Challenged by Jesus

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a post entitled “We Push Them Into What?” (still kicking myself for that lousy title).  To recap, I expressed my concern that encouraging Mormons to leave the LDS church more often than not encourages them to leave Christianity altogether and quite frequently promotes atheism/agnosticism.  I still stand by those thoughts, but tonight I read something Jesus said which makes me think I may not have gone far enough.

Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [one translation says “weeds that looked like wheat”] among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“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.’ ”  Matthew 13:24-30

This challenges me. A lot. I still have all the other things Jesus said about discerning false prophets and warnings about wolves-in-sheep’s clothing running through my head.  Those verses still hold true.  But according to this parable, once the devil has done his work, we need to leave it to the angels to sort out later.

I’ll be thinking and meditating on this for the next couple of days.  I’m not exactly a “dragon killer” when it comes to deconverting Mormons.  I’ve never done it, not once, even when I was actively trying.  But if I had a magic bullet that destroyed Mormon faith, I can’t say I wouldn’t use it.

And lest any Mormon Apologist feel they’ve found a triumph over Evangelical Anti-Mormons, this passage doesn’t exactly have a rosy outlook for the weeds (Yes that’s what Evangelicals really think of you, don’t act surprised).

UPDATE: I’ve spent some time with this passage and have come to some conclusions. See that post here.

45 thoughts on “Challenged by Jesus

  1. I read an interesting article about comparing Matt 13 with the Joseph Smith Translation Bible version and with a version of the same parable contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The differences where pretty interesting.

  2. Tim, I think you need to be more explicit on what you think the practical implications of the passage are here.

  3. Aaron, I’m still thinking, praying and meditating on that.

    I would love your input though. Honestly I haven’t come to a conclusion. What do you think?

  4. I think it means we should be patient with people, and not be hyper-critical and always about witch-hunting. But that needs to be balanced with things like 1 Corinthians 5, where we are told to purge idolaters and refuse table-fellowship with them.

    In other words, I think there can be a health boundary-maintenance, but we shouldn’t be so granular and aggressive as to unwittingly “weed out” people who are genuine Christians.

    That’s my ambiguous answer. Looking forward to see your thoughts later.

  5. A related parable is that of the fig tree, where Jesus speaks of giving it more time, cultivating the soil around it, and giving it special care—not being overly zealous to cut it down and throw it in the fire.

    With that parable along with the story of Jonah and Nineveh I think of Utah. God has called Christians to keep cultivating Utah with the gospel, not to give up on it. God has a remnant people among the people of Utah and we should leave vengeance up to God. So that’s why I stay here instead of moving back to the East Coast to be near my parents and siblings and in-laws.

    The pulling up of weeds in Matthew 13 is probably more fiery than we think. It sounds like the kind of violence and final separation that happens at final judgment.

  6. Tim, Aaron — That sounds kind of like the flip side of D&C 86, which interprets the parable as referring to apostasy.

    I don’t think that’s an unreasonable interpretation. But I have to wonder (and I’m thinking aloud in this post, so don’t hold me to this) if that’s how the disciples would have understood Jesus’ explanation.

    The key to the parable is the nature of the weeds (tares in the KJV), which almost certainly refers to darnel, a type of fairly poisonous ryegrass. What’s interesting about darnel (a very common weed in the Holy Land) is that to the casual observer it’s indistinguishable from wheat until the darnel is mature. At that point, it’s easy to distinguish.

    So equating darnel with apostasy makes sense; apostasy may look genuine until it becomes mature. But the same also could be said of the religious leaders that Jesus frequently criticized — they looked genuine on the outside (and went to great pains to look that way), but they had a poisonous influence as well. (I suppose you could theirs was an apostasy of spirit rather than doctrine.) I see parallels with the story of the sheep and the goats — all those mentioned looked genuine, but in the end not all were righteous.

    So perhaps the message of this parable is that we need to be genuine in our following of Christ.

  7. If we’re picking weeds, I want to be a mustard seed.

    Eric, are you saying that Jesus meant this parable more as a warning to believers to not be tares and not as instruction to his apostles about what to do with apostates?

  8. What strikes me about the parable is that is touches on the owner’s will for his servants. The servants want to do something that they believe is a good thing. Weeds have been sown by an enemy and the good thing to do is simply to remove the weeds. However, the owner tells his servants not to do this because if they pull up the weeds, they will also pull the wheat along with it. Therefore, this is not the role of the servants.

    The parable specifically notes that this role is given to others for a later time, this is not the role of the servants. When Jesus explains the parable he notes the role of each of the players in the parable—except the role of the servants. If the role of the servants is not to pull the weeds sown by the enemy, then what is it?

  9. nice one, Jack.

    “If the role of the servants is not to pull the weeds sown by the enemy, then what is it?”

    Wasn’t it their job to prevent the enemy from infiltrating the field? Anyway, I’d think that now their job is to tend the wheat—and since the weeds are mixed in, to tend them also. I’m not sure what kind of tending wheat got anciently, although a quick search revealed that wheat was irrigated anciently in Canaan.

  10. If that’s the case, it seems that the servants’ role was to keep the wheat strong and healthy without worrying about the weeds. And if we take the analogy further, keeping the wheat healthy meant keeping away the bugs and stopping disease, which could have hurt both the wheat and weeds.

    So this casts the servants’ role in a very positive “good cop” light as opposed to a negative “bad cop” role that is more focused on destruction than growth.

  11. By saying “good cop” I’m referring back to Eric’s comment about genuinely following Christ, which I believe includes tending to our neighbor, no matter how despicable.

  12. Sorry, one more side note.

    I am not implying that Mormons or any followers of other religions are despicable :), because I don’t even think I would put you in the “weeds” category.

