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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
GOSPEL ANALYSIS: Weeds and Wheat

Pentecost 9A    Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 118, 120. 

#127. THE PARABLE OF THE TARES     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

This is a parable is only found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Both the parable of the sower and the parable of the tares have explanations attached to them. Out of the forty parables of Jesus, only two are explained. The other thirty-eight parables need to be figured out as a person would figure out a simple riddle.

Normally, a parable has only one basic point, but the explanations to the parables of the sower and the tares treat those parables as allegories. In allegories, there are several points to the story rather than one simple point. There are numerous parables of Jesus which function as allegories with several facets of the truth imbedded in those stories.

Some Biblical scholars think that the parables of Jesus are the creation of Jesus but that the two explanations of the two parables are the creation of the early church.

The parable of the Weeds and the Wheat is one of several judgment parables from Matthew. There are several uniquely Matthean parables that have to do with the final judgment, in which God will meet us human beings face to face in the final judgment. At that final moment of judgment, God will separate the good from the bad.Eight of the parables about the last judgment are found only in Matthew’s gospel e.g.

*the parables of the weeds and the wheat,
*the good and bad fish,
*the unforgiving servant,
*the gracious employer,
*the marriage feast,
*the ten virgins,
*the talents,
*the sheep and goats.

In Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, the concept of “hell” is emphasized. Judgment and hellish punishment belong together. We remember that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a peculiarly Matthean phrase. It is a reference to the pain of hell, and that particular phrase is found six times in his gospel. 

In the text for today, both a “furnace of fire” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are mentioned. We will study these phrases later in this text.

Weeds. The word for “weeds” is a technical Greek word that needs to be explained since it unlocks the meaning of the story.  The Greek word for weeds is “zizania” which is a very particular type of weed that looks just like wheat as it is growing up.  You can hardly tell the difference.  Today it is called  “darnel” wheat. It looks like wheat, it appears like wheat but it is not wheat.  It fools you.  It is similar to “wild oats” and “true oats.” They look alike but they are very different

-He put before them another parable: Jesus repeated taught his disciples by use of common and ordinary stories from their everyday lives. Jesus saw spiritual truths in seeds, soils, paths, and even the weeds in the field.

-"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; The number one job in Palestine was being a farmer. Everyone knew about the importance of good seeds.

-But while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. That is strange. Who would come at night and sow weeds into a field of wheat? And then slipped away unnoticed or unnamed. That person must have been downright dirty and full of evil in his heart. That person must have been an enemy of the farmer to do such a dirty deed. From other teachings in the gospels, we know that the enemy was Satan, the devil, the liar, who was often called “the enemy” in Jesus’ teachings.

But the key to this story is not only the enemy but the weeds. As has been stated above, this particular weed was called “zizania” in Greek. When that weed would grow up, it would like the wheat that was growing in the same field. It was difficult to distinguish the weeds from the wheat. The weeds and the wheat looked the same.

-So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. The wheat and the weeds grow up side by side.

-And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, The householder is the master or owner of the house. His slaves/servants had been working in the field.

-"Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' The slaves/servants could distinguish the good seed from the weeds. They knew the difference.

-He answered, "An enemy has done this.' Yes, the power of evil has been here. The power of evil leaves his/her fingerprints, and its fingerprints were all over the garden.

-The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?'  The slaves, not quite understanding what has happened, want to go and pull up the weeds.

-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.' " This is the key to the story. Don’t you servants/slaves judge which plants are weeds and which plants are wheat and then pull out the weeds from the wheat. It is God, at the final judgment, who will separate the weeds from the wheat. The weeds will be gathered together and burned, but the wheat will be gathered into God’s barn. The point is: God is to be the judge and will determine the good from the bad, the true from the false, the real gold from the fake gold. It is the Lord God who is to make the final determination and final separation. We humans are not to do this.


-Then he left the crowds and went into the house. Circle the word, “house.” Repeatedly in these stories in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was at the village of Capernaum, he was going in and out of “a house.” (See the introduction to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9).

-And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."  The disciples of Jesus want an explanation.

