Matthew 13:24-43

Why is there evil in the world?

Do you ever watch the news and wonder what on earth is going on? The war in Syria has been going on for over three years now. The Israelis and Palestinians are bombing each other. Over 600 people arrested for viewing child pornography. People we know having affairs and breaking up families, bullies in the workplace causing misery in lives. We look around and see all this evil and we ask, “Lord, why are you allowing this to continue? If you’re good why is there so much bad in creation?”

The folk who lived in Jesus’ time had similar questions. They were a bit different, but they had the same core. This was a people that were living under the occupying force of the Romans. They had been invaded and defeated, and were oppressed. Just like for us, there were the normal everyday pains and injustices of seeing people who were doing the wrong thing prospering and getting on. The same question was on their minds, “Lord, when are you going to put an end to this? If this new Kingdom of God you keep going on about is so good, why is there still so much evil around?”

The parable that we have heard this morning is part of Jesus’ answer to these questions.

First a bit of background. The weeds that Jesus was talking about was darnel. There’s a few things to know about this weed that help us to understand the parable.

Firstly, it was pretty widespread in Palestine, so the people who first heard this story wouldn’t have needed this additional background, they’d have known it. Secondly, in the early stages of growth it looks pretty similar to wheat, so the possibility of accidently pulling up the wrong plant was quite high. Thirdly, it has a deeper and stronger root system than wheat, so pulling it up really did run the risk of damaging the crop. Fouthly, there was a Roman law forbidding the sowing of darnel in someone’s wheat field. The fact that they bothered making a law about it does suggest that it was not unknown for someone to seed their enemy’s wheat field with darnel in order to deliberately damage the crop.

So, armed with this knowledge, let’s go back to the parable. The farmer sows the wheat and it starts to sprout. When it does so, the servants come and tell the farmer that there’s darnel in the field. The farmer looks and sees the amount of darnel, and knows that it’s more than the usual amount you’d expect to see, he knows that the seed he sowed was good seed, so he knows that an enemy has come and seeded the field with darnel. He knows that pulling up the weeds runs the risk of losing some of the crop through misidentification or damaging the roots of the wheat. So he tells the servants to leave it until harvest time, when the wheat will be stored and the weeds will be burnt.

With this parable we actually have an explanation as well, which is quite unusual. Before we look at it, another little bit of background.

Son of Man is a title from the Old Testament that Jesus used for himself when he wanted to emphasise his own eternal place as the ruler of the kingdom of heaven. It is an expression of his own understanding of himself as God.

Having understood this we can now approach Jesus’ explanation of the parable and see that he makes three things clear.

The first thing is that God is not the source of evil. The seed that the Son of Man, Jesus the divine, plants is good, it has the characteristics of his kingdom, it will be fruitful. The things that are evil come from somewhere else, they are in the world because they have been seeded there by God’s enemy, the devil. The presence of evil is an attack on God and on God’s plans for the fruitfulness of creation.

The second thing that Jesus makes clear is that evil is allowed by the Son of Man to continue at the moment because he knows that pulling it out will damage the crop. It is by God’s permission that evil continues, but that permission is given for a reason, and that reason is the long term health of the crop. This can be hard for us to understand. When the evil is so rampant and the damage to good people done by evil is so extreme, wouldn’t it be better for the evil to be uprooted? In the end we have to decide whether or not we trust God with this. Do we trust God to be able to see further and wider and more deeply than we do?

The third thing that Jesus makes clear is that there will come a time when evil and all sources of evil will be destroyed. The Son of Man, Jesus in all his divine glory will impose his divine rule on all creation, and the Kingdom of God will be seen in all its fulness and there will be no evil or badness. At that time, those who have been faithful will be seen shining in the glory of the King.

Given these things that Jesus teaches us, what are we to do? It seems fairly clear that Jesus is challenging us to trust God and to be patient and to persevere in the face of evil. But I am left with another question. Does this mean that we are to be passive? Are we to just sit and do nothing about the evil that we see? God’s going to sort it out in the end – we’ll just wait. I don’t think so. The parable doesn’t mention our role in the resistance of evil at all, it talks about what the Son of Man and the angels are going to do. Elsewhere in the Bible we are told to resist the devil, to work for good, to be a light in the world. This parable helps us to understand why there is evil in the world, and to be reassured about its eventual defeat. It does not release us from the these other commands in Jesus’ teaching to be active in working against the forces of evil, to be faithful in prayer and in action to promote the values of God’s kingdom, and to look for the dawning of the day when it will be seen in all its fulness.

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