This may sound strange to those of us who grew up in the USA, but it really is hard to tell the difference between the sheep and goats in Israel. There are different breeds than we are used to. When I was studying there, and taking a class on the parables of Jesus with a professor who loved to take field trips, often out of the school van window he would see a herd of sheep and goats and dare us to separate them in our minds. We could not. Until you get up close to them, you cannot tell the difference.
There is a similar strain of thought with the weeds and the wheat, which fill today’s passage. The instruction is to not pull the weeds, “…for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
The ideas of selection and separation are common in Jesus’ parables. While sometimes it is difficult to spot the difference between who is good and evil on looks alone, there are definitely good intentions and right paths – and the implication is that we best spend some time making sure we are doing what is right, for the sake of the kingdom.
I have been in church work for many years now, and I have worked with a lot of wheat, and a fair amount of weeds too. And I can attest, first hand, that sometimes the weeds are hard to spot. But after a while, they show their true colors. And I have also experienced first hand that God eventually binds up the weeds.
Interestingly enough, most of the wheat I encounter spend a good bit of time worrying about if they are good wheat or bad weeds. It is often the weeds who are convinced of their own goodness, and march around declaring others to be weeds, proclaiming their own wheatie-ness. This is the first sign of trouble!
I always have to remind myself that this parable refers to the kingdom of heaven – in fact to the sower himself. So the kingdom of heaven has great hopes to be full of nourishing wheat and an abundant harvest. The kingdom of heaven is intending for a barn that is overflowing with goodness and produce.
We must all strive to live into this gracious goal. May abundance reign in our hearts. And may we always be alert enough to see the abundant harvest and live into that each day.
And let’s let God handle the weeds.