The Parable of Wheat and Tares is a difficult parable for lots of reasons. As I noted yesterday, there is the whole issue of eschatology to deal with. My friend Evan spent today’s post pondering the existence of hell, which got me thinking about that which ends up in the furnace, the weeds. This parable is a Presbyterian’s dream because it seems to indicate that we are predestined toward a final destination: God’s granary or the unquenchable fire.
Yet even that raises questions. As the parable goes, God’s sowers do the good work of planting good seed. This is, we can assume, those who, as our Romans lesson suggested last week, live in the Spirit. The wheat are those who live in the Kingdom of Heaven, who seek after the good and perfect will of Father, who seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God. The wheat, quite simply, are the good guys. The weeds, on the other hand, are not planted by God. They are the work of the evil one, the deceiver, Satan, who comes under the cover of darkness and spreads bad seed on God’s field. The weeds, Jesus tells us are children of the evil one: those who seek not after the will of God, but after their own selfish desires; those who tear down rather than build up; those who ignore the plight of the widow and orphan. The weeds are the bad guys. On a runoff election day in South Alabama, the imagination begins to swirl with images of a holy label gun being used to brand candidates as weeds or wheat.
Here’s where the parable and systematic theology break down. What does it say about God that he allows the devil to come behind and sow bad seed? How does God allow Satan to ruin his good creation? This parable sets forth a God who is, at best, only as strong as and yet more foolish than Satan himself. This is not the God of all creation that we espouse in the Creeds. How is it possible that there are weeds running around among us good wheat? And how can we tell the difference? Do I know any weeds? Am I a weed? I think we have successfully broken this metaphor, which is the primary indicator of getting the parable wrong.
This parable, like last week’s story of the Sower, isn’t about us. It is about God and his kingdom. It is about the one who loves us enough to let of muck things up, loves us enough to find us where we are, and loves us enough to not let us stay that way. It isn’t a systematic theology, but a story that invites us to ponder God’s larger plan for creation and his vision for the age to come. It isn’t an easy parable, that is certain, but it is full of good grain that invites us to think about and pray for the Kingdom of God.