Wheat and Tares

Ralph drives me crazy! You have a Ralph at your church, don’t you? We not only have several of them at our church but a couple of them (none named Ralph, by the way) have been in our home in recent weeks. Every church has its annoying people, its nosy people, its smelly people, and so on. That’s not who I’d like to think about right now.

Along with a selection of oddball believers, pretty much every church has somebody who is an unbeliever. This person might sit in the pews every Sunday, might drop money in the collection, might even “amen” now and again, but they’re not actual followers of Christ and their deeds often expose them, at least occasionally.

As we attempt to understand better what it is that Matthew 6:33 would have us “seek first” in the kingdom of God, my mind is drawn to the collection of kingdom parables in Matthew 13. The first in the line is the “Wheat and Tares” in Matthew 13:24-30.

 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. (24-25)

The parable goes on, but I’ll trust that you can follow the link and read it on your own. In summary, the owner allows the weeds to grow up, instructing the workers to pull them out at harvest time. Interestingly, the Greek word that the CSB translates as “weeds” is actually more specific. The “tares” of older translations are a particular type of weed, one that looks like wheat but does not produce usable grain. This isn’t dandelions and chickweed, but something that masquerades as the crop–maybe it even “amens” now and again.

What does this parable teach us about the kingdom of God?

First, it seems pretty clear that the kingdom of God (or heaven) is not the same as heaven or the afterlife. Why? Is God really going to allow the “weeds” to go into heaven? And if so, then what does the harvest and the barn represent in the parable? No, I think the kingdom of God is at least initially of this world.

Second, the kingdom of God, when we reach it, will not be perfect. We might find ourselves standing in a terrific field of wheat, but God isn’t going to keep all of the weeds away from us. Our mission, it seems, is to keep seeking, which involves growing into fruitful grain ourselves, ignoring the weeds as best we can.

Third, the kingdom of God will face opposition. Notice that the weed seeds didn’t just blow in on the wind. An enemy sowed the weeds among the wheat.

A farmer needn’t teach wheat to grow. It will grow to the best it can given the conditions. Sure, weeds can interfere, but that isn’t the wheat’s problem. That’s the farmer’s affair.

So today, the kingdom of God is like a field of grain. If I’m an individual plant, then my job in seeking the kingdom is to grow and put on a head of good grain. Is it a coincidence that this grain is also seed for the next generation of wheat? I don’t think so.

Wink TV

Would You Like to Be Rich?

Do you want to make more money? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? What if I could show you a guaranteed way to make the sort of money that would give you the lifestyle you’ve always wanted: a new house, fine car, boat, travel? And what if you could do that with absolutely no risk?

See, I could have easily made my career writing informercials for shady get-rich-quick schemes. Clearly, I missed my calling. But then I have to get serious as we continue to examine Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Having established, or at least beginning to establish, what it is that we’re supposed to seek, I’d like to step backward and re-examine the word “seek.” What precisely does seeking the kingdom look like?

It seems to me that we can learn a great deal about seeking from the sort of people who get excited by money-making informercials. Most of those money schemes promise champagne by the pool with almost no work. When people seek money in that sense, they are essentially going out to grab money that has been carelessly left lying around. This is the sort of seeking at work when people bank on Publishers Clearinghouse, lotteries, or day trading of securities.

I talk about this sort of seeking as if it were universally bad, but it isn’t. When Isaac Newton described his rules of motion, he didn’t create them. They were there and he picked them up and explained them. Similarly, if an investor has the vision to see value in a parcel of real estate when no one else can, should she be criticized? She found value that was just lying around untapped.

On the other hand, people can seek money by attempting to add value to the world. This promises a reasonable return for a lot of hard work and effort. This sort of seeking is what we see when people seek through years at a productive job, starting a new business, or investing for the long haul.

  • The first sort of seeking aims to seek and find by picking up what’s already there.
  • The second sort of seeking aims to seek and find by creating what isn’t yet there.

So which of these are we supposed to do when we “seek the kingdom of God”? Are we supposed to go out and beat the bushes looking for the kingdom? Are we supposed to move there? Or are we supposed to work toward creating the kingdom, helping it to transition “on earth as it is in heaven”?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus tells us, “Seek and you will find,” but does that mean we seek and find the kingdom like Easter eggs lying around the yard? Or does it mean that the action of seeking somehow helps to create the object, like seeking to grow vegetables in the garden?

I think it might be worthwhile to explore both possibilities.


King of Somewhere

“I’m the king of the world,” Leonardo DiCaprio famously crows from the bow of the Titanic in the movie of that name. The irony of that statement for anyone who can see beyond the incredibly contrived romantic plotline of the movie is profound.

This pops into my head as we continue to explore Matthew 6:33. We’ve already determined that in order to claim the promise of that verse we must seek something ahead of everything else, but what are we to seek?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

The kingdom of God? That’s slightly more difficult to grasp.

If you had been bopping around England in about 1525 and stopped by Hampton Court, the home of King Henry VIII, he might have offhandedly dropped, as you two were swapping stories around the barbeque grill, that he was the king of England and France. You, as a guest, would politely smile and nod, quickly turning the subject to what sort of grouse he had on the charcoal.

You see, when English kings in the Renaissance era claimed to hold England and France, what they really meant was that they actually held England and wished they held France. The only portion of France that Henry VIII actually controlled was the port and immediate environs of Calais. It would be like setting up control of Corpus Christi and claiming to be the ruler of all Texas.

In human terms, a kingdom, in any meaningful sense, is a place where the king actually exercises some measure of control. Henry the VIII could claim to be the king of France, but if he couldn’t collect taxes, enforce laws, conscript soldiers, or otherwise act kingly, then he wasn’t really the king of France. There’s a guy right now, Louis Alphonse, who is considered the rightful king of France. While he dresses well and plays polo, I don’t see the French Republic asking him to move in to Versailles.

A kingdom, I would argue, is not where somebody, Henry VIII or Louis Alphonse or somebody else, says they’re in charge. It is a place where they actually exercise at least reasonable control.

If we accept that last claim, then the kingdom that Matthew 6:33 calls us to seek is a place where God actually rules. If somebody else rules there–like Francis I, the actual King of France in 1525, when Henry VIII claimed to be the guy–then it really isn’t their kingdom at all.

Does that move us closer to understanding the kingdom of God in Matthew 6:33? Perhaps we get a clue from Revelation 11:15:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.

As I read that–and I’d be remiss not to point out that it echoes the Lord’s prayer talking about God’s kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven”–it’s almost as if Jesus is admitting that there are two kingdoms, but that the kingdom of God is eventually going to overtake the kingdom of this world, sort of like Henry VIII, in his back porch dreams, probably dreamed of restoring actual control of France.

Does this help? Perhaps a little, but we’ll need to revisit this question.