  13. BrianJ — I believe that many parables have multiple meanings and can speak to us on more than one level.

  14. A few of my thoughts on this:

    1) The servants noticed the tares when the wheat sprouted and the tares didn’t. They saw the evidence and called a weed a weed. We have a definite role in distinguishing and discerning between true disciples and false.

    2) The time of the harvest is the final judgment. Removing the tares prematurely would be dispensing God’s judgment on the tares. This is not our role, but God’s.

    3) In the end, then, while we may call a weed a weed, we need to leave eternal judgment in God’s hands. If we go about doing His work we will be destructive.

    4) We should not read into parables any more than what Jesus was trying to say. This is about judgment, not evangelism. As long as there is the possibility to turn someone from hell, we ought to strive to do so out of love for their soul.

  15. Whitney: good cop/bad cop. Good analogy.

    Josh: 1) “…noticed the tares when the wheat sprouted and the tares didn’t.” I didn’t read it that way. It sounded like both plants sprouted at about the same time, and one could already distinguish between the two at the sprout stage. Makes sense, too, as to why the master didn’t want the weeds pulled out: tender sprouts are very likely to be damaged by any meddling.

    4) “…not read into parables any more than….” Well, that’s the challenge, isn’t it? And not just with Jesus’ parables, but with what anyone says.

  16. I think that Josh makes an excellent point no matter how the servants were able to identify the fruit of the tares from the fruit of the wheat (it was readily apparent, as we can only assume it would have been in an agrarian society). This parable is about the Kingdom and divine judgment it has nothing to do with evangelism.

    There are a few of other things that strike me. (1) While most of the actors of the parable are identified in Christs explanation, the “good seed” is identified as the “sons of the kingdom”, the “servants” are not clearly identified. To assign a role for the servants beyond Christ’s explanation complicates the interpretation of the parable.

    (2) The Son of Man will remove the tares from His “Kingdom… ” So a lot of how you view this passage is going to depend on how you view the Kingdom. I am a Herman Ridderbos fan so I tend to look at this in an eschatological angle. The good seed is gathered at the Eschaton. And as Tom points out its not so good to be a tare, they will be gathered “out of the Kingdom”. This parable screams that the Kingdom of God is now and will be fulfilled in the future.

    (3) The surrounding parables are Kingdom parables either focusing on judgment (sower, tares, net and fish) or on the great value of the Kingdom (mustard seed, leaven, treasure in the field, pearl, scribes treasure). Matthew has a tendency to group subjects together and the Kingdom of God is central to this section. Like I said how you view this parable if not all of Matt 13 will depend on your view of the Kingdom.

  17. Nobody knows who the ‘real Christians’ are, and that goes for ANY church, Evangelicalism as well.

    Only God (Christ Jesus – for He will be our judge) knows the heart.

    The wheat and the tares look exactly alike.

    That is why when they stood before Jesus and said, “Lord, Lord, we did X, Y, and Z in your name.”

    And Jesus said, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”

  18. “The wheat and the tares look exactly alike.”

    They can’t look exactly alike, else the servants would have no idea there were tares growing amidst the wheat.

    And the owner of the field isn’t concerned about his servants accidentally mistaking wheat for tares, but rather pulling up the wheat with the tares—which I read as being because their roots would be intertwined. (I’m just thinking of my own garden here.) Notice that when the owner looks to the future there is no doubt that the difference between wheat and tares will be obvious: the harvesters will uproot everything, tie up the tares and burn them, then gather in the wheat.

  19. Brian,

    You are right. He did not say that. I went back and read it again.

    He did tell us not to try and pull the tares (weeds) lest we uproot the wheat.

    I did find out that ‘darnel’, which are the weeds that would have been confused with the wheat, look exactly like the wheat when the darnel is young.

    Please excuse my error.


  20. no prob, and no need to apologize: if we were discussing stuff that was so obvious it was impossible to make mistakes then it wouldn’t be worth discussing.

  21. [OFF TOPIC]

    So, I have something we could talk about while we’re all bored and this thread is dead. Next August I’m thinking we’ll take a family trip to Utah, say 9 days or so, and attend the FAIR and/or Sunstone Conferences. We have family there still and I have a ton of people in the Provo and SLC areas I need to say hello to again.

    I know most of the people who post here aren’t on budgets wherein they can take trips across the country at the drop of a hat, but I’m wondering if we plan ahead by a year, how many of us could make it to one of those conferences for a meet-up. Whitney says she’d be down for it.

  22. I could probably make it to at least one. You guys should come over for dinner when you’re in town.

    Grace and peace,


  23. Hopefully by then I’ll have my “ — He never was a wretch like me” T-shirts too.

  24. Maybe. We go out to Utah at least once a year to visit family. Usually leave a week or two before any of the good conferences though.

  25. How’s this for a t-shirt:

    “ — More wretch than I could ever be”

    Not as catchy, but I was trying to squeeze in as much Calvinism as possible.

  26. Meeting everyone would be awesome. Attending FAIR and/or Sunstone conferences? Good gods no.

  27. Well, Sunstone in particular has lots of other Mormon bloggers who come out for it, so I’m aiming to come out then so that I can meet some other people I’ve been talking to for the last year.

    Back in 2004, when Sunstone was going on, I attended a dinner meeting of the participants of the Zion’s Lighthouse Message Board. We had it at the hotel where they were having Sunstone, but you didn’t have to go to the conference (and I didn’t). It was a lot of fun.

    BTW, LDSTalk got a shout-out at Sunstone this year from Bored in Vernal (Cheryl).

  28. I’d probably get less raised eyebrows for attending the FAIR conference than the Sunstone conference.

    I mean, I do theoretically have to tell them where I’m going when I dump my kids on them.

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