Some thoughts on wheat and tares

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(Authors note: This will be another in my semi-regular series of blogs addressing passages of Scripture that don’t get nearly as much attention as they should.)

In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus gives one of the most terrifying prophecies about future events in the entire Bible. Most people don’t think of it as a prophecy about future events and I know that because years ago when I went through a season of being obsessed with Biblical prophecies about future events this passage was not one of the ones which got a lot of attention.

With that in mind, let’s read it together shall we?

Matthew 13:24-30, “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Now I know some of you are probably thinking to yourselves that this passage is explicitly labeled as a “Parable”, not a “Prophecy” and that might be one reason why commentaries on prophetic passages of Scripture don’t talk as much about this passage as others.

But I think this passage is prophetic and I also think it is, at least in part, a re-stating of something Jesus said earlier in Matthew 7: 20-24; “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

This passage is one of the most heavily commented on (and often misused, but that’s a topic for another blog) passages in the Gospels, and rightfully so. Like I said before, the prophetic part of both passages is very similar because Jesus was making a very similar point, just using a slightly different metaphor. (Matthew 25:31-42 is also relevenet to this discussion.)

The point He’s making in both of these passages is that when the time comes for every human being who ever walked on this earth to stand before the Throne of God and give an account for their lives, there are going to be some people who step up to the throne expecting to hear “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your reward” but instead, they’re going to hear something else entirely.

The “tares” in the parable are, in my humble opinion, a metaphor for people who call themselves Christians and even do some work that they believe is advancing the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. But actually, they’re following a false Christ (usually one they made up themselves with spare parts from the Bible and heroic traditions from their own culture) and what they’re doing is at best simply wasting Kingdom resources and at worst actually helping the kingdom of Lucifer the Devil.

Examples of this phenomenon include Christians who visit Jerusalem wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap on top of their head, while inside their head they carry an image of a Jesus Christ who stands(!) for the US national anthem and when He does, you can clearly see the Colt .45 He’s got strapped to his waist and the American flag patch He’s got sewn on the shoulder of His jacket.

Not to be outdone, many liberal Christians come to Jerusalem wearing a rainbow flag T-shirt and carrying an image of Jesus Christ as a social justice warrior, standing up for the oppressed (and by that they mean the people they care about, not anyone who actually IS oppressed but who they don’t care about).

Between these two bookends, you’ve got a rather broad range of “tares” of which my personal favorite is the Hebrew Roots Christian who comes to Jerusalem wearing an embroidered kippa like the ones his Modern Orthodox friends wear and carrying an image of Jesus Christ as the ultimate National Religious/Modern Orthodox rabbi who cares more about the grapes growing in vineyards on the hills of Judea and Samaria than He does about Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian congregations in Tel Aviv and Nazareth.

It can be maddening to see these “tares” taking so much of the effort, time, energy and money well-intentioned Christians give to Israel every year while local congregations struggle to even rent a small space to have weekly meetings and so many local Israeli Believer families struggle to pay their monthly bills. Some of these stalks of wheat are barely holding on to bare existence while the tares never seem to lack for anything. It can be difficult to see this and not get upset and want to “do something” about it.

But Jesus says we shouldn’t uproot the “tares” because if we do, we’ll probably damage some of the “wheat” as well. He then reassures those (like myself) who dislike seeing someone apparently getting away with doing something wrong by saying that when the End Times harvest comes, those “tares” will be gathered up along with the “wheat” but they’ll be separated during that process and thrown into a fire, while the “wheat” is gathered into God’s barn.

It’s not difficult to see why uprooting “tares” can damage the “wheat” in this case. Most Jews in Israel and also the Diaspora have no clue about the distinctions between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity, much less the more distinct nuances between different denominations, doctrinal groupings, etc. within Protestant Christianity. So if we were to try and uproot one group just because their theology is flawed, and it turned into a big public scandal, many Jewish people would take that as yet another reason to simply avoid Christians and the New Testament altogether, even if some Christians are trying to help Israel.

So, we just have to be patient and pray for those who are walking in error to realize what they’re doing, repent, and change. But while we’re doing that, we also need to remain very vigilant that we ourselves don’t fall into some kind of error in our thinking that makes us believe that we’re “okay with God” because we’re doing things that we think He’ll be pleased with, even if our own attitude, behavior, and in general our walk with Him is not as it should be.

God doesn’t need or want my work for Him. He wants ME. He wants me to be His. When I’m His, I will love the things He loves, I will desire the things He desires, and I will despise the things He despises. Out of this, good works for His Kingdom will emerge. But it’s important to remember that good works can also emerge from bad, impure, or even straight-up false desires. People do good things for bad reasons all the time, and as I’ve said before in these blogs, the Bible describes a God who isn’t pleased with this.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week brothers and sisters. I hope it blessed someone.