The Real and the Pretender
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: The Danger of Premature Judgment
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“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.”
Growing up on the farm, one of the crops we raised was oats. However, one of the weeds that farmers had to deal with was the presence of wild oats. These weeds look identical from a distance, even for the most experienced farmer. They grew the same; they appeared to outwardly have the same heads of grain. For the casual observer, they were indistinguishable. However, once the crop reached full maturity, when it formed the kernel within the husks of the heads, their difference became evident. While they appeared the same, they produced different fruit. The oats planted by the farmer form the plumb kernel that becomes the basis for some of our favorite foods, including chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies. The wild oats, however, produced a different kernel. Its kernel would be black and degrade the good oats' quality.
In this parable, Christ compares tares and wheat. These tares, more literally darnel, are known as a mimic weed. But unlike wild oats, which are edible although undesirable, the darnel is toxic, causing sickness and even death. Like wild oats, they are indistinguishable from the real product in the early stages of growth. The difference is not in the plant's appearance but in the seed.
In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Christ points to several important lessons. First, the outward appearance does not always convey the inward reality. One can outwardly appear to be a genuine disciple but inwardly be devoid of real spiritual life. The darnel are like the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. To the casual observer, they appeared to be righteous and upholding God’s law. But delve deeply and find that they are mere caricatures of the real thing. Even worse, rather than bringing spiritual life, they bring spiritual death. Tragically, spiritual pretenders are present in the church today. They appear to be followers of God, but inwardly, they are spiritual weeds. They are devoid of spiritual life, refusing to surrender to Christ. They are like the grain in this parable; outwardly, they appear to be Christians, but inwardly, they are not experiencing the inward transformation that Christ brings. They say all the right things but fail to surrender to Christ.
This brings us to the second principle: God delays his judgment upon humanity so that all his followers might be saved. God continues to allow the evil and righteous to co-exist on this earth so that he might allow everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9). If judgment comes too early, then there might be some who were destined for the kingdom to be caught up in the judgment. As we look about us and see the existence of evil, it is not a sign that God is complacent towards sin. Instead, it is an act of grace so that he might allow people an opportunity to repent. Yet there is also a warning that in the delay of God’s judgment, we should not become complacent towards sin and not respond to the invitation to accept his grace. Peter warns of this in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” In other words, the delay in judgment can lead us to the false idea that God will not judge. The parable of the wheat and the tares is both a reminder of God’s grace and a warning of his judgment. The question for us is to examine our hearts and make sure our faith is genuine and we are not one of the pretenders. Today ask God to transform your whole life and allow him to change you at the core of your identity.