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Wholeheartedly – Wheat and Weeds

Date: 23/07/2023/Speaker: David Huang

23 July 2023 – The Wheat and the Weeds 

David Huang 

PRAYER AND READING 

Good morning! My name is David and I’m honored to be sharing God’s word with you this morning. 

At FCC we use MENTI as a way to let you engage directly with the sermon, and share your thoughts and responses. So I invite you now to take out your phone and go to fcc.li/menti where you will be able to see the slides and respond live to questions, but it is also completely anonymous so I hope this also helps you to feel safe in sharing your answers. 

I’d like to open today’s sermon with a story:  

It was March 2009. A woman’s rights advocacy group in Singapore called AWARE was having their run of the mill annual general meeting, usually attended by 30-40 people. Long time members started to sense something was wrong when 100 strangers showed up, most of these having joined the organization 1-2 months prior. At the election for the executive committee, newcomers were nominated to key positions and managed to win 9 out of the 12 seats with overwhelming majorities. As it turned out, this was a coup, by infiltration, orchestrated by conservative Christians who opposed AWARE’s pro-LGBT stance, and wanted to take over the organization to steer it in a more conservative direction.  

Much drama ensued, culminating in an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in May 2009 attended by more than 3000 people where the long time members regained leadership control of the organizational through a vote of no confidence in the new committee. This is a legendry news in Singapore now, known as the Aware Saga, but maybe some of you have never heard of this and I bring it up to introduce today’s passage, which is on the theme of infiltration.  

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, also known as the Wheat and the Tares.  

This is not an easy passage, nor is it is a feel good passage. The passage touches on judgement and hell. If this is triggering to you, please be forewarned. I’ll not be offended if you go next door for the next 30 minutes and enjoy a nice soothing cup of coffee instead. Please do come back for communion. For the rest of us, let’s give this time to God in prayer. 

Dear God, as we listen to your word today, and as we delve into this difficult passage, I pray that our hearts will be attuned to yours – to know that your intentions towards us are always filled with love, and not condemnation… to know that your words are given to us to strengthen us and guide us toward you, not away from you… and to know that we are beloved and nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

So now we will turn to today’s reading from Matthew 13:24-29 from the New Living Translation. 

Parable of the Wheat and Weeds 

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 

27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ 

28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. 

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. 

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” 

INTRODUCTION 

There’s more to the story, but we’ll take a short pause here because I need to mention 2 things. 

  1. Firstly, why does Jesus use this type of storytelling? This is a sort of story known as a Parable, which are common in the Jewish tradition and rabbinic literature. As the passage we just read says, Jesus often used Parables when speaking to the crowds. Parables are relatable stories that express profound spiritual truths, especially when trying to describe something abstract like “What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?” or “To what can we compare it?” The metaphors in the stories are drawn from the everyday life of the listeners of Jesus’ time – especially farming. In fact, this story follows right after a more famous parable – the Parable of the Sower.  

In this case, Jesus was talking not about different kinds of soil, but different kinds of seeds. The weeds are a plant known as Darnel, which looks very similar to wheat before it ripens.  

These stories are meant to make us ponder and discover the truth. Often, we remember something better when we figured it out for ourselves than if someone had just told us. 

  1. Secondly, some of you might be thinking this sounds familiar. Well, you’re right – Gary preached on this less than 2 years ago on 24 Oct 2021 as part of the Becoming Sermon series. His sermon included a fascinating history of the Devil, so if that is of interest to you, you can go look it up after this. I was a bit worried he had already taken all the good points and there was nothing left to say about it! But I hope what I will share today will be a slightly different take on the passage, and hopefully I will add to what Gary shared. 

We will soon read on, because a few verses later we are given the explanation to the Parable by Jesus himself. But in the spirit of a Parable, before we move on to the explanation, let’s try to engage with it ourselves. 

QUESTION 1: What do you think are the “weeds”? 

Multi-choice, choose more than 1: 

  1. Evil people (children of the Devil) 
  1. Non-believers (those who have not accepted Jesus as their Saviour) 
  1. False believers (those who profess to be Christian but are not really “saved”) 
  1. Sin in our lives 
  1. Wrong beliefs 
  1. Something else? 

JESUS’ EXPLANATION OF THE PARABLE 

Now let’s continue with the story, and see how Jesus explains the Parable.  

Parable of the Wheat and Weeds Explained 

36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.” 

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man[d] is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom.  

The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world,[e] and the harvesters are the angels. 

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  

42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! 