-He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; We know from other Bible studies that the Son of man reprsents Jesus. Jesus was and forever is sewing good seed in people’s lives.

-The field is the world This parable is clearly an allegory with all the parts of the parable representing something. The field represents the world and our lives.

-And the good seed are the children of the kingdom; Jesus plants the children of the kingdom into this world of ours. Children of the kingdom are those who follow Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear kingdom parables, see kingdom miracles, and listen to kingdom teachings. Children of the kingdom are those people who have found the priceless pearls of the kingdom. We/they know how valuable it is to be part of the reign of God, where God rules our hearts, our habits and our way of life.

-The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; In this world of ours are people who are children of evil. These people are opposite of the children of the kingdom. Children of the kingdom are people whose lives are ruled by God whereas the children of the evil one are those whose lives are ruled by evil and sin.

-The harvest is the end of the age, The end of the age is the last and final judgment. We recall other parables about the last judgment such as the separation of the sheep and the goats, the talents, the wise and foolish virgins. This parable seems to be similar to the “final judgment” parables/allegories that are found in Matthew 25.

-And the reapers are angels.  The angels of God will be the reapers or the harvesters at the End of Time.

-Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  At harvest time, the weeds are collected, along with the chaff, and burned up. So will be it at the End of Time. Once again, Jesus was using a familiar, common and everyday image for his teaching. Being a rural, agrarian society, farmers would abound. After the harvest, farms would burn the weeds and chaff. (I remember living in the Willamette Valley in Oregon for five years when I was a young, assistant pastor in Eugene, Oregon. After the harvest in south end of the Willamette Valley where all the farms were located, the farmers would burn their fields of all the remaining stubble in order to get ready for the next planting. Similar images of burning fields would have been common in Jesus’ day.) 

-The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, It is Jesus and his angels who will collect the evil doers. We, as human beings, are not to judge the heart and actions of others. This is Jesus’ role as the final judge. Jesus will make the judgments and not ourselves.

-And they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew is consistent in his teachings about eternal damnation and the fiery furnace and the gnashing of teeth (grinding of teeth in pain.) Matthew, more than the other gospels, emphasizes hell as a fiery furnace.

Notice that the concept of “hell as burning fire” is part of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. As was taught during the sessions on the Sermon on the Mount, there are many teachings of Jesus which are laced with Aramaic hyperbole. A question is: Are “the fires of hell” also part of Aramaic hyperbole or overstatement in order to make a point? Like the teachings about anger which use Aramaic hyperbole, (“If you call a brother a fool you are liable to the fires of hell”), is the very concept of hell an Aramaic exaggeration of the truth which, if taken literally, would not be true?

Also, notice that the Gospel of Matthew often uses the expression, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which is an Aramaic expression for hell. Six of the seven uses of the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” occur in Matthew.

Matthew 8:12

12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 

Matthew 13:42

42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:50

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 22:13

13 "Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Matthew 24:51

51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Luke 13:28

28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

In the Gospel of Matthew, seven of the thirteen references to the word, “hell,” are located in this gospel. Six of the seven references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” come from Matthew. If you add the words, “hell,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” there are thirteen references (out of twenty in the whole New Testament) to hell in the Gospel of Matthew.

The New Testament Scriptures consistently teach about the final judgment. It seems that the “fires of hell” is an Aramaic expression that points to the final judgment.

For many people, the last judgment is separation from God. For them, hell is separation from God, rather than a firey eternal torture in the lake of fire. For them, the firey eternal torture in a lake of fire is picturesque language that is not to be taken literally, any more than we take literally the “pearly gates” and “streets paved with gold” found in heaven. (Revelation 21:21). “Firey hell” and “pearly gates” are both picturesque language.

The concept of fire and hell comes from images of the valley of Gehenna/Hinnom. Wicked King Ahaz burned his children in the valley of Hinnom (2 Chronicles 28:3) The Greek word for hell is “gehenna” and it means the Valley of Hinnom. This valley was and is located southwest of Jerusalem and near to the city.

From a human point of view, punishment is appropriate but torture isn’t. From a human point of view, torture is not appropriate in any circumstances.

