Sometimes, the kingdom of God is like seeds. But in Matthew 13:24-30, the kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who plants good seed (which answers my question from last Thursday about who is scattering these seeds) in his field, which is apparently unsecured. An enemy comes in and attempts to ruin the harvest, not by poisoning the soil but by sewing bad – or at least inconvenient – seeds in with the good seeds. When I’ve heard this parable preached, it’s the growth of the wheat versus weeds that gets the attention; the wheat, it is implied, is the kingdom of heaven – goodness growing among corruption. And of course, that is one way to picture the world we live in. But it was the previous parable that likened the kingdom of heaven to seeds; in this one, the kingdom of heaven is the farmer.
Now, Jesus explains this parable fully in Matthew 13:36-43, which helps me understand how the reapers could discern the wheat from the weeds since, many times, they closely resemble one another. The “reapers” of the harvest are angels, not people and this means, among other things, that we as human beings are not to judge: sometimes a weed looks like wheat and vice versa. What’s curious to me is that Jesus doesn’t reveal the meaning of this parable until after telling two more parables, so we’ll come back to flesh out His explanation after looking at Matthew 13:31-32 and Matthew 13:33 respectively in a week since there’s likely a reason His explanation did not immediately follow the parable.
In the present parable, I assume that the seed sower and the household master are the same person – in this case, the Son of Man (Matthew 13:37) – one of Jesus’ names for Himself. There are a few things I note about him from this parable: 1) he has slaves and 2) he is wise. Slavery is a truly back-breaking, demeaning enterprise whereby one human being strips another of his or her humanity, essentially treating her or him as an appliance valued only for its utility to its owner. No doubt, this particular form of human evil has existed in this way since (before) biblical times…but this is why it’s all the more striking that the master has this conversation with his slaves: this master recognizes and affirms the human dignity in his slaves by pausing for conversation with them instead of just barking orders. This relationality, taking time to answer questions and explain these answers, is radical for master/slave protocol. Of course, the kingdom of heaven, then, would be relational – it is Jesus Christ. Does the kingdom of heaven have “slaves”? Only in a 1 Corinthians 7:22 way: “For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.”
2) His wisdom shows in how he works to preserve good. First, here it is the seed that is good or bad rather than the soil. Whatever the weeds are – mere distraction or actual danger – they apparently do not threaten the growth of the wheat. Thus, the master can instruct his slaves to let the wheat mature even as the weeds grow up among it. It will only be at the harvest when the weeds are tossed into the fire. The economy of the kingdom of heaven, then, is about the preservation of good. The master does not go after the enemy who sewed bad seed trying to ruin the master’s yield. Instead, he shrewdly observes that plucking out the bad too soon will compromise the good. This is not something the slaves were able to discern – they immediately wanted to tear out the tares! The master knew, however, that discerning good from evil was not something human beings were made to do: in their natural state (think Genesis 1, 2 and 3, before the fall), human beings did not know good from evil – they didn’t need to and were, in fact, ordered to keep away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their whole lives were enveloped in the presence of God, who walked with them in the cool of the day. It is only when the forbidden fruit was plucked that their eyes were opened – but even then, it was not necessarily to good and evil but to shame (Genesis 3:7). We were not meant to be the judges of good and evil, and thank God, because sometimes, wheat and weed look a lot alike.
This is not to advocate for tolerating abusive relationships or exploitative situations because “what seems bad may be good,” of course. It is to say that, if the kingdom of heaven is both the seed and the sower of this seed, then the reason God’s word does not return to God void is because of *God’s* actions, not ours. The good seeds (children planted by Jesus) are to grow among hardship and difficulty (the weeds) in the world (the field) and all they have to do is grow. At the close of this age, when the kingdom of heaven (in this parable, Jesus) takes His harvest, His wheat will not have been spoiled by the attempts at foil by the enemy nor the soil of the world but will be shining like the sun.