I don’t know about you, but for me that raised even more questions than answers! So now we have the following elements: 

  • The Farmer who plants the good seed = Jesus 
  • The field = the world 
  • The good seed = the people of the Kingdom (literally sons or children of the Kingdom) 
  • The weeds = the people who belong to the evil one (literally children of the Devil) 
  • These two are mixed together, are indistinguishable at first, and will be allowed to grow together until the harvest 
  • The enemy who planted the weeds = The Devil (Greek “diabolos”) 
  • The harvest = the end of the world (or end of the age) 
  • The Harvesters = angels 
  • The sorting of the weeds = judgement day 
  • The burning of the weeds = thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth 
  • Gathering into the barn = the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom 

ISSUE 1: RIGHTEOUS AND EVIL PEOPLE 

These are the very words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew. It is raises at least 2 ideas that we will have to wrestle with. Firstly, there is the idea of the fiery furnace – a metaphor for hell. This is a significant topic and one that I would like to tackle in a future sermon. For today we will wrestle with the second major idea – that all people can be categorized into two distinct groups – the children of the Kingdom (or the righteous) and the children of the Devil (those who do evil). Some are “sown” into the world by Jesus, and others are “sown” into the world by the Devil. The parable implies they look very similar and we cannot tell them apart, and should not try to do so, because God allows them to co-exist in the world. As for who is who, Jesus does not really go into specifics – The literal words are children of evil. But who are these? Objectively immoral people? The unsaved? False Christians? Is it even people at all? How should we understand this? 

Jesus talks about being a “Child of the Devil” in John 8, addressing the religious leaders who oppose him: 

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God… I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” 

The idea here is that children are imitators of their parents. So the Children of the Devil carry out the desires of their father, while Children of the Kingdom carry out God’s desires, listen to God, and love God.  

Yet, this still seems very black and white. The idea that there are good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, is typical in Hollywood movies. Both the Gospel and our experience tell us that such categories are fluid, co-existent, and difficult to discern at best. Most of us, including church-goers, comprise both plant-types and are not “purely” one or the other.  

I’d like to briefly share two psychological studies that I came across while researching the topic for this sermon: 

  1. Moral character in the workplace (2014, Taya Cohen) 
  • Over 1000 people were studied in the workplace 
  • The researchers were able to categorise them into those with low, average, and high levels of moral character, and to see how this related to behaviours in the workplace that help or hinder cooperation and group functioning. Positive acts like mentoring, volunteering, and accommodating co-workers schedules, and negative behaviors like lying, stealing, verbally or physically abusing co-workers. 
  •  Adults with high levels of moral character tend to: 
  • MOTIVATION: Consider the needs and interests of others and how their actions affect other people  
  • High levels of Honesty-Humility 
  • Perspective Taking: empathy, or imagining oneself in another’s shoes 
  • Guilt proneness – feeling guilty for harming others 
  • ABILITY: Regulate their behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences for themselves or others (e.g., they have high levels of Conscientiousness, self-control, consideration of future consequences) 
  • IDENTITY: Value being moral and want to view themselves as moral.  
  • Employees with low moral character tend to exhibit: 
  • Deceitful, boastful, greedy (lying, cheating, stealing) 
  • Exploitation of others and selfish behavior 
  • Machiavellianism – a tendency to manipulate or deceive others  
  • Moral disengagement – downplaying their own harmful acts by comparing them with worse acts 
  • Results showed that those with low moral character contributed to an overwhelming amount of negative work behaviours – this ends up negatively impacting themselves and creates work environments that bring out the worst in everyone around them. Yet in spite of these tendencies, they exhibited almost as many positive acts as the average person. 
  • To put it very simply, even “good” people do bad things, and even “bad” people do many good things. 
  • The most important thing to note, however, is that moral character, like all aspects of personality, can change over time and across situations. For most of my career, I’ve been simply focused on doing good work on my own. For the first time I am now in a position where I am coming to realise that my main job is taking care of the people who are doing the work. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to be the kind of team leader that brings out the best in everyone, and I realise this is not my strength – I very much fall short. Maybe there are things on this list you also feel you need to improve in. If so, good! Guilt-proneness is a sign of moral character!  
  • But the way we respond to guilt is actually depends on how we see God. If we see God as a harsh judge, we would tend to downplay and hide our failures – but this also means we are less likely to improve. If we see God as a loving parent, then failure is an opportunity to grow, to embrace change even if it is hard. This is what this sermon series has been about – to know we are BELOVED, and to let our lives reflect that. 
  1. Victims and Perpetrators (1990 study) 
  • Researchers compared the perspectives of people who had made someone else angry with those of people who had been angered by someone else by asking people to recall a time when someone made them angry (or a time when they made someone else angry) and write about it.  
  • Victims were more likely to mention the lasting negative consequences of the incident, whereas perpetrators were more likely to see the incident as an isolated event from which both people had moved on. Victims were also more likely to view the perpetrators’ actions as incomprehensible, while perpetrators were far more likely to view their actions as justified. 
  • The study also found that victims and perpetrators were largely similar in personality – they are exactly the same people. Thus, any differences we found must be attributed to the roles of victim and perpetrator and not to any personality differences between victims and perpetrators. 
  • This study sheds light on why people tend to characterize those who do bad things as bad people, even though we’re all guilty of doing bad things ourselves sometimes. The results suggest that both victims and perpetrators perceive events in biased ways. Victims tend to inflate the magnitude of the harm inflicted on them partly because they (understandably) can’t know the motives and factors that drove their perpetrators to act. Perpetrators minimize the harm they caused because they have a strong incentive to do so and because they can’t fully appreciate the emotional effects of their actions without reading their victims’ minds. 
  • We’re all sometimes victims and sometimes perpetrators. But, when we’re victims, the perpetrators seem worse because of these biases. When we’re the perpetrators, we don’t judge ourselves as harshly. 