Applying this same reasoning to our Eternal God, we may say: eternal punishment is appropriate but eternal torture isn’t. Hell has the connotation of eternal torture.

Questions such as these are asked: “Does a loving God exercise judgment?” Yes.

“Does a loving God exercise judgment at the Final Judgment?” Yes. 

“Does a loving God give out eternal torture?”  No.

 “It is impossible for our five senses to detect heaven and hell. How then can God describe for us something that we cannot see, taste, touch, smell or hear? He employs the use of symbols. For example, God says that heaven is a garden and a city. Heaven is not actually a city and a garden. Rather heaven is merely like a city or a garden. There is nothing within our five senses that can actually explain what heaven and hell are like, so God uses a series of "word pictures" to convey the next best thing.”

In the ATHANASIAN CREED (the Trinitarian creed which is occasionally recited on Trinity Sunday), in the next to the last paragraph of that creed, it says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.” The
other two creeds (Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed) only talk about Jesus returning to judge the living and the dead. 

Below are two pictures of a lake of fire, a concept that is part of the Book of Revelation. The concept of a lake of fire is found in Rev 19:20; 20:10; 21:8; Isaiah 30:33.

The concept of hell as eternal fire is found in Mt 25:41; 13:42; Jude 7; Mk 9:43,45,47; 18:8,9; Mt 3:12; Luke 3:17.

The concept of a furnace of fire is found in Mt 13:42,50; Mt 3:12; Luke 3:17, Daniel 3.



-Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. This verse can be easily swallowed up and almost disappear, when compared to the previous teachings (in the gospel text) about “the furnace of fire” and “the weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The righteous are those people who do the love and mercy of God in their daily lives. The righteous are those people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and live a life of mercy and kindness, especially to those in need.

The righteous will shine like the sun. We all can see this picturesque image of a blazing, shining sun, glowing in its beauty. So are the people who are righteous. Their lives shine and radiate the goodnessof God.

Matthew 6:13 said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God who is in heaven.”

-Let anyone with ears listen! Yes, we are all to have ears that hear as we try to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables for our lives.

Messages and meanings in this parable:

  • Jesus teaches that there is a final judgment, separation and punishment.
  • Only God can be the judge, not any of us human beings.
  • Meanwhile, we people are not to judge one another while here on earth.

God separates those who do evil and those who do good. The angels of God separate the righteous and the unrighteous.  Notice that members of different religions are not judged by their allegiance to one religion over another. The key factor is not if a person belongs to one particular religion or not but whether or not a person does good or does evil.  

-From a sermon, entitled WEEDS AND WHEAT

“Later, when in Jesus’ house, the disciples asked, “What did that parable mean?”  Every generation of Christians asks the same question:  “What does that parable mean and how does it apply to our lives as Christians?”  That is the purpose of this sermon for today.

First, this parable clearly tells us that there will be a final judgment, where God will make a final judgment between the good and the bad.  We find this same theme in other parables of Jesus such as the parable of the fishing net in which a fisherman catches a variety of fish and then the fisherman separates the good fish from the bad fish.  God separates the good fish from the bad fish.  Jesus told another parable about the sheep and the goats.  The sheep symbolized people who had taken care of the hungry, thirsty, starving and naked; the goats symbolized those who didn’t.  The sheep went to cool heaven; the goats went to hot hell.  The third parable is the theme is for today:  the weeds and the wheat.  The weeds and wheat grow up together until the final harvest day, until the final judgment day, and then the angels of God gather the weeds together, bundle them up and throw the weeds into the fire, into the “fiery furnace.” All three parables have the same theme.

Now, I am keenly aware that it is not “politically correct” to preach about a final judgment and a hot hell.  For many people here today, the reality of a final judgment is a “fairy tale from the Bible,” one of those myths that needs to be demythologized, one of those first century fantasies such as the earth is flat.  We don’t believe such stuff about a “cool heaven” and “a hot hell” from the Bible anymore. It was part of that first century world view, but not part of our time and thought.  That is, today, we accept the teachings of God about heaven but not about hell and damnation and fiery furnaces.”

