of summer sun, and as we were walking Avery, my five-year-old daughter, was distracted. The distraction isn't new or alarming (she is my kid, afterall), it was the object of her distraction that caught me. She was walking on the edge of the paved bike trail and came across a group of weeds. She had a confused look on her face and then, enlightenment and joy. "Daddy, look!" she screamed. "A Carrot!" And she reached down, grabbed hold of the stalk with confidence and an assertive glare, pulled hard, and ....up came nothing but a weed. You should have seen the look on her face. Like she was robbed, like someone had lied to her, like something had just stolen her moment. "Where's the carrot?" she asked.
You see, we have entered the world of backyard gardening this year and, among other things that we planted in our first garden, we planted carrots. Avery had helped sow the seeds and cover them with 1/4" of soil. She had helped pull weeds around the carrots, had watered, and helped me thin out the rows to allow for growth, and all the while she had been watching the plant. She knew what a carrot looks like, at least on this side of the soil. She is brilliant, after all. But this day, all she could muster up was confusion. The confusion was caused because what she saw "below the surface" was not what was promised "above."
And then the words of the parable of the weeds (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43) began to stir in my heart. God, the sower, plants seed and his enemy sneaks in during the night and plants weeds. The weeds grow up alongside the other plants, and they look the same "above the ground." The Master, who sacrificially purchased and sowed the seed, waited until harvest time to pluck out the weeds in order not to disturb the good seed and the plants that he had intentionally placed there. Instead he allowed the weeds to grow up and develop. Until the end...
You see in the end (at the close of the season) the reapers come to gather the harvest - to pluck from the fields what is healthy and useful and mature and to use that for the blessing and benefit of the Master. They will store some for food, sell some to recoup their expenses, and enjoy the sustenance of their fields. But, at that day, make no mistake, they are not keeping the weeds. They sort them and burn them, because they are useless. For all the foliage and promising leaves above the ground, there was simply no substance, no harvest, no fruit.
This is how the Kingdom of God is - there are those whose hearts have been made alive by Christ, whose lives have been ransomed by Christ, who have had their eyes opened and have been born again. They are the good seed. And then, in the dark of night (stealthily, unseen, subversively) the Enemy comes and sows his own seed among the field. These "weeds" are not the good seed; they are not the sons of the kingdom, but at first glance, can you really tell? I'd guess that you can't.
They look the same. They're found in the same place. They're growing close to all the good seed. So what is the substantive difference? The lack of real fruit, the source of their growth (the Enemy), and their failure to deliver on their appearance. Essentially, there's nothing "below the surface." These people, much like Avery's "carrot/weed" appear to be something that they're not. They look the same as the sons of the kingdom, they're growing up right alongside them, they even show the promise of a fruitful harvest. But, deep below the surface, there's nothing there. Harsh words from Jesus about those who would claim to be His. Today, I'm asking God to make me fruitful (and you too for that matter). I'm also pondering how to handle these words of Jesus. What does that mean for me as a Pastor leading a congregation? How can I serve my flock in such a way as to encourage growth of the good seed, hinder the growth of weeds, and help us all distinguish the difference? I believe that, maybe, there's really no way to eliminate that.