Matthew 13:28-43 (NIV) “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“’No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn….’
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
There have always been weeds among the wheat of God’s people, from the days of Moses when Korah, Dathan and Abiram raised a revolt (Numbers 16); through the days of Jesus’ ministry, when Judas, one of Jesus’ inner circle, betrayed Him; all the way down to the present. And, until the end of the age, when Jesus returns and purifies His people from all that contaminates them, that will continue to be the case.
Moses put up with a lot from the weeds. Ultimately they frustrated him so badly that he acted rashly, and lost his opportunity to go into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:2-13). It would have been tempting for him to have conducted a purge, and try to get rid of all those who did not seem to be 100% committed to God. But instead, he simply followed the Lord, and let the Lord do the weeding as He chose.
Jesus could easily have cast Judas out of His inner circle, and even forbid him to follow Him at all. But even He did not see that as appropriate. Instead, in the full knowledge that betrayal was in Judas’ heart, He followed the Father, and let Him do the weeding at the appropriate time.
In the same way, these days it is sometimes tempting to deal harshly with those who might seem to be weeds, and to cast them out of the fellowship. But Jesus’ caution must take priority: “While you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.” Sometimes what looks to us like weeds may legitimately be weeds. But sometimes they are people who are simply not believers yet, people who have not yet been transformed, but in whom God is still working. It is often impossible for people to see the difference, especially in the early stages.
It is important to note that this in no way does away with the need for discipline in the church. If someone is caught sinning, Jesus laid out clear procedures to use in Matthew 18:15-20. But note that, even when discipline must be used, the intent is to restore a brother or sister who seems to have gone astray.
The key is that human judgment is fallible, and the most righteous person can still make mistakes in judgment. Declaring someone to be a weed, irreparably outside the kingdom, is a dire pronouncement, and is best left to God. And sometimes, even as He used Judas as a part of His divine plan, He can use the weeds that spring up in the church to strengthen and build up the faith of the good wheat.
Father, it is tempting to summarily dismiss someone who seems destructive and weed-like; to skip over Your guidelines for how to discipline them, and simply try to get rid of them. But even in the church, we must be careful that our instinct for protection and self-preservation doesn’t cause us to act rashly, unintentionally rooting up wheat along with the weeds, and ultimately short-circuiting the work that You may be doing in the hearts of those people. Help us to trust in You to do the weeding at the right time, and in the meantime, to simply follow You in everything. Amen.