A Problematic Passage, How Not to View the World Part 1

A Problematic Passage, How Not to View the World Part 1 July 18, 2023

how not to view the world


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

Jesus 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. 

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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 uproot 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.’

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 people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people 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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

I’m thankful we discussed the principle of all or nothing a couple weeks ago. I didn’t realize it would also prepare us to discuss this passage, and I’m thankful for that foundation. If you have not read The Destructiveness of All or Nothing I encourage you to go back and do so. 

Our reading this week is an isolated parable found only in Matthew among the four canonical versions of the Jesus story. Outside of our canon, there is a version of the parable in the gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, ‘My Fathers’ kingdom can be compared to someone who had seed. Their enemy came by night and sowed weeds among the good seed. The person didn’t let anyone pull out the weeds, “so that you don’t pull out the wheat along with the weeds,” they said to them. ‘On the day of the harvest, the weeds will be obvious. Then they’ll be pulled out and burned.’” (Gospel of Thomas, 57)

This parable probably circulated among the Matthean community orally before the gospel of Matthew was written. It wasn’t a saying of Jesus’ within the Markan community, the Johannine community, or the larger cosmopolitan Lukean community. 

When a problematic passage only appears in one gospel, it gives me pause. We don’t need to throw it out, but should practice the utmost care with it. We’ll begin carefully unpacking this passage, next.

(Read Part 2)

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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