"First, collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn.
Then gather the wheat into my barn."
Because we do not hear this parable very often, it might be good for us
to examine what Jesus is talking about. In the translation that I use,
He uses a very plain word for the weeds. He calls them simply "weeds".
In our reading that you heard a little while ago, you heard "tares". Another
word for those weeds is darnel. All of them mean the same. Darnel is a
weed that simulates wheat. When it is in the blade stage, it looks exactly
like wheat. It would take a botanist to discern which is darnel or tares
and which is wheat. But as it begins to grow, it develops its own properties.
The stem of the darnel or the tares is much thinner than wheat and its
head is much smaller, it is also known as "drunkard's wheat". It is toxic
to animals and to man. If you ate it, you would suffer from vertigo.
Darnel or tares looks like wheat. And that was the point of Jesus' parable
this morning. When we hear this parable, we say, "This is rather simple
to understand." Of course, we have had the benefit of two thousand years
of understanding it. But for the people of Jesus' time, this was something
brand new. His disciples, who weren't always the most astute, had a problem
with it. So Jesus explained it to them. It's the only parable that Jesus
explains, aside from the parable of the sower. A few verses later, in Matthew's
Gospel, we read this:
"Dismissing the crowds He went home. His disciples came to Him with
a request. "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He said
in answer, "The farmer sowing good seed is the Son of Man. The field is
the world. The good seed - the citizens of the kingdom. The weeds are the
followers of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The
harvest is the end of the world while the harvesters are the angels. Just
as weeds are collected and burned, so will it be at the end of the world.
The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to collect from His Kingdom all
who draw others to apostasy and all evil doers. The angels will hurl them
into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth. Then
the saints will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom. Let everyone
heed what he hears!"(Matt 13:36-43)
Because we do have the benefit of two thousand years of Church history
behind us, we can understand the parable in a little different light. "The
weeds are collected and burned. So will it be at the end of the world.
The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to collect from His Kingdom all
who draw others to apostasy and all evil doers." Consider that the a darnel,
tares, looked exactly like the wheat, growing together. Within the Church,
good and evil exist together. When I look at you this morning, what am
I saying? That some of you are wheat and some of you are tares? I would
hope not. We won't draw the conclusion that closely.
But I would like you to draw this conclusion. Remember that all of us
who come from various places, perhaps various churches and various communities,
have, at one time or another, most likely been hurt by the Church that
we used to go to. Maybe it was a personal hurt. More likely, the hurt was
something deeper than that. We sensed that something was wrong with the
direction that the Church was taking. And you said, "This is not the Church
that I grew up in." In an act of arrogance, individuals did away with the
way in which people worshipped in the Episcopal Church. The 1928 Book of
Common Prayer was suddenly looked upon as some heretical tome and could
no longer be used. That hurt a lot of people. Soon, other things began
to happen; incidents that were contrary to the faith and practice of the
Church for nineteen hundred years: The endorsement of life styles that
you can't find endorsed by God's Word. And you begin to say. Something
is amiss here. Where are the bishops? Why didn't the bishops do something
about this? We would be like those servants who came to the man who owned
the field, "Why don't you root it all out?" But that isn't God's way.
There was a bishop whose name you recognize. His name is Bishop Spong.
He was the bishop of Newark in the Episcopal Church. And he is a case in
point. He is so radical that he becomes a caricature of some of the things
that have happened to our churches. Bishop Spong doesn't believe in the
Virgin Birth anymore. He doesn't believe in the bodily resurrection of
the Lord. ("If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain" (I Cor. 15:17).
He decided, after some scrutiny, that St. Paul was a homosexual! Well,
a lot of people said, "Why don't the bishops do something about this man?"
But they don't seem to do anything.
Prior to Spong, there was another individual - Bishop Pike. He too was
rather bizarre in his belief. In fact, he got. into the notion of reincarnation.
He disappeared up a wadi in Israel and he hasn't been seen since. Poor
man. (Maybe there is reincarnation. And he came back as Bishop Spong!)
You and I look at this and we say, "What has happened to our Church?