This reminds me about the heretic Marcion of the second century.  Marcion, like any good heretic, had a pair of scissors and he sliced out all those parts of the Bible that offended him for one reason or another.  And today we have a world and church full of Marcionites. In fact, we all are Marcionites to a certain degree. That is, we cut out those parts of the Bible that we don’t like and we retain the parts we do.  We slice out all references to a final judgment, a hot hell and fiery furnace but keep those pages about a cool heaven and living in love with God for all eternity. 

I ask you:  “When is the last time you heard a sermon about hell?”   I have been preaching in this pulpit for twenty-six years and the last time you heard a sermon about hell from me was some twenty-four years ago when I preached a series of sermons on the creed.  “He descended into hell.”  What I am suggesting to you is that I am a “politically correct” pastor who hasn’t preached on hell. That is, I talk about the final judgment but rarely about the eternal consequences of that judgment.

But the reality of the final judgment is woven into all of the New Testament.  It’s not like the baptism for the dead which is found only once in the New Testament. Nor is it like the rapture  (going up in the clouds to meet the returning Jesus) which is found only once in the New Testament.  The reality of a final judgment and eternal consequences is found often in the New Testament. The twin themes of judgment and hell are woven and intertwined throughout our sacred book. 

At the heart of this story about the weeds and the wheat, Jesus is clearly telling us that there is a final judgment and a final separation of the good from the bad.  And his clear teaching about the final judgment is to motivate us to live lives that God would approve of. This parable is to motivate us to live godly lives. This parable is to energize us to be the kind of people God wants us to be.  The motivation of the threat of hell isn’t “politically correct” in modern middle class society, but it is still real in the teachings of Jesus.

A second theme that we hear in this parable of Jesus is that only God is to judge; we human beings are not to.  It is God’s responsibility for making the final judgment calls.

In a baseball game, the pitcher, catcher, batter, and coach can argue all they want; but the home plate umpire makes the final calls and final decisions.  No matter how much the players froth at the mouth, it is the umpire who makes the call.  Those are the rules of the game.

And the rule of the game of life is that God makes the final judgment calls.  We don’t.  We may froth a lot at home plate; we may froth a lot about what we think are close calls; but it is God alone who makes the final judgments.

And that was the mistake of the Pharisees; they thought they were in a good position to make judgment calls about other people, and Jesus didn’t like their judgments.

So if people get into heated arguments over who is going to heaven or hell e.g. Muslims, Buddhists or Jews; Catholics, Baptists, or Methodists; Mormons, Adventists or Scientologists; don’t get baited into those heated arguments around home plate.  God knows the heart and God makes the call based on God’s reading of the heart. You and I can’t see into another person’s heart. We’re not in a position to judge.

Thank God we don’t have to make those final judgments.  That’s God’s job, and God can have the job for that matter.  I wouldn’t want to be the final judge.  I don’t have the wisdom or the stomach for it, and I don’t think you do either.

Here in my hand are the two gold necklaces that I used for the children’s sermon; one is fourteen carat gold; the other is fake gold.  The children couldn’t tell the difference and neither could you from a distance.  Only my wife and I knew what was underneath the sheen and shine of the necklaces and only God knows what is underneath the sheen and shine of your life.

And the point is:  You and I are not able to judge the quality of the hearts of those around us. We cannot judge which hearts are true and which hearts are false.  It is amazing how people can be good actors and put on good fronts around everyone.  Look around you right now.  Look at all the faces.  Look at my face and eyes as a preacher.  Can you tell me who is genuinely close to God, whose heart is truly a heart of love as God sees love?  I don’t think you want to judge.  Just because I stand here before you today as a preacher does not guarantee the genuineness of my inner heart.  Only God knows.  Only God can see inside a person, what lies beneath the sheen and shine of one’s life.

And besides, there will be a lot of surprises on judgment day.  Jesus told the story about the sheep and the goats.  The sheep were surprised that they were going into heaven; the goats were surprised that they were going into hell.  And I think that there are going to be a lot of surprises on judgment day.”  End of sermon.


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