The separation of good from evil: Matthew 13.24-30,36-43
We look this morning at a parable Jesus told about the Kingdom on God (Matthew talks of Kingdom of heaven but others speak of it as the Kingdom of God)
1. In this world, good and evil grow together.
‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil’ (v37)
The Son of Man (Jesus) sows the good seed.
In the first story that Jesus tells in Matthew, the seed is the Word of God, and different kinds of people are like the different soils which receive the seed.
Here the illustration changes a bit, and we become the seed. There is good seed and there is weed, evil, seed.
This story is not explaining why there is evil. It is simply telling us that there is evil and that it was sown by the enemy of God.
And it tells us that there is good and there is bad.
There are people who have their face turned towards God.
They will be far from perfect, but they are aware that they are far from perfect; they have confessed their sin and their need for God, and they have put their trust in God, in his forgiveness, in his love, in his law and in his power to transform them. And they are changing and becoming more radiant.
And there are people who have turned their face away from God. They may, at the moment, be living far better, moral lives, than some who have their face turned toward God. But these people refuse to acknowledge God, and so make other things – or, more often, make themselves - little gods. They live for themselves: whether that is their own enjoyment, well-being, or what other people think of them or expect of them.
So it is not where you are that matters. It is where you are heading
There were two thieves who were crucified at the same time as Jesus.
They were guilty of insurrection.
To some, they were heroes and freedom fighters, but most would say that they were terrorists, evil men who used fear and death to get what they wanted.
One of them, even as he hung on the cross, abused Jesus. His last recorded words were words of defiance, mocking God, mocking Jesus, mocking the world.
The other – even as he hung on the cross - turned to Jesus. His last recorded words have him asking Jesus for mercy and looking forward in hope.
Good seed may look tiny, pathetic, insignificant, misshapen now. The seed of the enemy may look good now. But seed is not judged on what it looks like now. It is judged on what it will become.
We may be poor, shamed, socially inept nobodies.
We may be dressed in a suit, have influence, be honoured in society.
But we are not judged on what we are like now. We are judged on what we will become.
And in this world, the good seed and the bad seed, those who are turned towards God and those who are turned away from God, are here together. We grow together.
2. It is not our job to separate the good seed from the bad seed.
'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'. (v28-29)
Maybe we consider ourselves to be the slaves of the householder. We have pledged allegiance to Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.
And sometimes, when we are particularly enthusiastic, we think that our job is to separate people – to separate the good from the bad, to say who is saved and who is damned, to divide those who are going towards God from those who are heading away from God, those who are becoming more radiant from those who are becoming more shadowed.
But that is not our job.
a) We cannot see into anyone’s heart. (it is hard to see into our own heart)
In the Old Testament, God gives the people a king. He tells his prophet Samuel to go to a town called Bethlehem, to the family of a man called Jesse, where there are 8 sons. One of them will be king. Samuel looks at the oldest son, the natural choice. And he looks the part. Big, strong, respectable, clever. He has an authority about him. But God says, ‘No. Not him’. And then he says to Samuel, ‘Human beings look at the outside, but God looks at the heart’.
Someone, who may appear to us to be a loser, trapped in themselves, trapped in an addiction, may in their heart have turned to God and cried out for mercy. They are just on the beginning of their journey.
Another, who professes to be a Christian, may simply have chosen to identify themselves with other Christians because that is the way to get on in life, the way that they think they can get what they want. They are still living for themselves. There has been no brokenness, no awareness of their sinfulness. They are not facing towards God, but away from God.
But we can’t see that.
That is the reason why we need never despair if someone you love has died, even if they never knowingly turned to Jesus, even if they were a loud mouthed defiant God-hater all their life. We may guess, of course, but we do not know for certain. Only God knows why they were like that. Only God knows their heart. And in our uncertainty lies our hope
b) We are not to separate the good from the bad, because we can only see what people are like now. We cannot see what they will become.
I’ve recently been introduced to two fairy tales by George MacDonald, the C19th Scottish writer and preacher. They are called The Princess and the Goblins, and Curdie and the Princess. They are remarkable. Apparently, MacDonald was a mentor for Lewis Carrol, and profoundly influenced JR Tolkien and CS Lewis. GK Chesterton wrote that he came alive after reading these books.
In the second fairy tale, Curdie is given a special gift. When he holds the hand of someone, he feels that hand not as it is on the outside, but as it is on the inside. Not as it is, but as it will be. And so, some hands that on the outside are refined and elegant and smooth, feel to him cold and clammy like the hands of demons or dead people. And others, rough and course, feel to him like the hands of a prince or princess. And on his travels, Curdie is accompanied by a gang of monsters, led by Lina, a grotesque looking dog-like creature. But when he feels their deformed, broken paws, again he feels beauty.
To quote CS Lewis from one of his masterpiece essays, ‘The Weight of Glory’,
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”
It is not our job to separate the weeds from the good seed. That is God’s job, for the last day.
Instead our job is to treat all people with hope. It is to hold out the word of life to all, to speak the good news of the love of God, of the forgiveness of God, of the power to change, of the hope that he gives us.
To continue the quote from Lewis, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, … that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. .. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit— immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
3. One day there will be a separation of the horrors from the splendours, the good seed from the weeds
“.. 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.” (v30)
Do not think that because we cannot separate, there will be no separation.
There will be a terrible separation.
We are told that the angels will do this ‘at the end of the age’. The angels are the messengers of God. Angel means messenger. And God will separate us through his Word.
In a way, it is a self-separation. We choose. We choose by how we react to his Word when we hear it.
We become what we hear and receive.
I mentioned that Jesus has already spoken, earlier in this chapter, about how people are like the soil into which the seed, the word of God, falls. Some are like hard paths who do not even hear the word. Others are stony ground. They hear the word but do not allow it to take root. Others are good soil. They hear and they receive and they allow the word to bear fruit. But in this story that Jesus tells, people are like the seed itself.
They have become what they have heard.
If we hear and allow the word that is sown by Jesus to come deep into us, then he will transform and change us, and he will make us living words.
So it is a little bit up to you and me.
All who have closed their ears to God’s word, who are walking away from God, who have caused others to turn from God, and who have become so dark that they are mere shadows, will be cast off.
And all who have opened their ears to God’s word, turned to God, who have cried out for and received mercy, who have sought to live for him in his strength, will become radiant.