As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
As we continue to study Yeshua’s parables, we should be grateful to Him for having given them, and at the same time, be honest with ourselves; admitting the littleness of our faith, our propensity to forget the lessons we’ve learned, and our continual need of instruction, reproof and warning.
Have you noticed that so many of Messiah’s parables center around agriculture? Ancient Israel was, after all, largely a farming society. For the most part, we in the modern age have lost touch with what it means to plow the ground, to plant seed, to water, fertilize and cultivate what has been planted, and to get busy at work at harvest time. Nowadays, when we are getting low on food, we hop in the car and drive to the nearest Aldi, Kroger or Costco.
These farming parables may seem a bit remote to us, but to the Israelis of Yeshua’s generation, they hit close to home. And, gratefully, we are not so far removed that we cannot understand the analogies. This morning’s parables all center around farming. May the Lord give us understanding, and also give us the will to obey and put into practice the things we learn.
Wheat and Weeds and Mustard Seeds
(genuine vs. counterfeit disciples [and what not to do about it], how the greatest thing in all the world had the humblest beginning, and accepting our limitations)
Matthew 13:24-30, 31-32, 36-43 and Mark 4:26-29 (Luke 13:18-19)
Yeshua told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”’”
In a few minutes, we will read the verses in which Yeshua explains the parable to us. But let me take a minute and talk about wheat and tares, or as they are more commonly known, Darnel.
The weed that Yeshua was describing was annoyingly familiar to the farmers of His day; probably the same weed that agronomists today refer to technically as Lolium Temulentum. It is a species of rye grass that in its early stages is so similar in appearance to wheat, that only a trained eye can make the distinction. That is why farmers must allow both to grow together. They only become distinct from one another at harvest time, when the grain itself appears. Darnel, by the way, isn’t just a counterfeit – it is poisonous! In tiny amounts, it produces intoxication. But both human and livestock deaths have occurred from eating darnel, because of the fungus it contains.
Unlike sheep and goats, which are easy to tell apart, wheat and tares are much more difficult to distinguish from one another.
So, why would someone do this? The owner of the field described it as the work of an enemy, but it may mean something other than someone who harbors hatred for him. The enemy, in this context, might be a business competitor. By ruining or diminishing his rival’s crop, he himself stands to profit by selling more wheat from his own field. Regardless the motive, the net effect is the same: aggravation for the land owner, a corrupted and significantly reduced crop (since weeds also use up the soil’s nutrients), and nothing to be done about it until harvest time.
Notice that nobody is being reprimanded in this story for having been asleep. After all, people need to sleep. Unfortunately, nefarious acts such as this almost always occur under cover of night. Those who perpetrate evil usually do so by stealth, to avoid being caught. And evil abounds in this fallen, satanically-influenced world. If anyone doubts that sin is real, then explain why we have to lock our houses, our cars, our valuables when we go to the gym. It’s why we need pin numbers and verification codes and passwords that we have to change every couple of months because of data breaches. It’s also why nations need armies. It’s why we need law enforcement, and attorneys, judges, courts, and prisons.
Now remember, like almost all of Yeshua’s parables, this one begins with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” That phrase needs to govern our effort to understand the parable.
One mistake people make when it comes to interpreting a parable, is to treat it atomistically – focusing on every minute detail in the story, and trying to correlate it with a spiritual equivalent. Parables aren’t meant to be understood that way, and when people do that, they sometimes miss the big picture. Parables are didactic – meaning that they are meant to teach moral principles. Some details (the major ones) represent someone or something. Other, lesser details are there simply to fill out the story. But it is a literary genre that requires some care.
For this parable, there is no need for me to explain what everything means. Yeshua did that Himself. Let’s resume reading at verse 36.
Then He left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Let’s review that, and keep this list in front of us for the next few minutes, to make sure that what I teach about the parable comports with Yeshua’s explanation:
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds
- The sower = Messiah Yeshua
- The field = the world
- The good seed = true followers of Yeshua
- The weeds = unbelievers
- The enemy who sowed them = Satan
- The harvest = End of the Age
- The harvesters = angels
Yeshua is teaching that corruption would inevitably come into the world, courtesy of Satan, and that one of the forms it would take would be counterfeit believers. The Church, Messiah’s Holy Community, will triumph – of this we have His promise. But at the moment, evil is running rampant in the world and, in the world, there are lots of churches (with a small c). The enemy is shrewd and stealthy; he does some of his most fiendish work in the realm of religion. To the undiscerning, these tares will have all the outward appearance of genuine faith. Now, don’t start looking around you, trying to figure out who’s real and who’s fake. As much as we might wish to root out everyone that isn’t on the level, that task is not ours to do, nor is this is the time. Yeshua told us it would fall to the angels to do that, and at the end of the age. And remember, the field is the world, not just churches.
