Matthew 13:24-32 :: “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.” ’
Here’s a question I know we’ve all heard dozens of times before: what is your vision for ministry? It comes with the territory of being in seminary. It’s a daunting, yet very important question. Will you serve an inner-city church? A small town ministry in Alabama? A remote village in Asia? A seminary? An advocacy group? Will you preach, or teach, or develop outreach ministries, or practice development, or shape national policy? What kind of mark do you plan to leave on the world? We’re leaders and leaders have visions.
In this parable, we find a man with a vision – a vision of wheat. The parable is simple enough. A man owns a field and he decides to plant it with wheat. He goes out, by himself, and sows “good seed”, not the everyday stuff a poor tenant farmer could buy, but the good stuff. Unfortunately, this man has enemies; one of them sneaks up to the field at night and sows weeds just after the owner has planted his good seed. For a while, the weeds grow next to the wheat undetected; it was difficult to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat during the early growing stages. They couldn’t stay hidden forever though. When the workers notice them, they run off to the owner and say, “What happened? I thought you bought the good stuff? Your wheat field is covered in weeds!” The owner knew he planted good seeds. He also knew that these were no ordinary weeds; these were poisonous weeds which were actually illegal to plant under Roman law. This was an attack!
Immediately, the workers want to take action and save the wheat: “So we should probably go get rid of these weeds right away, don’t you think!? These are dangerous. They’ll ruin your harvest.” The owner surprises them, “No. You’d better not do that. You can’t see it but these weeds are now connected to the wheat. Their roots are all tangled together. You can’t pull up one without pulling up the other. We must let the weeds grow together with the wheat.” But the owner doesn’t lose hope. When the time for harvest comes, the weeds will be easy to recognize so they can be gathered first and discarded. Even when the field is covered in weeds, the owner never loses his vision of wheat.
Later on in this chapter, Matthew records Jesus’ own explanation of this parable, but I’d like to offer a different perspective. Let’s imagine ourselves as the landowner. The “good seeds” we plant are our very lives, our work, our service of love to God and others as ministry leaders. For us, the “vision of wheat” is our vision of the fruit we hope to see from our lives, the mark we hope to leave, the transformation we long to see.
So, we have these visions of ministry full of pure, rolling fields of wheat glistening in the sun, right? We plant ourselves in love for God and neighbor, and one day we look up to see those “amber waves of grain” ripe for God’s harvest… If only it worked like that… Unfortunately, as leaders who follow a murdered, crucified Lord, we too have enemies and we need to be ready for the weeds… lots of weeds.
Yes, we’re good leaders. We do our best to be faithful, to love well, to plant the “good seeds.” But one day we’ll look out over our “field of ministry” and the sight may terrify us: poisonous weeds threatening our fragile wheat – conflicted communities, fractured families, disappointed disciples, flaky friends, corrupt colleagues, struggling sinners, hurt, pain, suffering, opposition, and yes, even personal attacks. Weeds. What will we do? It’ll seem like we’re failing, but it won’t even be our fault! But then our “workers” will come knocking, wanting answers: “I thought you were committed. I thought you would do better. What happened pastor? Is this your vision? Why so many weeds? Where’s the wheat?”
At these moments, we’ll face a true test of our discernment. Will we respond in fear and anxiety, running run through our fields yanking up weeds and destroying our visions in the process? Or will we have the humility to confess that the weeds we seeing growing in the lives of others are actually the same weeds growing in our hearts as well? If we choose this humility, we realize that our visions for ministry have been and continue to be indelibly shaped by the sin and suffering we experience deep in our own lives and in the lives of others. Our vision for ministry, blurry as it may be, must include the weeds; we must flex, adapt, and make room to include the sin and suffering of others because the roots of those weeds are tangled up with roots of our visions. Like the land owner in our parable, our only choice is to let the wheat and weeds grow together. The harvest belongs to God; we will have to live with these weeds and take our stand on the faithfulness of the One who has called us and who promises to bring our “good work” to completion at the final harvest.