So the point here is that we’re all in the same boat – each of us is a mix of good and bad. And it is easy to think of others as “bad people” while minimizing the harm we ourselves do. The best approach is compassion, and empathy, towards others and ourselves. 

What you should NOT do, is use such passages to draw circles around who is IN and who is OUT, by trying to define an “Us” and a “Them.”  

At the worst, this leads to dehumanizing of the “THEM”. In 2018, a gunman attacked a Synagogue in Pittsburg, killing 11 Jewish people. The gunman’s social media page specifically quoted John 8:44 – that Jews are children of the devil. 

In a less extreme example, some Christians have taken today’s parable to mean there are “false believers” in the church, and although the parable clearly says it’s not possible to tell whether another person is a “false believer”, and that even God will allow true and false believers to co-exist, this has certainly not stopped many from trying to point fingers and root out heretics in their midst. Quite often this is anyone who disagrees with them theologically or their moral values.  

Back in June, Pastor Miak gave an interview to Mustshare News about how Pink Dot is still relevant after the repeal of Section 377A, and parents of queer individuals still need support, because they face discrimination from their peers. The negative comments to this article were immediate, numerous, harsh, and anti-LGBT. I went there this week and I found the comments section has been disabled, thankfully. It’s really hard to read such comments, especially for the target of the comments, because it is dehumanizing – people who think they are attacking an idea forget they are hurting real people. FCC, as the only openly LGBTQ affirming church in Singapore, is often the target of such criticism, and some churches think we are a cult! 

Overseas, in 2019, the Evangelical Covenant Church in the US expelled a congregation for supporting the LGBT community. When I lived in the US I was part of this denomination for several years, and I liked that the denomination believed itself to be particularly open minded to theological differences, so it is really disappointing that what have traditionally been secondary issues have become so primary for some. 

What you also should NOT do, is become overly obsessed that we ourselves might be the tares, the false believers. We start to doubt we are really among God’s people – perhaps due to feeling shame over things we have done, or patterns of harmful behavior in our lives whether it be towards ourselves or others. We cannot believe God could possibly love us, or transform us. If that is you, I hope the past few weeks sermons have sown good seeds in your heart – that you ARE God’s beloved, and this is not something you earn by your good actions, or lose by your bad actions. Our status as Children of God is given to us by God out of God’s limitless grace. I hope you can receive this good news by trusting in the loving heart of God 

What I think the parable is saying to us today is to give others the benefit of the doubt – keep an open mind, be willing to listen and see where God is at work in places you least expect, especially among people different from you, who believe and act differently. When we start to try to label other people as “tares” or “children of the devil” we no longer see them as people God loves, made in the image of God.  

So while FCC is more often on the receiving end of these labels, we too have people, or groups of people we just intrinsically don’t like, and we may have written them off in our hearts as unworthy of our care or understanding. Let’s be generous, as we sang Draw the Circle Wide – to remember that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love. 

We’ve talked about various more literal interpretations, and how they can be unhelpful. What are more helpful ways we can interpret this passage? 

Maybe a more helpful way to think about this passage is that tares are not people, but rather they represent bad thoughts, false opinions, errors of judgement, delusions. Some of you might say… but that’s not how Jesus interpreted it so we are twisting the meaning. However, even Jesus ended his explanation with the phrase: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”, which occurs after biblical passages with a hidden meaning. So there are multiple interpretations proposed by several early theologians – that expand on the literal meaning of the parable. 

Today we might say the enemy is the brokenness of the world, and “tares” represent the wounds that people, ideologies, and situations have sown into our hearts. Last week, Pastor Miak spoke about 4 kinds of behaviours – the inability to say no, to say yes, to hear no, and to hear yes. Quite often these behaviors arise out of situations or traumas that happened to us when we were young, and we develop certain ways of protecting ourselves. These wounds become part of who we are, and as the parable says, they co-exist with the good in us. Sometimes we want to uproot them, but cannot.  

If this is how you feel, then this parable is a word of encouragement, let God sort out the weeds in your life – you can still be fruitful! Trust that God will heal and restore all things in the end, although we will have to be patient, because this restoration is happening in God’s time, not ours. In the meantime, keep your heart soft. 

To take the analogy further, sometimes WE can be the “enemy” in the parable, and we can intentionally or unintentionally sow wounds into others. But we can also be the farmer who sows the good seed. What are you sowing? Seeds of love and encouragement, courage and vulnerability, curiosity and humility? Or condemnation and criticism, indifference, and defensiveness? 

QUESTION 2: What are some ways today you can sow good “seeds” into your life and the lives of others? 

Thanks for all your answers. I hope we can all continue to remember we are the BELOVED children of God, and may we live Wholeheartedly! Amen! 

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