The parable of the wheat and the tares seems so self-explanatory that I know there must be more to it. We all understand that He who sows the good seed is the Son, that the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, and that the tares are the sons of the evil one. We know as well that the enemy who sowed them is the Evil One himself. We know that in this world there is both good and evil and that there are those who love God and those who don’t.
But what good does knowing this today do me? I want to make two applications that may not be immediately transparent.
First, I want to apply the wheat and tares to my own life. There’s a dispute about this passage as to whether the wheat and tares are talking about good and evil people in the world in general or in the church. Rather than boring me with all of the details of this dispute, I think it’s possible that both sides are right. Isn’t it true that the church is in the world? Shouldn’t we expect and don’t we actually see both good and evil men in the church? If you don’t see this, then you obviously haven’t been hanging around your church much lately!
But isn’t it also true that in my own world, the one which is my life, there are both wheat and tares? I know God and His goodness and grace in my life: I know that He has planted me as His good seed. So I can’t apply this passage to myself in terms of agonizing over whether I personally am the wheat and tares: God has made me the wheat.
And yet there are tares in my life. Evil creeps into my life from without and from within. Let me talk first about the evil from within. The seeds that the Evil One planted, unfortunately, have produced evil fruit not only in the evil tares out there but also in my life right here.
I hate them! Because I hate them, I want to understand them. I believe that knowing how the Evil One plants tares among the wheat can help me understand the evil that still finds its way within me.
While men sleep, the enemy comes and sows tares among God’s wheat. This is just as true of my individual life as it is for the world as a whole. It is when we are spiritually asleep that Satan comes and does his work in our lives. The minute I begin to coast or to think that I’ve got things made on my own, Satan goes to work. The minute I close my eyes to God and His presence in my life, Satan goes to work.
In one of his famous sermons, Hugh Latimer, the Anglican bishop, described Satan and his work like this: “There is one that surpasses all others, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And would you like to know who it is? I will tell you—it is the Devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all. He is never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough; no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you.”
The first defense against the tares and Evil One, then, is to be spiritually awake. Write notes to yourself, tie phylacteries to your wrists and foreheads, get others to remind you, schedule times of prayer and Bible reading, and hold spiritual conversations with others. Drink spiritual caffeine, take spiritual showers, and punch yourself spiritually in the face! Do whatever it takes to stay spiritually awake.
Another principle is that the wheat and tares grow gradually. It’s not always visible to me what’s taking place inside me. This was especially true when I was younger. One of the most visible cases of the wheat and tares growing together is in the behavior of little children. The tares that we find so cute and humorous in a two year old may become weeds and thorns in the five year old. If we continue to do nothing about it, even after we’ve seen the tares emerge, they may become the renegade and rebellious life of the teenager.
Because the wheat and tares grow up together organically and slowly, oftentimes the remedy in this life is a slow and organic one. The new convert may want to really lop off his eye or hand because it offends him still, but the more mature Christian realizes this really won’t help things and will only hurt in the end.We must not be too violent in getting rid of our sins or the sins of others. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to eradicate them in this life but rather that we should work on them carefully and patiently. Wishing them away in a single heroic moment won’t truly conquer my sins, even if it may give me the illusion of power for a brief time. But it might cause me to take my eyes off the Lord and His means of removing my sins.
I sometimes despair that sins in my life or in lives of my children will ever be eradicated. This despair is almost as delicious to the Evil One as are the sins themselves, and if it will lead me away from my Lord and to myself, then Satan is quite happy to use it.
My sins have grown up organically within me along with Christ, the New Man, and my job is to appeal to Him every day for His way of dealing with my tares.
The second application I want to make from today’s parable also involves trusting in the Good One to deal with the tares in my life. The truth is that the Lord has allowed them to continue to exist, at least in part, so that I may manifest the trust and patience that He seeks to have grow in me.
Make no mistake about it: the tares in my life are evil, and I wish them gone as soon as possible. But I also know that my Lord delights in performing miracles, and His favorite miracle makes changing water into wine look like child’s play. His favorite miracle is changing evil into good, just as Satan’s only trick is to change good into evil.
The existence of the tares in our lives may be the source of many blessings. They, their motives, and their actions remain evil, but our God can use them for good in our lives. Think of how many Christian virtues are exercised and developed because of the evil that exists in the world, how much love has a chance to shine in the darkness, and how strong humility and patience are shown to be in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation.
What zeal to evangelize is provoked in us by the wickedness of the tares of the world, and what patience is revealed to the glory of God because of the existence of suffering!
Precisely because we can’t get rid of evil men in the world we must learn to live in their midst, being tempted to be like them without succumbing, returning good for their evil, praying and working patiently for their conversion into wheat. How much like God we are made to be when we live among those who are sinners without becoming like them, even as we return their evil with the love of God.
The greatest blessing of all, to be in the presence of God, is provoked in me by the tares that I see around me. I don’t want to be like them, and I don’t want tares to grow in my own garden. But the only way I can avoid them is to rush into the arms of the Sower, who is also my Gardener, that He might continue His good work in me. And the tares in me also make me turn to God in penitence and sorrow, magnifying my desire to be made a more perfect wheat.
While there will be both wheat and tares in this life, in the world as a whole and in your own little world, remember to appeal to the Sower of good seed that He might bring forth His fruit in you, despite, and sometimes because of, the tares that are also in the world.
Prayer: O God that art the only hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of heaven,
Give me strong succor in this testing place.
O King, protect thy man from utter ruin
Lest the weak faith surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone
From time of old
Rescue thy servant from the jaws of the lion.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of flesh,
Strike down the dragon with that two-edged sword,
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And beat down strongholds, with our Captain God. Amen. (The Venerable Bede)
Points for Meditation:
- What tares have you allowed into your life? Have you been turning to the Lord to help you deal with them?
- What wheat has God planted in your life?
Resolution: I resolve to ask the Lord today to help me deal patiently and lovingly with the tares in my life and in the world.
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