The parable about the wheat and the chaff or weeds is a good reminder about how the Gospel of Christ requires us to trust more in the work of God than in our own judgment. The weeds and the wheat do not correspond to different individuals as much as they refer to the mixed nature of our inner life. In the soul of any man or woman you will find both weeds and wheat – both what is obviously good and what is obviously bad. There is a temptation by the disciples of Christ, by those in a position to work the field, to get rid of the weeds. Obviously weeds are the bad thoughts, actions, words, etc., that are discernable at any given time. The question is not whether or not they need to be gotten rid of, but when they need to be gotten rid of. There are some faults – even moral faults – that we may find in ourselves or in others which actually play a role in preventing something worse. These weeds end up protecting the wheat. A great example of this is any humiliating sin. God may indeed allow a humiliating sin so that the wheat of humility will not be removed. Pride is a worse sin than anything we could do that would humiliate us.
The grace of God is always in a better position to heal and correct us than we are. Patience becomes the virtue of choice when dealing with the apparent imperfection of wheat and weeds growing next to each other. We must resist the thinking that says all weeds must be removed right away and by us. God knows better than we do how and when to remove the weeds. Endurance is what purifies and strengthens faith and allows us to rely more on God’s grace than on our own efforts. The delay in the removal of the weeds always has a purpose – it is a purpose that correlates to wisdom rather than material efficiency. For the believer who looks into his own soul and sees both weeds and wheat he must come to realize that purity of heart is a divine operation of tenderness and mercy. God loves our hearts and respects and tends to the good that is in them. What is evil and wicked will be removed at the right time: a time we are able to understand, we are able to repent, to humble ourselves, and to receive grace.
EPHREM THE SYRIAN:
“Do not put your hope in deceptive words that say, ‘Here is the temple of the Lord,’ ” that imply you are his temple. They are only trying to assure you that you will never be left by God as though God would decide to preserve his blessed temple and would save his priests even though they are wicked. No! Do not find hope in those who flatter you with these words. If you have not corrected what you are doing, then you are no temple of God, and God will not save you on account of the sacredness of his temple that is desecrated by you. His soul is disgusted by the multitude of your sacrifices that you offer in your wickedness.1
If heaven and earth must pass away, obviously all things that are earthly must also pass away. Therefore the spots that witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection profit those only who bear their several crosses, who day by day rise again with Christ and who thus show themselves worthy of an abode so holy. Those who say, “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,” should give ear to the words of the apostle: “you are the temple of the Lord,” and the Holy Spirit “dwells in you.” Access to the courts of heaven is as easy from Britain as it is from Jerusalem, for “the kingdom of God is within you.”LETTER 58.3. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 65). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.[/note]
For the temple of the Lord is there where the true faith dwells, in holy living and the chorus of all the virtues. Then he infers, “If you make your ways straight and if your thoughts do not follow error, and if you will do justice and refrain from evil, nor shed innocent blood or scandalize the little ones. If you do not walk after alien gods, honoring perverse doctrines that you simulate in your own hearts for evil purposes. I will dwell with you in that place that you call the temple of God and in the land that I gave to your ancestors, who were obviously apostles and apostolic men. Or at least I will cause you to dwell there from beginning to end in security.” This can be compared with the virgin who spreads modesty and freely prefers chastity, who has another conscience and knows only that virginal purpose of the apostle that “she be holy in body and in spirit.” For what good is a chaste body to a corrupt spirit that does not have the other virtues that this prophetic word describes?2
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA:
Let us now proceed to consider the mode of his loving discipline, with the aid of the prophetic testimony. Admonition, then, is loving care’s censure and produces understanding. Such is Christ the Educator in his admonitions, as when he says in the Gospel, “How often would I have gathered your children, as a bird gathers her young ones under her wings, and you did not allow it!” And again, the Scripture admonishes, saying, “And they committed adultery with wood and stone and burned incense to Baal.” For it is a very great proof of his love, that, though knowing well the shamelessness of the people who had kicked and bounded away, he notwithstanding exhorts them to repentance and says by Ezekiel, “Son of man, you live in the midst of scorpions; nevertheless, speak to them, if perhaps they will hear.”3
The Lord points out that our foe the devil sows the weeds of his wickedness and malice to choke the seed of God in us. Thus he says, “But while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” The Lord indicates that the devil sows weeds among sleeping people—that is, among those who through negligence are overcome by their infidelity as in a kind of lethargy and fall asleep amid the divine injunctions. The apostle says concerning them: “For they who sleep, sleep at night, and they who are drunk, are drunk at night. Therefore let us not sleep as do the rest, but let us be wakeful and sober.”
