“How long before I can put on a second coat of paint?” “How long should I leave the bread in the oven?” Whether working on the house or putting food on the table, we have all learned the importance of timing. If you do something at the wrong time, you can inadvertently destroy the whole thing.
Our text this morning confronts us with a question about timing in the Kingdom of God. The servants in the parable see evil in the world and they come before the master, asking if he wants them to root it out. The master’s response is puzzling. Certainly, the master recognizes the evil of the enemy. Certainly, the master sympathizes with the workers and does not value having weeds growing in his field. But the master knows that, until the end of the world, there will always be this mixture of good and evil. Rooting out evil now may damage the growth of the kingdom in end. So, he asks the servants for patience and trust: Patience, as they endure the mixture of good and evil in the world (v. 24-30, the parable emphasizes patience), and trust that, in the end, God will render righteous judgment over all things (v. 36-43, the explanation of the parable emphasizes trust).
Living in patience and trust is difficult. On the one hand, patience could easily lead to condoning evil. “Since good and evil will exist together until the end,” we say, “why even bother calling out evil in the world? Just let God take care of it in the end.” When we think this way, the proclamation of the Law is silenced. On the other hand, trusting God will render His judgment in the future could easily lead to a premature enacting of God’s judgment now. “Why wait until the end?” we say, “since the Kingdom of God is certain, let us give the evil people what they have coming and fix this world once and for all.” When we think that way, the proclamation of the Gospel is silenced.
Jesus calls us to follow a difficult road. We are to be patient in the presence of evil and trust God will render judgment in the end. What does this look like? I would say it looks like the preaching of Jesus. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4:17). This preaching does not condone evil. No, it recognizes evil and calls people from it. Yet, this preaching does not enact the final judgment on evil. Instead, in the face of such coming judgment, it calls people to experience the present mercies of God. The Church forgives those who repent, baptizes them, and welcomes them into the Kingdom where they continue to live in the midst of evil in the world and, ultimately, will live in the mercies of God eternally at the end.
We are to be patient in the presence of evil and trust God will render judgment in the end.
This call to patience and trust is crucial for the Church in its public mission today. Right now, we live in a cancel culture. When a person acts in an offensive, unjust, or illegal way, our culture does not tolerate this behavior. Our culture calls the person out on it and then cancels him or her. Sports figures, celebrities, news anchors, lawmakers, CEOs, cooks, and coaches have all been canceled; erased. Society has rendered its judgment on their actions, and they will never be heard from again.
In a cancel culture, the Church has a unique mission. We do not condone sinful behavior. The Church has and will continue to call sinners to repent. But the Church does something different than the culture. The Church forgives. The problem with a cancel culture is it leaves no room for repentance, no chance for change, and no possibility of growth. A thirty-something sports figure is called out because of a social media post he made when he was 13. He repents and is sorry… and the culture cancels him. Because he once committed evil, he is always considered evil. This is not how the Church responds.
But the Church does something different than the culture. The Church forgives.
The Church follows Christ who rose from the dead and leads us into life after canceling. Think about it. Christ, Himself, suffered death from a cancel culture. His words were considered too blasphemous for some and too radical for others. His actions were considered soft on sin for some and demonic for others. He was declared unfit for human community and hung to die on a cross. Yet, in Christ’s resurrection, God revealed He is the author of life. He cannot and will not be controlled by a cancel culture. In Christ, God promises to forgive sin and bring about new life: Life after being canceled.
The Church is filled with stories of this new life. Peter denied Jesus and deserted Him but was called out of sin into forgiveness and Jesus sent him to feed His sheep. Paul fought against Jesus and was intent on killing Christians, but Jesus called him out of sin and sent him to proclaim the Kingdom.
Because of Christ, the Church does not cancel people. It calls to them with the Law that brings about repentance and speaks to them the Gospel that brings about new life. Through this message, God governs His Kingdom at this time. We live in a world where evil and good are mixed. The experience is infuriating and it tries your patience. But canceling some will not save others. No, proclaiming salvation is the way God works in this world, governing it by repentance and grace, until the day when evil will ultimately and finally be destroyed.
In a cancel culture, Christians live by a much larger picture. Because of Christ, even those who have sinned and are repentant are not canceled. They are spoken to with words of grace that give life.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.