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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Evil is very obvious in our world today. We hear daily reports about the effects of the virus. People get in heated arguments about what they think we should do about it. We hear daily reports of rioting; people starting fires, destroying property, throwing fireworks at police who are protecting buildings they want to burn down. We hear people purposely using loaded words to advance their agenda and demonize their opponents. Even if we turn off the news and focus only on our little part of the world, we see evil. We hear people constantly putting the worst construction on what others say or do. We say hurtful things to each other. Siblings get into fights. Neighbors feud. We give in to temptation. It’s no surprise that Jesus taught us to pray, deliver us from evil. But how and when will God answer that prayer?
Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds gives us the answer to those questions.
Before we get to how and when evil will come to an end there’s another question that Jesus answers. It’s a question that a lot of people struggle with. Why is there evil in the first place? Where did evil come from?
This question has caused a lot of people to turn away from God because they blame God for evil. They think that, since God is supposed to be the creator of all that exists, and since he is supposed to be all knowing and all powerful, then he must be at least somewhat responsible for evil. Shouldn’t he have foreseen what was going to happen? Shouldn’t he have done something to stop it?
It might seem that way to our limited human minds, but as Paul says, who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? And as God says through Isaiah, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. When our thoughts differ from what God says in his word, we must defer to the word and realize that there are many things about God and his rule of the universe that we don’t know or can’t understand.
Jesus says that the field in his parable represents the world. He, the Son of Man, equally God with the Father from eternity, sowed good seed in the field of the world. Now, unlike the previous parable of the sower, the seed in this parable does not represent the word. It represents the sons of the kingdom. It represents believers.
Adam and Eve were created as believers, in the image of God. And throughout the history of the world God has seen to it that there always are and will be believers, sons of the kingdom, in the world. Even in Israel at the time of Elijah, where Baal was worshiped through ritual prostitution, and Jezebel was executing the prophets of God, and people were offering their children to Molech, God reserved 7,000 sons of the kingdom. The Son of Man plants good seeds in the field of the world. No matter how evil the world gets, he will always have his remnant of believers.
The servants in the parable are confused. If their master only plants good seed, and they know that he does, that he is not the author of evil, then where do the weeds come from? If God only plants good seed, if he is not responsible for evil, why is there evil?
Jesus’ answer is an enemy did this. And he tells us clearly who this enemy is. The enemy who sowed them (the weeds) is the Devil. And the weeds that he sows are the sons of the Evil One. They are all those who continue to listen to Satan instead of listening to God and his word. As Paul says do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
When we hear these things, we are tempted to respond as the servants did. Should we gather up the weeds? Shouldn’t we destroy the weeds? After all, isn’t that what you do with weeds? You do your best to get rid of them. You pull them. You spray them with chemicals. And that would be fine if we were just talking about weeds. But remember, the weeds represent people. When James and John thought that because some Samaritans refused to allow Jesus to come to their village, they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them, Jesus did not let them. He rebuked them.
Jesus makes it clear that it is not our job to destroy people because we believe they are sons of the Evil One. No matter how evil they seem to be, no matter what they might do to us, God never says that it’s our job to destroy them. In some cases, God gives those to whom he gives earthly power the right to destroy, to execute those who do evil, but he does not give his disciples, the church, the right to destroy people who seem to be evil. He explains to his servants why. He tells them that if they try to destroy the weeds, if we try to destroy those that seem to be sons of the evil one, they may end up destroying some of the wheat. We might end up the destroying some believers along with the unbelievers.
Here is where, even though Jesus uses the example of wheat and weeds, the comparison limps. Unlike wheat and weeds than can never change, people can. Some of those Samaritans who didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, when they later learned about his death and resurrection through the preaching of Philip, may have been changed from weeds to wheat, from unbelievers to believers. If Jesus had allowed James and John to call down fire from heaven to destroy them some who later became believers might have been lost for all eternity. As long as people have physical life and the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus the power of God’s word can turn them from unbelief to faith, from weeds to wheat, from being sons of the Evil one to sons of the kingdom.
Another reason that we are not to make it our responsibility to physically destroy those who seem to be sons of the Evil one is that by doing so we become stumbling blocks to others. They use our unloving actions as reasons, excuses, to reject God and his word.
So, evil does not end by those who claim to be believers physically putting an end to those who seem to be the sons of the Evil One. In fact, we would ultimately have to destroy ourselves because we all are guilty of doing evil. None of us is perfect. Good and evil will continue in this world until God brings the world to an end. Only he can bring an end to evil.
Jesus says, let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First, gather up the weeds, bind them in bundles, and burn them. Then, gather the wheat into my barn. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are – not people – but angels. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will pull out of his kingdom everything that causes sins and those who continue to break the law. The angels – not people – will throw them into fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
John sees in Revelation that the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Nothing impure will ever enter the new Jerusalem, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. There will be nothing evil allowed in God’s kingdom. When Jesus returns in glory on the last day all who remain children of the Evil One, unbelievers, will be destroyed.
Those words should strike you as scary at first, for it is clear that we have all sinned. It is clear that there have been times when we have been guilty of idolatry because we made someone or something more important than God, even if it was only for a short time. It is clear that there have been times when we have lied, either by keeping quiet about what God says in his word, or about something we have done wrong or failed to do. It is clear that every single one of us should be bundled with the rest of the weeds and thrown into the unquenchable fire of hell.
But Jesus says that the righteous will shine like the sun. The sons of the kingdom will be separated from the weeds. The angels will separate the sheep from the goats and the sheep, the believers will be invited to spend eternity with Jesus in the new Jerusalem where no one and nothing evil will be allowed to enter ever.
Who are the righteous? Who are the sons of the kingdom? You are. The righteous are those who have been declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus. The righteous are those who have been clothed in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. The sons of the kingdom are those who have been adopted by the Father, who are heirs with Christ of the perfection of heaven. They are those who admit that they have no righteousness of their own, that they deserve nothing but punishment, that they are deserving the fiery furnace as much as anyone else, but have been cleansed, justified and sanctified in the name of Jesus by the Spirit of God at work in the word and sacraments.
God is not responsible for evil. He is the only reason there is anything good in this world. We cannot rid the world of evil. As long as the world exists there will be good and evil in the world. But evil will not last forever. When Jesus comes again in glory, the angels will separate the weeds from the wheat, the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Until then, stay close to the word and sacrament through which the holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith, and do all you can to share the good news about Jesus with others. It is only by the power of the word that the Holy Spirit can make more wheat, more children of the kingdom.