Growing up, we quickly discover that there is both good and bad in the world. That reality may strike us upon seeing a fight spool out on the playground; or it could be that we had a lesson about the animal kingdom in school, a first glimpse at the survival-of-the-fittest; or we could know in our bones, having seen how our parents treat each other since we were small. By the time we’re adults, most of us have come to the conclusion that humans are just devilishly good at hurting one another.
This is our reality, our world in a nutshell—a world where women tuck keys between their fingers to walk to their cars, where the medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients aren’t able to access the protective gear they need, and where poverty and wealth live just blocks away without even crossing paths.
We live in a fallen world. We do the best we can. And we long for deliverance. We pray for the suffering to end. But all too often, it doesn’t. All too often we find ourselves in situations we don’t choose, where we feel as powerless as a stalk of wheat overshadowed by a virulent weed.
Jesus put before them another parable. The kingdom of heaven, he said, is like a field where a man plants good seed; but while his servants were sleeping, an enemy slipped over the gate and sowed weeds among the wheat. No one guessed that the deed had been done until much too late, when pulling up the weeds would mean pulling up the wheat, too. “Let them grow together until the harvest,” the master decided. “Then and only then will we separate them.” We might imagine the servants raising their eyebrows at this statement; but the decision had been made, and not by them.
Given the parable’s uncomfortable implications, it comes as no surprise that Jesus’ disciples are interested in an explanation. “Tell us,” they say, “what you meant by this parable of the weeds in the field.” And he does. The master, Jesus explains, is the Son of Man. The enemy is the devil. The field is the world. And we’re all planted in it, good and bad together, growing up until the harvest arrives.
Entrenched as we are in reams of bad news these days, it’s easy for us to relate to the disciples’ confusion and to the servants’ dismay. Did the master really mean to let the weeds and the wheat stay as they are all the way until the harvest? Wouldn’t it have been better to get rid of the weeds at some point, even if it risked some of the crop? Wouldn’t it be nicer if the children of the kingdom could just get a break?
But the answer we get, the answer we will always get until Jesus comes again is no. God’s will is for good and evil to grow together in every aspect of our world—which of course leaves us asking the question: why?
It’s easy to get tied up in knots trying to figure that out, though that doesn’t prevent many of us from trying. We want answers. We want justice. We want peace. Now. And for good reason. Not one of us here has escaped the experience of good and evil clashing in our lives. Like the psalmist, we cry out, “O God, the arrogant rise up against me; a band of violent men seeks my life; they have not set you before their eyes.” What will happen to us? we ask. What will happen to the wheat when the weed grows taller, leaning over the plant, taking its rain and stealing its sunlight? Will the Lord simply let it die?
“But you, O Lord,” the psalmist writes, “are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth. . . . Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”
In the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our struggle to live alongside the evil in the world and to battle the evil in ourselves, we are nevertheless watched over and cared for by Christ, who is merciful and gracious, always ready to “give strength to his servant and save the child of his handmaid.” He has not nor will he ever leave us alone as we live out our lives in this present evil age. Every moment of every day, he walks the fields of the world, tending the wheat and whispering to the weeds, telling all who will hear of the power and mercy of the God who can turn thorns into cypress trees and briers into myrtle.
The master said that the weeds and the wheat would remain together, that we who are his children might grow in strength as we exercise our faith in this era between the gardens—and that we might also, by our very presence in the world, give testimony to the One who saves.
As we pray for strength, for a sign of God’s favor, the world around us notices and wonders just what it’s seeing. Pain, death, and sin plague everyone, but as the children of God bow their heads at the foot of the cross and seek the way of the LORD, they are witnessing to the children of darkness. “God, show us a sign of your favor,” we pray, “that those who hate us may see it and learn that the LORD reigns and that he is merciful and gracious even to his enemies.” Weed and wheat will be together until the end, according to the will of the Father—but it is so for our sake and for the sake of the lost, that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace. AMEN.