Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
- Matthew 13:24-30
Yesterday, we read Jesus' words to the Pharisees, as He continued to rebuke them for their blasphemy of the Spirit (Tuesday's reading), after they accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. (See Wednesday's reading also for the substance of His rebuke to them.) He said, "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation." While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
The lectionary skips over Matthew 13:1-23, as Jesus introduces preaching in parables into His ministry. In this passage, Jesus tells the crowds the parable of the Sower, also explaining in private to His disciples the meaning of the parable and why He has begun preaching in this style. He gives us the understanding that the struggle for faith is an individual one; He is the sower who sows the seeds, but faith depends on the "ground" within us upon which those seeds fall. Parables are "word-pictures," taking images from every day life and giving people truths about spiritual life. As we can see from yesterday's reading, above, Jesus speaks of the heart and the condition of the heart. Parables teach truths hidden in stories; for some, spiritual mysteries may be revealed, for others it is not so. Everything depends on the condition of the inner ground of the heart. The parable of the Sower tells us of the things which get in the way of the progress of our faith, giving us universal examples of the things which may hold us back or help. It's a turning point in the ministry, along with His rejection by the Pharisees and His statement that "whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."'" This parable builds on the parable of the Sower. But here Jesus shifts the attention from the condition of the heart of the listener to the enemy who has sown his seed among the seed of Christ. My study bible says that as falsehood came after truth and false prophets came after true prophets, so the Antichrist will come after Christ. Tares are a kind of wild plant (a weed) that closely resembles wheat; so the devils fashions lies and sophistries which resemble the truth. My study bible says that as the devil sows while men slept indicates that heresy and lies creep in when people are apathetic. It adds that this parable explains why the Church does not condemn nominal members, nor does it judge those outside the Church (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Just as the wheat would be destroyed in weeding out the tares, so also many who might ultimately find salvation would ultimately be lost if they would to be condemned before Christ's judgment. We are reminded, in a certain sense, that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached that God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (5:45).
Jesus is really introducing a new way of thinking here. Salvation and faith are not about which "people" one nominally belongs to, which nation one is a part of. His faith is to go out to all of the world, and His community -- even His kin, His family -- will be those consisting of "whoever does the will of My Father in heaven." He makes it clear also that there will be enemies of His truth, enemies of this faith, even enemies in the spiritual realm, influencing the journey of faith. These weeds or tares will be another obstacle to faith, the sophistries that will abound even as His truth is preached. And this is the condition of our lives and of the world for which we must be prepared and which we must accept as part of the journey, part of our lives. In the view that Jesus gives us, there is no such thing as a worldly place that is "pure," in the sense that there will be no struggle against heresy and sophistry, the things which are spiritually misleading. It is a clear indication that our jobs are not to judge everyone else nor to in some ways eliminate those who think differently, but rather an emphasis on our own capacity and responsibility in a world that offers us struggles and obstacles, in which there are forces that wage a kind of spiritual battle for human hearts and minds. It also reminds us of Judgment, which comes at the end of the age -- not our jobs, but God's. It emphasizes the focus on care of the heart, on our own struggles to discern truth from falsehood, and the importance of teaching as given by the example of Christ Himself: fearless in teaching the truth, but not working through manipulation. What is essential here is our notion of purity; we're not going to live in a pure or perfect world. What we do seek is "purity of heart" -- a love of God in our depths, and a constant work at our faith which is a journey, the journey of a lifetime. Christ calls from us awareness, self-consciousness, a work at discernment, remaining awake and alert for the Master's return. This is the setting of the world, and our place, our job, in it. We're to be good servants and stewards, nurturing and guarding our hearts and minds and helping others to do so through that struggle for faith. In that struggle, we always have His love and and presence with us, His Helper the Spirit, our prayers to the Father.