Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Pentecost 8: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

When we are not running ahead of Jesus, we might be in a better position to see Jesus: Crucified and risen for sinners, among whom I am the chief.

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “A Wheatfield, with Cypresses,” shows a beautiful landscape with a swirling sky of blues and greens and whites, and trees dancing in the breeze. The slopes and twists of it all keep you off balance; your eyes never really rest. You follow the motion and flow from one area of the painting to the next as you take it all in.

But zoom in with me on the wheat.[1] At least in my imagination, the golden yellow is the wheat. I am not actually sure, there very well could be weeds mixed in. From a distance, it is largely a homogenous blob of yellow. But when you lean in really close, you notice how the colors and brush strokes are stacked one on another. The shades seemed distinct enough from afar, but when you look closer, it is tougher to distinguish.

I see beauty, for sure. But I see something of a mess as well. It is all flowing together, in motion, mingled, and mixed.

Jesus tells a parable about a wheat field sowed with good seed, but mixed and mingled with the good seed, an enemy sowed weeds and went away. The servants ask, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” “Them” is the weeds, which are to be bound into bundles and burned in the fire.

The stakes are high for the field. This is one of the parables Jesus explains for us, and His explanation underscores what is at stake. “The weeds are the sons of the evil one,” and God’s angels will, “throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:38, 42).

As I read the parable and the explanation, I find myself thinking about three scenes. There is the world of the parable itself: The fictional man, enemy, servants, and seeds. Then, there is the ultimate reality that this parable points us to: The Last Day. On that day, God’s saints will be resurrected into a literal new Heaven and new Earth, while God’s enemies will be resurrected unto eternal damnation and separation from God.

Of course, there is the in-between, the “now” which we are invited to wrestle with. The parable reminds us of the “Now and Not Yet” tension of our faith in a resurrected Savior, even as we wait for the Day of Resurrection. We are now living after God’s justice has been meted out on the cross of Christ, even as we wait for the ultimate manifestation of that justice.

So, the parable reminds us that the Son is at work now, and the Son will be at work at the end. In between, we are called to faith. We trust where and how God is at work now, and we have faith in what God has promised to do at the End. The work of God is one. There is a continuity between “Now” and “Not Yet.” There is a flow connecting this day and The Day. The continuity is God’s gracious and ultimate reign in Christ. He is the ascended Lord now, even though not every knee is currently bowing nor is every tongue now confessing. We pray for His Kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven, even as we know it will not fully come on earth until it completely arrives in the most final way on the Last Day.

So, the parable reminds us that the Son is at work now, and the Son will be at work at the end. In between, we are called to faith.

The servants of the parable ask, “Then do you want us to go and gather them (meaning the weeds, to be burned)?” Such burning points to the work of the Last Day angels, as they usher the damned to eternal fire. The earthly servants are told, “No, not yet.” There will be a reaping, but it is not yet, and it is not your responsibility.

I wonder if this word of Jesus might be a merciful invitation for us to lay down a burden which is not always ours to carry or to carry out.

I believe God’s Law is holy and His commandment is holy, righteous, and good. I also believe we are sent to call people to repentance and to help with their speck once we have removed our log. I believe there is a prophetic function of the Word of God which declares His holy will to an unholy world so more would come to repentance and faith.

But I also wonder if we should look at this Van Gogh painting in light of the stakes Jesus describes in Matthew 13. Consider the thick brush strokes. See the colors blend. Observe how the blades blur, the swirl of complexities, and the mess of all the motion.

Do you really want to wield the sickle? Do you want to cut down and separate? What a God-awful burden to know that the act of reaping judgment will lead to a final separation. Some will enter into paradise as children of the Kingdom, and some will be cast away from God’s presence forever. Not only are the stakes high, but there is the real possibility that our zeal for justice might cause actual harm where God would provide mercy.

Like God’s promise not to break the bruised reed or to snuff out the smoldering wick, Jesus has compassion on the fragile in the parable. He expresses a tenderness that is not willing to have one of His own harmed. He warns how a passion for truth, justice, and righteousness might inadvertently harm one of His dear children.

Now, I know sin harms and is harmful. I also realize this parable is primarily about the only two categories which will exist on the Last Day: Those who are righteous through faith in Christ, and the unrighteous who have not received the mercy Jesus offers to all. But as people living in the mess of simul iustus et peccator,[2] I wonder if our zeal to point out, rebuke, or eradicate the sin from the sinner might sometimes come from an idolatrous heart which wants to execute God’s judgement for Him, ahead of time, rather than resting in His promise to bring about justice in His time.

So, rather than reading this parable as a rebuke for judging others, I wonder if we might receive from it permission to be merciful even to sinners, judging sin as a God-awful burden, but praising the Lord it is God’s burden to bear. This parable is an invitation from the Lord Himself, “Let me take this impossible burden from you, as I have taken all your burdens.”

When we do, we might see things a bit differently. If we are not searching for the bad, we might have the perspective to see the beauty. When we are not trying to do God’s work of judgment ahead of the Last Day, we might see His mercy and grace for today. When we are not running ahead of Jesus, we might be in a better position to see Jesus: Crucified and risen for sinners, among whom I am the chief.

Van Gogh2jpg


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

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.


[1] You can view this art online at: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FYwt1rRWIAA7dP4.jpg:large

[2] Latin for “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner.”