While you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.
It’s common to approach any new endeavor—from starting a relationship, family, or job to lesser tasks like redecorating or taking a trip—with a glance over the shoulder to avoid mistakes we’ve made or seen in others. We note early signs of trouble and vow to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. We want things to go more easily and efficiently this time. So we begin on full alert, combing through every detail to root out spoilers. It’s a sensible approach. It sounds sensible at least. But itemizing potential efficiency issues about anything before seeing how it goes can prove more foolish than we think.
Jesus’s parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13.24-30) lays out three good reasons why this is. First, we may not realize something’s gone awry for a while. By the time we’re aware of it, it’s already taken hold and requires careful thought to manage it constructively. Second, we may look at trouble without seeing it. Many harmful situations, ideas, habits, and people resemble healthy ones. If our eagerness to root out trouble as soon as possible overtakes us, we risk suspicions about good things planted in our lives. We may nip the wrong buds. And finally, once we do identify problems springing up around us, moving too hastily to remove them very well may endanger stability and growth in other areas of our lives. Jesus says tolerating weeds is wiser—and, in the long run, more efficient—than destroying good wheat with preemptive zeal. When we find trouble sows its seeds uncomfortably close to our good seed, it’s best to let it grow. Time for removal will come. But we take care not to sacrifice what feeds us by pulling up what drains us.
Here’s how the story goes. A farmer plants his field with good seed. While he and his farmhands sleep, however, his enemy spreads bad seed with the good. It’s a nasty, premeditated scheme to ruin the farmer. The enemy’s seed disguises itself as wheat until it reaches maturity. Without seeing what it produces, the farmer can’t distinguish it from the healthy grain. As the field ripens, the farmer begins gradually awakening to the furtive trick played on him while he slept. His servants ask if they should tear out the weeds when they become noticeable. The farmer tells them to hold off, “because while you’re pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.” For the time being, it’s enough to know the weeds are there. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” he says. “At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13.30)
The Keys of the Kingdom
Jesus prefaces the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” (v24) This explicitly fixes it as a metaphor for conserving the productivity of God’s love and grace in the world. The farmer’s reluctance to disturb the growing wheat prior to harvest points to a final reckoning. The weeds will be burned in bundles and the wheat gathered into the farmer’s barn. On this level, the story is prophetic—a simple explanation of God’s plan to redeem those who produce nourishing grain and cast off others whose appearance of goodness is exposed by failure to produce. Reading it this way imparts two essential truths. One: Appearances will mislead us. Many who look and grow like wheat sprout from bad seed. They’re weeds sown among us to drain valuable resources and destabilize our roots. When they ripen to reveal they’re useless, people may look at our field and presume it’s all weeds. It’s possible the good we accomplish will go unnoticed until the harvest. Two: Harvest determines their fate. It’s not for us to expose impostor weeds. Our job is to grow and bear fruit, to be pleasing to God and counted worthy to be kept.
The principles of Christ’s kingdom theology aren’t confined to the hereafter. He teaches them so we can live by them now, which leads us to glean a pragmatic, personally applicable lesson from the story. In Matthew 16.19, Jesus tells us: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”—of the kingdom, not to it, meaning if it’s true there it’s true here. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The weeds in our lives must grow until we’re sure what they are and confident removing them won’t destroy the good we grow. When it’s safe, we can pull, bind, and toss them into the fire. It’s the most efficient, effective method we have, because once that’s done, they’re gone for good; the harm they cause goes with them. If we act too soon, we may cause more damage than necessary, uprooting healthy grain we need to store for future nourishment. Knowing how to manage trouble includes understanding why and when we should let it grow.
We may not recognize weeds until they fail to produce. Rather than hurry to eliminate trouble, it's often wiser to let it grow for the sake of the good thriving around it.
(Tomorrow: One Wise Ass)