By Terrell Carter
The technical name for fool’s gold is pyrite. It’s called fool’s gold because on the surface it looks just like gold, but after further examination, it is vastly inferior in value and utility to real gold. In the past, one of the primary ways to distinguish the two was to use a hammer. A blow from a hammer would only dent real gold, but would shatter pyrite.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 reminds us that mistaken identity doesn’t only apply to gold and pyrite. It applies to people. Even those who reside within the church.
This passage is about a farmer who was strategic in sowing wheat seeds on his land. He planted good seed and faithfully managed the growing process through his wisdom and skill as a farmer. In due time, he found out that his strategy to grow healthy crops was partially foiled because some dastardly villain planted weeds among his wheat. There was no way for him to know this until both sets of plants began to grow and became mature.
The weeds that were planted were bearded darnel, often called “cheat wheat” or “false wheat” or “tares”. These weeds had no virtues. Their roots surrounded the roots of wheat hogging precious nutrients and scarce water. It was virtually impossible to root them out without damaging the good crop. Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it was time to bear fruit. As wheat approached maturity, it grew straight up and began to turn brown. As bearded darnel approached maturity, it grew buds that caused it to droop over and it began to turn black.
Jesus told his disciples that the parable was a metaphor for what would happen at the end of time. He was the one who planted the good seed, the field was the world, and the good seeds were the people who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who planted the bad seeds was the enemy of God, Satan, and the bad seeds were those who followed evil. The harvest was the end of time, and angels were going to be the ones who brought in the harvest. In the end, the weeds would be gathered and burned.After hearing the parable and its explanation, one of the biggest challenges for us and the disciples is how not to focus on trying to figure out who the metaphorical bad weeds are and how we can get rid of them. I think that there is a slippery slope of making our focus the act of trying to figure out who is wheat and who is weed in the church.
If you listen to almost any Christian television or radio program today, a lot of time is spent questioning the validity of other people’s faith based primarily on whether they hold to a favored political or eschatological point of view. If a person doesn’t, they are usually proclaimed to be destined to a fiery end. The challenge with this type of thinking is that most of these pronunciations are based on politics and other secondary issues and not on faith in the saving work of the Savior.
As much as I believe that it is within our abilities and responsibilities as believers to make sure to hold ourselves and other believers accountable for living in ways that God has stated are expected, I think we spend too much time trying to figure out whose “in” and whose “out” when we could be spending time learning ways to love others and be in relationship with them in ways that please God.
We forget that, although we may see ourselves as the wheat and others as weeds, sometimes our fruit may look like that which comes from weeds. Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend says that on any given day, “Each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed, of holy and unholy, of potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.” Thanks be to God that in the end, it will not be up to us to make the determination on whose “in” and “out”. We are fortunate that our all-powerful and wise God will take care of the reaping and separating.
Terrell Carter, D.Min., is assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo.
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