Why doesn't God do something here?" It isn't always God's way to deal with
these things immediately. But it is God's way to deal with these things
ultimately. And there is the clue. None of this is left unnoticed by God.
He loves the Church. Jesus loves the Church more than you and I do. After
all, it's His Church. He is not going to allow this to happen with impunity.
What had to be given as instruction to the first century Church is just
as appropriate m the twentieth century. Not all of the solutions are immediate
solutions. After all, in the first century, there were bishops just as
crazy as some of our contemporary bishops. And they lead people into apostasy,
the surrender of one's faith. People in the first century asked the question,
"How can this happen? Is this not the one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church?" And Christ would say, "Yes, it is. But those individuals, who
look like wheat, are not wheat." Often, the apostles had to instruct their
people to be on guard "Your adversary goes about like a roaring lion seeking
someone to devour" (I Pet.5:8). Peter wasn't just talking about the political
adversaries. He was talking about problems within the community of believers.
After you have orthodoxy, then you have heresy and apostasy, but you
have to have orthodoxy first. Gnosticism, in the end of the first century,
was a perfect example of that. Christianity became something only for the
intellectual elite. It's still around. They call it New Age now. It's as
old as Gnosticism. But heresy has reared its evil head in our Church throughout
There is so much in the history of the Church that has nothing to do
with religion, with our relationship with Jesus Christ, and with one another.
Jesus is warning us about that. It can have all the trappings of religion
and still be false. Just as the tares can grow with the wheat. But look
what will happen if God seems to tolerate this. He tolerates it only for
At Christmas, I reminded you that Christ came historically as a tiny
baby. He is present to us now in the Sacraments, in His Word, and in the
Church. But remember that the next time He comes, He comes as judge in
order to set everything right. "The Son of Man will dispatch His angels
to collect from His Kingdom all who draw others to apostasy and all evil
doers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will
wail and grind their teeth." I won't make any judgments about individuals
in any of the churches but I think there are a lot of people in positions
of authority that have much they are going to have to answer for. And they
are going to answer to Christ when He comes as judge. It will be all right.
It will work out. Jesus Christ is still Head of His Church. He is still
in love with each and every member of His Church. And He may tolerate the
weeds growing, but He will respond.
What can we do? We are a little community as we see a bigger picture
Sometimes it's overwhelming and we say, "God, do something now! Change
things now! Reform Your Church. Renew Your Church." Well, renewal always
comes from the bottom up. Authentic renewal of the Church historically
has always come from the people first, not from the top down. Leadership
finally get the message of what the people are saying. Then they come up
with the renewals and the reformations. But it begins with the people.
It begins with you and me. If we want the Church to be renewed, it begins
with us. First, we are renewed. First, by the grace of God, we are changed.
The first reading this morning, from Paul's letter to the Colossians
has a very short description of what the Church ought to be. This is authentic
wheat that Paul is talking about. This is what we have to understand and
practice in our own lives. This is how the change happens. We will let
God take care of the big picture. But the little picture. you and I, this
is something that we can choose to do. Hear what Paul says now in the context
of the Gospel reading:
"Because you are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves
with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience Bear
with one another. Forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you."V
Would the history of the Church be different if forgiveness had been
a greater part of it?
"Over all these virtues, put on love which binds the rest together and
makes them perfect. Christ's peace must reign in your hearts since as members
of the one body, you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves
If you're really grateful, you don't have a lot of time to get into
a lot of heretical notions. You're just grateful to God that He's blessed
you with whatever He's given you. You know you're unworthy. But He still
blesses you. "Let the Word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom
made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God
from your hearts in psalms, hymns and inspired songs. Whatever you do,
whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give
thanks to God the Father through Him."
If we just followed that teaching of Paul, the history of the Church
would have been different. Certainly, the Church today would be different.
You and I would be different. As we give ourselves, soul and body, heart
and mind to God in this Eucharist, let us make it a gift of ourselves.
Let the bread and wine placed on the altar stand for what we are and who
we are. Ask Him to bless it and give it back to us so that we can be nourished
with His body and blood in order that we can truly be Church as He wants
us to be. Then we can truly be the wheat that He will gather into His Kingdom.