For most of my life I’ve been distressed by the fact that a spiritual question could be asked of five different leaders and that answer might come back five different ways—some perfectly contradictory to another.
“Why is it,” I would ask myself, “that five people who claim the inspiration and conviction of the Holy Spirit come out on opposite ends of the spectrum on certain issues?”
Whenever wrestling with a difficult question or issue, I feel like the sage advice given is to pray about it and listen for the Holy Spirit to convict you one way or another. But how does that work when sincere people pray and seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit and still come out all over the spectrum? Well, I don’t have an answer for why, but Jesus gives a parable that helps me deal with reality.
The parable of the tares and the wheat has been the most valuable paradigm for me to process these questions through. This parable is one of the few things that can bring hope in my distress and clarity in my confusion. It also severely challenges the way that I view and judge others.
Here is the parable:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)
Something that I never realized until recently is that a tare wasn’t just a random weed but was an “injurious weed resembling wheat when young.”1 This makes the situation presented in this parable even more complicated. It’s not just that the weeds are tightly integrated with the wheat—but they look so identical that you can just barely tell them apart.
So here is my simple takeaway: The world is full of good wheat and tares and they are terribly difficult to tell apart! No one is completely right about everything nor is anyone completely wrong about everything. Every person, even if they are on the opposite side of an issue as us, has something valuable to say. When we label, we limit. When we label something, we objectify it and keep it at an arms distance.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that there have been times where I will nearly write off someone because of their view on “X”. Once I hear that they hold “that” opinion or take “that” view, at times, I have been guilty of assuming that they are no longer a trustworthy source of information or have anything of significance to say. How embarrassing and prideful!
I have to remember that each person is a field full of tares and wheat. Some of what they do and say will be beautifully fruitful and ripe for harvest, while other things will come across to me as destructive, unfruitful, and unfit for harvest. In this parable, the foolish action is to try to separate and gather up all of the tares to protect the wheat. The landowner warns that such an action will uproot the wheat as well and destroy the crop. How many times have you seen this happen? We try to do the work of separating the tares from the wheat, but then end up destroying the crop altogether. If we cast a person off because of their view on an issue, we’ve destroyed the crop. We’ve chosen the foolish action of trying to separate the tares from the wheat before the harvest was ripe.
Who or what are the tares in your life? What damage are you doing by trying to separate out the tares from the wheat yourself? How confident are you that you can even identify the tare from the wheat?
Fellow pilgrims, I know this is painfully difficult at times! But if we want to be building demonstration plots of the Kingdom of God in this world, we have to be willing to acknowledge that the wheat grows alongside the tares in each and everyone of us.
Who have you labeled? Who have you limited? Who or what have you uprooted? Can you revisit those people, or those movements, and begin to acknowledge the good and bountiful wheat growing amongst the tares?
Fellow pilgrims: May you patiently tolerate the injurious weeds growing within yourself and others. May this tolerance enable you to appreciate the bountiful harvest that is so closely intertwined. Your tolerance need not turn to acceptance, the weed is still injurious and destructive, but don’t let it cause you to destroy the good that is there.
1New Oxford Dictionary
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Vietnam Countryside