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Wheat and Tares 

Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889, by Van Gogh (

Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43

By Francis Delaplain

AS A BOY I can remember helping my Uncle Jim on his farm in the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. There were hay fields over several hundred acres. I have memories of driving through the hay fields with torches to burn up the fox tail weeds, which were bad for the animals to eat and had to be gotten rid of before the horses that were boarded there could graze. So my primary reaction reading Jesus’ parable about the farmer and his work hands planting wheat, only to have an enemy come in the night to plant weeds all through the fields, is one of extreme frustration. What a terrible thing to do! What an amazing amount of work this “enemy” has created for the farmer. (Jesus later explains that in his parable the wheat and the weeds represent people, so my torch technique doesn’t precisely apply.)

One of the ideas in this parable is dividing between the wheat and the weeds, and the wisdom of the farmer is that if he sends the workers out into the fields, some of the wheat will be torn up as well. You see, Jesus had these massive crowds following him, but they were undoubtedly wondering why Jesus wasn’t taking stronger action against evil. He kept talking about the “kingdom,” and yet the very real enemies are not being vanquished. There are still evils happening all around them. So why hasn’t Jesus gone after it harder than he has? The morally conservative crowd don’t like that he won’t name sinners more directly or call out their sin; the political radicals want him to definitively state who the enemy of God’s kingdom is and call for some sort of uprising against it.

As is often the case with Jesus it is not as simple as we would like it to be. He doesn’t draw the clear and deep lines between who is right and who is wrong that we want him to. Think of the political conversation currently happing in our culture. It seems both right and left are so comfortable to caricature the other side; to call out the “evils” in their position. In this parable, however, Jesus shows us the danger in this kind of cutting.

“You will hurt some of the wheat.” This is the farmer’s rationale for not pulling up the weeds until the growth is complete. The weeds Jesus cites in this parable are almost indistinguishable from wheat. And if you set out to destroy one, without question the other will also suffer. What are the spiritual implications of this? In our attempts to cut down evil we will also inevitably cut down the good. And remember, what you are calling evil, that you wish God would cut down, might in fact be good.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the scoundrel is Edmund Pevensey. He is treacherous, and sells his family out to the White Witch. Eventually, however, he becomes King Edmund the Just and sits on one of the four thrones at Cair Paravel. It is said that the author, C.S. Lewis, identified most with Edmund, for he himself had journeyed away from faith and back again. How many of us would have cut Edmund out of the story prematurely? How many would have made the wrong call, put Edmund out, and missed the role he would play? And what of Saul? He is uttering murderous threats and taking action against the followers of Christ when he is called by Jesus. He, of course, becomes the Apostle Paul. Might not we have cut him out, mistaking him too for a weed?

To urge caution over prejudice, however, is not to promote over-tolerance and acceptance of evil. Certainly not. Read to the end of the parable: “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Or if you prefer, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus is certainly not denying the existence of evil or the inevitability of a just and final judgment. He is, however, warning us that if we are going to make a cut between good and evil, the cut will run right through us. You may think you are in. Most of us view ourselves this way. But the trappings of our goodness are not as pure as we would like them to be. In other words, if you are not aware that this evil exists in your heart, you don’t know your own heart.

Jesus speaks to those of us who are frustrated that he won’t put an end to evil, or at least call out our enemies as evil. They want him to draw clear moral and political lines, make some clear distinctions. What Jesus says, to borrow from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is that those lines will be drawn right through each of us. The line between good and evil is in our own hearts. These distinctions are within.

Jesus is forsaken on the cross, put out and cast away. He is pure good and yet the judgement cut hits him the hardest. This is the gracious action of heaven. Jesus’ action here is truly “overcoming evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Jesus is the true “wheat”, and he submits himself to this tremendous evil: the rigged trial, the harassment and abuse, the execution, and in doing this he displays the power of good over evil. The goodness of God completely overthrows the powers of evil on the cross.  Hatred, abuse and violence are met with love, tenderness and a life laid down. Ultimately death is met with resurrection. The beauty of the cross, when seen in this light, draws us out from our own darkness into his light, as a salve draws the infection. The cut was made through Jesus so that we could be healed.

We are not equipped to judge the level of good or evil in another’s heart. Nor do we know the end from the beginning.  As people formed by Jesus’ act of grace, we must act in grace. We must reach out in grace to those on the other side of our lines, for the cross reaches across our evil to us: it is grace in the face of your evil, that you may be healed, that you may be saved.   TAP

Rev. Francis Delaplain is Rector of St Andrew in Hay River in the Diocese of the Arctic.

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