Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Wheat and the Darnel

Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 20, 2014 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

Last Sunday, we heard about the parable of the sower.  In that parable, the seed was the Word of God, and the soil was the hearer of the Word.  This Sunday we also hear a parable that uses agricultural imagery.  But this time the symbolism is a bit different.  The field is not the Christian, nor is it the Church (despite the way some have interpreted it this parable is not an argument against the practice of Church discipline).  Rather, the field is the world.  The plants growing in the field are humanity, including believers and unbelievers.  Some are planted by God, and some are planted by the devil.  Now, in reality the interplay between believers and unbelievers is more complicated than that; every analogy or parable starts to break down if you push it too hard.  Believers can become unbelievers, and vice versa, and in any case each and every believer also has an unbeliever living with him in the same body.  But for the purposes of this parable, Jesus is asking us to look at things from the perspective of Judgment Day.  Some will be saved, and others won’t.  It’s that simple.

Now, to us who have to live in this old world until the harvest, the fact that sin and evil dwell here too isn’t exactly pleasant.  People die.  Natural and man-made disasters happen.  Those who are simply trying to live humbly and serve their neighbor so often struggle to get by while those whose personal lives are a mess (as we can see every time we go through a supermarket checkout lane) are so often rich and successful and have money and possessions to spare.  And ultimately, whether good or bad, the same fate awaits us all from the perspective of this world.  Under the sun, all is vanity.  In fact, one of the most common objections atheists will raise against belief in God is that a God who is good and all-powerful would do something about the bad stuff that happens in the world.  Now, this isn’t really an argument against God’s existence (which is what they are trying to argue against) but His goodness (which, simply by virtue of being God, He gets to define for Himself; we can’t come up with our own standard of goodness and make Him follow it, because then He would end up being our servant, and not God at all).  But in any case, the question of why bad stuff happens to those who are trying to do good is a heartfelt question also for believers.  Life in this old world is hard, and we all wish all the unfairness and injustice and suffering and pains and sorrows could be done away with.

But here’s the problem.  Until Judgment Day there is simply no way of distinguishing the weeds from the wheat.  The word that is used for the weeds here refers to a plant called “darnel.”  The thing about darnel is that until harvest-time, it looks exactly the same as wheat.  The reason why God doesn’t command His angels to uproot the darnel and throw it away until the harvest time, despite how it takes some of the nutrients and water and sunlight which properly belong to the wheat, is because they look exactly alike.  By the way, you will often hear preachers saying that the reason why not to uproot the weeds is that there is a risk of damaging the wheat’s roots since they are tangled up in one another.  That may be true, but the point here is not about simply damaging the wheat, but that the wheat would be destroyed entirely because nobody can tell the difference at that point.

In other words, the reason God lets all the suffering and sorrow and injustice and so on continue to happen, is because you can’t destroy evil without destroying the good.  Good and evil people, from God’s perspective, aren’t determined by how outwardly good their actions are, but by what is going on in their hearts.  And the fact is, all of us believers and heirs of heaven have within us an unbeliever who is just as sinful and selfish and murderous and lustful and covetous as the worst unbeliever.  And so any attempt at uprooting evil in the world before the final judgment will simply end up in disaster for all involved.

And that’s why the way God deals with this field is to allow both to grow together.  He is the one who sends His water, His nutrients, His sunlight onto the field.  The Church is sent out to make disciples by baptizing and catechizing as we go on through our lives in this world.  The water and the nourishment of the Word do what God says they will do.  And Jesus Himself, who is the true Light, shines down on us and gives us His own food in His body and blood.  That’s the way the wheat seeds grow up unto into the fruitful harvest of eternity.  In fact, to depart from the parable’s analogy for a moment, that’s how even the darnel plants (which is what we all, in fact, are according to our old nature) become wheat plants.  God, instead of destroying them, transforms them into those who bear the fruit of eternal life by His Word and His body and blood.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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