Collect the Weeds First
  • Sunday, July 20, 2014

6 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Gen. 28:10-19aPs. 139:1-11, 22-23

Alternate: Wis.12:13, 16-19 or Isa. 44:6-8Ps. 86:11-17Rom. 8:12-25Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43

The parable of the weedy field illustrates the fallacy of thinking Jesus’ parables are completely allegorical, and therefore expecting them to contain very little direct information about last things. In this case, Jesus is systematic about explaining the allegory, but he also interprets his allegory and thereby gives direct information about the end of the age.

Because the attempt to mine chronological information about the second coming from allegorical parables is usually associated with dispensationalism, it is ironic that the chronology of this parable undermines dispensationalist ideas of the rapture. Where we think of the rapture as the pulling of the righteous to the presence of God while the wicked are left on Earth, here Jesus tells us, both in the allegory and in the interpretation, that the gathering is essentially a cleanup operation: a removal of all causes of sin and all evildoers. The weeds are collected first.

Dispensational concerns aside, it is clear from this parable that reaching “the glory about to be revealed in us” consists of two movements: the gathering of evil toward destruction, and the gathering of good toward eternal life. The good is not to be gathered until after the evil has been purged. Consider what even this temporal world would be like if all causes of sin and all evildoers were removed. The operation would not be as simple as taking out the trash: what causes one person to sin might not affect another. The causes of sin are internal to the human soul: “every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lusts and enticed” (James 1:14). For the angels to complete their mission requires widespread soul surgery, and woe to the soul that chooses not to enter the hereafter without its vices intact.

Consider also the gathering of good. In our world the treasures of the kingdom of God are often overlooked. Real sanctity may be found, but it rarely makes headlines. As we suffer with Jesus so that we may be glorified with him, much of that suffering takes place in isolation — internally, individually, visible only to a select few, if they have the spiritual eyes to see it. If all the heroism, all the loyalty, all the holiness, all the prayers of the people of God now living were gathered together into one community, what beauty would be there!

The angels’ twofold mission at the coming of Christ is really the mop-up phase. That same work is already going on in our souls. The Spirit of God, as we keep in step with him, is daily performing soul surgery on us, removing from us all causes of sin and evildoing, teaching us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. This must be done first. Thereafter, the good that we become may be gathered and built into a holy temple of living stones to the glory of God.

Look It Up
In Matt. 24:40-41, evil is swept away, as in the flood of Noah. To be “taken” (the Greek word means to be seized, lifted up, and swept away) is bad; to be “left” is to be the righteous who remain standing after the purge.

Think About It
No matter how we define causes of sin and evil deeds, God’s perspective on those questions will ultimately become visible. There is an end coming for all theological uncertainty.

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