Those foolish virgins about whom we read in the Gospel, weighed down by their lethargy and infidelity, not having taken oil for their vessels, were unable to go forth and meet the bridegroom. Hence it is always uppermost in the mind of this devil—the enemy of the human race—to sow weeds among the wheat.
But he who awaits the Lord faithfully, once the sleep of infidelity has been banished from him, will not be bothered by this nighttime sower.… According to the Lord’s interpretation, the good seed represents the children of the kingdom and the weeds represent the wicked children.4
The Lord then explained for us what he had said. See what we choose to be in his field. See which of the two we will be at harvest time. The field is the world, and the church is spread throughout the world. Let the one who is wheat persevere until the harvest; let those who are weeds be changed into wheat. There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord’s field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow.5
The workers of the householder wanted to go and gather up the weeds, but they were not allowed to do so. Though they indeed wanted to gather them up, they were not allowed to separate the weeds. They did what they were suited for and left it to the angels to do the separation. At first they were unwilling to leave the separation of the weeds up to the angels. But the householder, who knew them all and saw that a separation was necessary, ordered them to put up with the weeds and not to separate them. In answer to their words, “Do you want us to go and gather them up?” he replied, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” “Therefore, Lord, will the weeds also be with us in the barn?” “At harvest time I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather up first the weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn. Allow what you do not have with you in the barn to grow in the field.’ ”6
If uprooting is forbidden and patience must be kept until harvest time, how are some people to be removed from our midst? Between wheat and weeds there is something called darnel, when the plant is in its early growth and there is no stalk yet. It looks like an ear of corn, and the difference between them is hardly noticeable. The Lord therefore advises us that we should not be quick to judge what is doubtful but should leave judgment up to God. So when the day of judgment comes, he may not cast out from the body of saints those who are suspected of misdeeds but those who are obviously guilty. As to his words that the bundles of weeds are to be consigned to the fire and the wheat is to be gathered in the barn, it is clear that all heretics and hypocrites are to be burned in the fires of hell.7
And at the end of things, which is called “the consummation of the age,” there will of necessity be a harvest, in order that the angels of God who have been appointed for this work may gather up the bad opinions that have grown upon the soul, and overturning them may give them over to fire which is said to burn, that they may be consumed. And so the angels and servants of the Word will gather from Christ’s entire kingdom all things that cause a stumbling block to souls and their reasonings that create iniquity, which they will scatter and cast into the burning furnace of fire. Then those who become conscious that they have received the seeds of the evil one in themselves, because of their having been asleep, shall wail and, as it were, be angry with themselves. This is the “gnashing of teeth.” Similarly it is said in the Psalms, “They gnashed me with their teeth.” Then above all “shall the righteous shine,” no longer differently as at the first but all “as one sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then, as if to indicate that there was indeed a hidden meaning, perhaps in all that is concerned with the explanation of the parable, maybe most of all in the saying “Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” the Savior adds, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” The Lord thereby teaches those who are attentive that in the exposition, the parable has been set forth with such perfect clearness that it can be understood by the novice.8
- COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH 7.4. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 64). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SIX BOOKS ON JEREMIAH 2.32.2–4. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 65). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CHRIST THE EDUCATOR 1.9. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 66). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 51.1.1–2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 277). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 73A.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 277). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 73A.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 277–278). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 2. 13.29-30. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 278). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.