As an aside: there was a time not long ago when the ‘tares’ did a pretty good job masquerading as ‘wheat’ and blending in. But today people in the world have only contempt for us, and don’t want to get along or blend in. In a weird kind of reversal, today it’s the wheat (sincere, but I believe misguided, believers) thinking the way to win souls for Messiah is to blend in with the tares. Should we go to unbelievers with the Gospel and with grace – absolutely! Do we need to ‘blend in’? No. If you do happen to blend in with a group you’re trying to reach, as long as it’s authentic, and not put-on, that’s great.
And apparently, God’s good angels are chomping at the bit, as it were, to rid the world of all the evildoers. Like us, they have to wait for the appointed time. At the End of the Age, they will be sent out to gather up and take away all the wicked, and cast them into the fiery judgment. Those who remain are the righteous, and they will flourish in Messiah’s Kingdom forever.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
I have to admit to you that there is a real division of opinion on this parable. Some scholars take it to be in line with the previous parable, and that the mustard seed represents corruption sown in the midst of the field. They suggest that ancient rabbinical writings viewed birds as representations of evil spirits. I disagree with that interpretation. I think it is a mistake to assume that all these parables address corruption merely because they occur sequentially and are agriculturally-themed.
Everything about the Gospel fits perfectly with the tiny mustard seed motif. Given the humble circumstances of Messiah’s birth and His life, the unlikely men chosen to be His disciples, His choice to live in the despised region of the Galilee, the almost complete absence of fanfare through most of His three years of ministry, and that He died what was by human reckoning an ignominious death, it is truly a wonder of God that Messiah’s Holy Community turned the world upside down, and that men and women from all the nations of the world have had a witness of the truth of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and many of them have come to take shelter in that great tree!
In this parable, the growth is wildly disproportional to the smallness of what is sown. But have we not seen across Israel’s history that, time and again, God takes delight in granting amazing victory to His humble people – the few, the weak, and the small, over the many, the mighty, and the great? In this parable, the mustard seed, which is just about the smallest seed of all, which usually only produces a bush, grows into an enormous tree that provides shade and protection to many.
And didn’t Yeshua admonish His followers that if we would have the faith even of the tiny mustard seed, we could move mountains? Everything about this parable is, in my estimation, positive, and reflects something so great arising from something so humble and seemingly inconspicuous. Our takeaway from this should be to have greater trust for Adonai, and despite the opposition or ridicule or just outright indifference of so many to our offer of the Good News, we should be encouraged and anticipate great things that God is going to do.
Let’s consider our third and last parable for this morning.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain– first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
In Genesis, we read that God created plants which produce seeds pre-encoded to replicate that same type of plant. Botanists analyze how that works, but “the average Joe” hasn’t studied it, nor does he understand the underlying molecular processes. And how God did it all in the first place is far beyond our comprehension.
And that’s okay. Ours is to plant the seeds. After that, the process continues on its own. But we do have that responsibility to till the soil and plant the seeds. And, like bookends, ours is also to harvest what has grown at the proper time. What happens in-between isn’t anything we need to micromanage.
Messiah Yeshua tells us that it is that way with the Kingdom of Heaven. Our responsibility is to plant seeds of the Good News. At opportune times, we have the privilege to reap, when a person is yearning for the truth and desiring to have the assurance of eternal life with God. But the mystery of how a human heart can be transformed from stony hardness to humble tenderness is in the purview of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, due to the deficiency in our faith, we have a hard time believing it will ever happen – especially with our close friends or family who aren’t yet believing in Yeshua. May the Lord God of Israel increase our faith, so that we really believe that He is at work in the unseen realm of human hearts, despite all the negativity that our eyes see and our ears hear. Rest assured, Messiah Yeshua IS building His Holy Community!
Listen to this short but beautiful prayer by Tim Keller: “Lord, I confess I do not understand your timing. If I were in charge of history and my life I would have arranged things differently. But I cannot see the whole picture. I cannot see from beginning to end, and so I wait for you in obedience and prayer.”
My prayer for us this morning, is that we might experience the shalom that comes with the simplicity of trusting in the goodness and power of God, and being content not to understand all mysteries. It was expressed by David in Psalm 131, one of the songs sung while the ancient Israelis ascended the steps of the Temple:
O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever.