Hosea 10:1-4 Disputations like poisonous weeds

Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.

Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones. Then they will say, "We have no king because we did not revere the Lord. But even if we had a king, what could he do for us?" They make many promises, take false oaths, and make agreements; therefore disputations spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field.

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
The parable of the wheat and the weeds

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; 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.'" . . .

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."

He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Heaven and Hell #491, 502 Our second stage after death

We go through three stages after death before we come into either heaven or hell. The first is living in our outer self, the second is living in our inner self, and the third is getting ready. We go through these stages in the world of spirits. . . .

After the first stage is over--the stage of living in our outer self--we are brought as a spirit into a stage where we are in our inner self. This is a stage of our inner motivation, and the thought that comes from it. In the world, we were in this state of mind when we were by ourselves in freedom and without anything bridling our thoughts. Just as in the world, we lapse into this state without realizing it when the thought closest to our words--meaning the thought from which we speak--withdraws toward our inner thought, and we linger there. When we are in this state of mind, we are in our real self and in our real life. Our real life--our real self--is thinking freely from our own feelings.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. (Matthew 13:24, 25)

For the last two weeks, we have been warming up to our subject of heaven on earth. We started two weeks ago by highlighting the words from the Lord's Prayer, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." From these words it is clear that we are not meant to wait until we die before tasting anything of heaven; rather, we are here on earth to see that God's will is done here just as it is in heaven. In other words, our task here involves bringing something of heaven to this earth.

Then last week we explored the words that John the Baptist and Jesus and his disciples used when they preached to the people: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!" Heaven is not some far-off place that we may experience some time. It is right here within us and among us. And it is within and among us whenever we leave our own ways behind, and follow the Lord's ways instead.

With these thoughts as background, today we take up the first of the Lord's parables of the kingdom of heaven that will provide the themes for the rest of our fall series. These parables of the kingdom of heaven form a sequence that takes up most of Matthew chapter thirteen, and then reappears from chapter eighteen to chapter twenty-five of the same Gospel. And it is interesting that where Matthew speaks of "the kingdom of heaven," the other Gospels speak of "the kingdom of God." Of course, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are one and the same, because it is God's presence--the presence of God's love and wisdom within and around us--that makes heaven.

Now let's dig into the parable of the wheat and the weeds--or "wheat and tares," as you may be more used to hearing.

One of the things I love about this parable is that it points out so clearly that we do not have to be perfect to be in the kingdom of heaven. In fact, this parable makes it clear that we do not even have to be in heaven to be in the kingdom of heaven!

Here is why the parable says this: In this parable, the kingdom of heaven is first compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field. Well, that does sound like heaven. The field is the world of our lives, and the good seed is the Lord's truth that causes us to be children--or citizens--of his kingdom. But then the parable goes on to say, "but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away." Why is this surprising? Because Jesus is still talking about "the kingdom of heaven!" The kingdom of heaven is not only like having good seed sown in the field of our lives, but also like having bad seed sown in our lives by an enemy--which Jesus identifies as "the devil," a personification of hell. So while we are in heaven in our spirits, we have not only good seed sown in us, but also bad seed.

Now, I'm not advocating that we get comfortable and friendly with our evils and vices. After all, eventually they're going to have to be rooted out. But this parable should help us to relax a bit, and not be so hard on ourselves if we are not perfect. In every single one of us, the Lord has sown good seed. The Lord has given us good qualities, good character traits, good potentials and skills that fit us for heaven if, like wheat sown in the field, we allow them to grow in our lives.

But the Lord also knows--and we ourselves are often painfully aware--that in each one of us there are also bad seeds sown. These are our tendencies toward being selfish, uncaring, greedy, and focused on physical things, and all the character flaws, bad habits, and outright offenses that flow from these bad seeds. Every single one of us has weeds growing up with our wheat. Yet as long as the good seed is growing in us as well, we are still in the kingdom of heaven.

Now, truth be told, while we are mixed up between good and evil, we are still in the earth version of the kingdom of heaven. And our teachings tell us that on earth, heaven is the church--or the community of believers and followers of God. And every single one of us who is part of the universal church, or the Lord's kingdom on earth, has both good seed and bad growing in us at the same time. So we might as well just accept that we are not going to be perfect. It was not we, but an enemy who sowed that bad seed in our lives. And the sooner we get out of our personal guilt trip and realize that in fact, we are under attack by outside forces, the sooner we will be able to loosen the grip of that evil on our lives. Who sowed the bad seed? "An enemy." It was the devil, or hell, who sowed us full of the seeds of bad tendencies and character flaws. This happened while we were spiritually asleep, and didn't realize what was happening. And those seeds will grow up in us, whether we like it or not. We'll just have to get used to not being perfect.

And the next surprising thing about this parable is that we are not commanded to immediately root out the evil in ourselves the moment we notice that it is there. We have generally been advised that whenever we see anything wrong, we should "nip it in the bud." For heaven's sake, get rid of it before it takes over! But I would suggest that this does not apply to all the flaws we notice as they are sprouting up in our minds and hearts. These are not coming from buds, but from seeds. The buds we are to nip are the poisonous flower buds of fully grown weeds in our character that are about to blossom out into actions and words that are damaging and destructive to the people around us, and to ourselves.

Now why, when we see a wrong thought or feeling sprouting up in ourselves, should we not instantly rip it up out of the field of our minds? Wouldn't that be a safer course?

The Lord, in the parable, says, "No; for in gathering the weeds, you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest." What could this mean? Isn't it obvious that when we weed our garden, it is best to get the weeds when they are small? Aren't they much more difficult to uproot when they are full-grown?

In many cases, this is true. And if we have obviously evil, vile thoughts and feelings cropping up within us like broad-leafed weeds that will quickly shade and choke out the good plants, it probably is a good idea to pull them up right away, before they can take over.

But in the case of wheat and these particular weeds, that would not be a wise course of action for two reasons. First, unlike most garden plants, wheat is a grass, and it grows packed closely together. With the root systems similarly packed together, and even intertwined, pulling up the weeds would inevitably uproot the wheat as well.

Second, the particular weed that Bible scholars believe Jesus was referring to is the darnel plant, which looks very much like wheat, especially in the early stages of growth. Unlike nutritious wheat, its seeds are poisonous. But as it is growing, it is hard to tell darnel from wheat. So in our attempts to root it out, we would be likely to pull out a lot of wheat plants thinking they were darnel, and leave behind a lot of darnel plants thinking they are wheat. In other words, in the early stages, it is hard to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds, and we would likely pull out many of the wrong plants.

What does this mean in our lives? It is true that some parts of our mind and lives are like a vegetable or flower garden, in which the good plants and the weeds are obvious, and we can root out the bad right away. For example, if we are in business, and we are thinking that perhaps just this month we should cook the books a bit to make things look a little better than they really are, that's an obvious violation of the Ten Commandments, and we can just pull that weed right out.

But what about when things aren't so clear cut? Perhaps an example outside of ourselves may help to make the problem stand out. Let's say once again that we are in business, but this time we are a manager in charge of hiring and firing. We have just hired a new crop of workers. Some of them look very promising; others look like they may not cut it, or may even be dishonest.

In this situation, one course of action we might take would be to immediately give the pink slip to those we suspect are going to be a problem. But in so doing, we run the danger of letting go people that might turn out to be very good workers. Perhaps some of the ones we see problems with are simply new to employment, or new to this particular line of work. They may be struggling to get oriented, and be a bit inept and inefficient at first. These people do not need to be fired; they need to be helped along. And if we do help them along, many of them will become fine additions to our work force.

On the other hand, some of the ones who look great at first may, in fact, be quite competent--but also untrustworthy and apt to cheat the business. We might leave them in place because of their good showing, only to find out later that they have a tendency to help themselves to money or merchandise when they see an opportunity.

Of course, there may be some obvious bad apples that we need to get rid of right away. But in this situation, it is better to give our new crop of employees some time, and see how they turn out. In the language of the parable, we "Let both of them grow together until the harvest." Only when we have seen them "grow to maturity" in their job can we clearly distinguish between the wheat and the weeds among our employees.

The same is true of many of our everyday thoughts and feelings. We have a multitude of thoughts and feelings cropping up within us every day--and it isn't always easy to tell which ones are good and which are bad. For example, we may have a bad feeling about a particular person, and be ready to shut that person out. And our feeling may be right! On the other hand, it may be based on prejudices that we need to overcome, or even a bad experience we had with someone else who looked a bit like that person. In this case, it is best to let our feelings "mature" a bit, and see if our initial reaction is well-founded--or if, in fact, this is a case in which we need to change our attitudes and broaden our minds.

The message here is not that we should be careless and unconcerned about dealing with our wrong thoughts and feelings. It is, rather, that when thoughts and feelings are growing up within us that are new and untried, it might be best to see where they lead us before making a decision about whether they are good or bad. New ideas that at first seem crazy may, in fact, be leading us in a whole new and better direction. And new feelings that at first seem beautiful and appealing may, in fact, be leading us in a bad direction. As those thoughts and feelings mature, their true nature will become clear to us, and then we will be able to "harvest" them together, keeping the good, and rejecting the bad.

Some of this we can do right here on earth. The more we do allow our thoughts and feelings to grow to maturity, and then "collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to be burned," while "gathering the wheat into the Lord's barn," the better off we will be even while we are still living in the physical world.

For each one of us, though, there is also a "final harvest" after we leave the physical world for the spiritual world. There, in a place called "the world of spirits," all our thoughts and feelings come to full maturity. There, whatever we have truly believed and been motivated by within ourselves will come out into the light. We will no longer be able to think one thing and do another; and the true nature of each one of our thoughts and feelings will become obvious in the brilliant, clear light that comes from heaven. Whatever outward show we may have made here on earth, our real inner nature will come out, and we will speak and act outwardly exactly as we have thought and felt inwardly.

This can be a scary teaching. Most of us have well-hidden thoughts and feelings that we would be embarrassed or scared to have generally known by the people around us. But as Jesus said, what we have said in the darkness of our own hearts will be heard in the daylight, and what we have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms of our minds will be proclaimed from the rooftops (Luke 12:3). This should give us some incentive to gradually let those inner thoughts grow up into the light, where we can clearly distinguish the good from the bad, and then reject the bad, while taking the good to heart.

But the teachings about our final harvest in the spiritual world can also be comforting. What if we do want to be good, but we are still a bit mixed up? What if we have a good heart, but find ourselves drawn into thoughts, feelings, and ways of living that we do not feel good about. While we are here on earth, because of our outward circumstances and our ingrained habits, we may not be able to live the life we truly want and believe in.

All is not lost! When the fields of our lives come to their harvest in the world of spirits, these things will all be sorted out--no matter how hopelessly tangled a mess they may be in now. If we are good at heart, Lord's angels are very skillful in seeing our true nature, our true feelings, and helping us to "gather into bundles" everything evil and false that does not agree with them, so that they can be sent down to hell where they belong, and not trouble us anymore.

"Do you want us to go and gather them?"

"No; 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."

Music: God Grant Us Peace
ęBruce DeBoer - Used with Permission

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