The Church in my city

Chapter 6   With weeds

Jesus told a parable to explain why things go so badly wrong in his church. It used to be called the parable of the wheat and the tares, but nobody knew what a tare was, so now it is called the parable of the weeds. Scholars identify these weeds as the darnel, which in Palestine looked like wheat, and was hard to pull out without pulling the good plants with it.

In the parable a farmer has just sown a field of wheat, but a neighboring farmer has a grudge against him, and is so angry or jealous that he comes by night and sows darnel seeds all over the field. Jesus knew that his church would not be perfect. That is because Satan makes sure that weeds are mixed in with God's good wheat. "The Kingdom of heaven (that's his church) may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat" (Matthew 13:24-25).

Parables are designed to shock, and in this case the point is that the good and bad will grow together in the church, and from time to time their true nature is revealed (see Matthew Commentary 13). Here the evil one is obviously Satan who had tried to tempt Jesus to follow other ways of helping people into faith. Having failed to do that, Satan sows confusion wherever a church begins to form in a city and the surrounding country. The confusion is not that people without faith are particularly bad. Many of them are far more dedicated and upright than we are. What goes wrong is that they accept the lies of Satan. Lies about what life is about, lies about God's love, lies about ourselves (resulting in guilt), lies about others (gossip) and lies about our death and the resurrection that Jesus has opened up for us.

So what do we do about bad people in church? As the wheat and weeds began sprouting together, the farm hands wanted to go through the field and pull out the weeds. But the farmer explained that "in gathering up the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest" (Matthew 13:13-30). That would be the time to separate them.

Jesus' disciples were obviously puzzled by this strange method of farming. But Jesus wanted us to understand that the church is not to do the weeding. We cannot see into the human heart, and we would make too many tragic mistakes.

There has been a long history of people who have tried to purify the church by rooting out those who were heretics. This has always done much more harm than good. Inquisitions to gather up the weeds have always persecuted God's faithful people along with the ones who were judged to be bad. When they burned women as witches in New England, many innocent women died as Puritans tried to purify the church. New denominations keep thinking they can separate out the true believers and have congregations of good wheat, but they end up controlled by the wrong people. And in Ireland Protestants and Roman Catholics still try to exclude each other by hatred and violent means.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders "I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them" (Acts 20:30). In the seven churches of Asia false prophets tried to get gain control of disciples for their own purposes, but Jesus as head of the church told people to hold fast to the truth, and he would deal with what was wrong in due course.

What did Jesus mean by saying "The harvest is the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and evil doers" (Matthew 13:41-42)? At first sight it seems to be suggesting a LAST JUDGMENT. "Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so it will be at the end of the age" (Matthew 13:40-41). But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used the fires of GEHENNA to picture bad consequences here in this life (getting trashed, making shipwreck of one's life as in Matthew 5:29, 30, 18:9, 23:33).

Throughout the Bible the Messiah King, Lord of the nations, keeps intervening from time to time to deal with what is wrong in a nation. . And Jesus warned very clearly that within the lifetime of his hearers he would come and destroy the temple and the religious establishment of the city of Jerusalem. That happened in AD 70, and there was a terrible judgment on the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others who were deceiving ordinary people. Jesus has continued to do this throughout history. He is the one who removed Hitler and his Nazi followers. He toppled the Communist empire in 1989. In the past year he removed the Taliban from Afghanistan. Wherever evil has taken over, there will eventually be a harvest that removes it.

But why does he delay so long before he deals with the evil that surrounds the church in my city?

One obvious reason is that the Lord of the harvest takes great delight in changing weeds to good wheat. The Holy Spirit can change our weed inclinations to enable us to become good wheat. Better not be hasty in pulling up weeds. Mary Magdalene must have been as bad a weed as they get, but Jesus loved her, and she became a saint. That is good news for those of us who feel we are not good enough to be the good wheat that he has in mind for his harvest. He can take us just as we are and change us by the power of the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is to put ourselves into his hands and let him make something of each of us to have a share in his Kingdom.

Saul of Tarsus was a virulent weed who persecuted and killed off all the good wheat he could find. Then suddenly he was converted on the Damascus road and became the greatest apostle who ever lived. Even during the forty years of delay before judgment came down on Jerusalem, many other people who had demanded the Messiah's crucifixion had a change of heart. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost "those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added" (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14). And even large numbers of the Sadducee priests who had demanded Jesus's crucifixion "became obedient to the faith" ( 6:7).

The conclusion of the parable is that we don't have to fuss about identifying the bad guys in the church in Kingston and the surrounding area. It is not our business to root them out. The Lord will intervene in judgment if and when it is necessary. Our job is to grow and bring forth fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 7