Vol I No. 7

A Sermon for Epiphany V

by William J. Martin
Nay lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
(St. Matthew xiii. 29)

wheat2We have said that our Epiphany-tide is a Season of Light. And the Light that we have been trying to follow in faith, see and understand, embrace and cherish, is Christ’s Light. And so we have been learning that this Light comes to us to make new life and love in our hearts and souls. But there is a danger associated with this Light. We must remember that there is a difference between flashing, blazing, or sparkling light on the one hand, and enduring, persevering, and growing Light on the other. The first light is experienced as fleeting, occasional, and at best temporary. It is found, generally, with the kind of person whose spiritual life is characterized by part-time highs, cheap thrills, and instantaneous gratification. The second Light, being Christ’s Light, is far more demanding, since it desires and longs to overcome, overtake, rule, and guide the whole of a man’s life. It is found in the kind of person, who intends that his conversion should be the first moment on a long journey into healing and transformation, redemption and sanctification, with the reward of salvation.

Now the problem for most of us is that we are always wanting Christ the Light to manifest and reveal Himself to us in the manner of the first light. We want signs and wonders, we want glamour and glitz, we want our walk of faith to be full of transfiguration moments. We expect that because we are faithful church-going Christians, our journey should not be marked by struggles, difficulties, temptations, and distractions. We expect that our common life together in the church should be perfect and that our soul’s journey into God should be the same.

But our Lord knows otherwise and never intends that we should be mistaken about the nature and character of our journey into His Light. This is the reason for the parable which he offers for our meditation this morning. Let us listen to what He says. The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field…(St. Matthew xiii. 24) In this parable we are told that the kingdom of heaven is identified with a man, whom we should recognize as Christ the Son of Man, the Life and Light of God the Father, who wishes to sow the seed of new life into the hearts and souls of new Christians who would follow Him. And yet no sooner has He done this than we read that, while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares – which we ought to see as temptations –  among the wheat, and went his way.  But when the blade [of wheat] was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. (Ibid, 25, 26)What is interesting is that God, through His Son, sows only good seed, but that a devious and mischievous enemy, the Devil, comes in the night – while men slept, when they were weak and powerless. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the Devil did not sow before this, because he had nothing to destroy, but when all had been fulfilled that he might defeat the diligence of the Husbandman [the Son of Man]. (Catena Aurea) The devil had always tried to trap the ancient Jewish people; but with renewed vigour and determination he attacks Christians. The enemy intends to quash, quell, and quench conscientious and earnest Christians as they journey into Christ the Light. And the devil’s ways are so devious and cunning that until the Christian begins tospring up as a blade of righteousness, the Christian does not recognize the temptations that come from the field of tares that surround him. Prior to his growth into holiness, through Christ the Light, the Christian sees only other men or other plantings that look very much himself. The tares are men who have surrendered to the devious corruption of the Devil. For, as Christ says in another place, ye shall know them by their fruits. (St. Matthew vii. 16)

So we read in the parable that the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares?  He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. (Idem, 27, 28) What the Christian realizes, as Calvin remarks, is that wicked men are not created by the devil, but, having been created by God, are corrupted by the devil and thrown into the Lord’s field, in order to corrupt the pure seed. (CC: volume xvii)  The Devil desires to prevent and interrupt Christ the Light from reaching and growing the good seed, and so he plants potentially distracting and corrupting tares in the Lord’s field or the church. And the Christian’s response to this invasive malice and malevolence seems logical enough; he wants topull up the tares and burn them so that his spiritual experience is free of temptation, struggle, and distraction. Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up (Ibid, 28), the servants ask?

But the Lord’s answer is direct and deliberate: Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Ibid, 29, 30) Here we find a rebuke of that Christian zeal and passion to root out all evil with force and suppression. Before God’s judgment day, it is always wrong for Christians to use violent means for the suppression of error (R.C.T. Notes on the Parables), as Archbishop Trench remarks. The Lord clearly means to warn Christians against forced conversion of the evil to the good. For one thing we do not really know who is wheat and who is a tare. You will remember that the wheat and tares look very much the same before each grows up and bears fruit. God [alone] knows the secrets of the heart. (Ps. xliv. 21) Christians must not uproot the tares before the time of harvest, since their hope must be not for the destruction but for the conversion and salvation of tares into wheat. A man who is a tare today might become wheat or fruitful seed tomorrow.

Come to think of it, shouldn’t we all beware of the danger of becoming tares ourselves? Isn’t the real point of the parable that we all are liable and susceptible to the temptations and enticements of the Devil? To be sure there are men who become tares rather easily and quickly since they have never experienced the desire and passion of Christ the Light. But if the taresbother or distract us, so that we judge and condemn them, hasn’t the Devil made us into tares and not wheat? Haven’t the tares become false gods or idols to us because we are so moved, defined, and obsessed with their sins that we have forgotten the need to confess our own in the Light of Christ’s forgiveness and mercy? Then the Devil shall have so possessed and moved us by his corruption and perversion of the world, so that we truly become tares ourselves.

This is where I think the parable reveals its true force in our lives. The Lord allows the Devil to tempt, provoke, and distract us. The point is that we must not be overwhelmed by the temptations of sin whether they confront us in other men’s lives or in our own. To be sure, we are called to resist the continual presence of temptations, their determination to sever and break our complete reliance and dependence upon God. But this is just where they can be turned round for our good, and we can beat the Devil at his own game. Far from being the occasion of our unfaithfulness and disobedience to God, they can yield in us a more vigilant, acute, and cautious determination to please God in all our lives. Temptations are not sins, and they need not make us into tares. In a positive way, they can reveal and disclose to us, through Christ the Light, our own weakness, fragility, frailty, and powerlessness. What we learn through the tempting and alluring lives of the tares is that we can become the wheat of God or the good seed only through his power and constant care.To be made good, we must depend all the more upon Christ the Light to grow us up and into the fruit that he intends us to become. And more than this but just as important and instrumental to our becoming that fruit is the need to pray for the conversion of those who are now tares into the good seed or faithful sons and daughters of God. If the tares have helped us to become good seed, why shouldn’t we help them into the same state?

Today, my friends, let us be determined to become the good seed sown by the Son of man. To do so, let us thank God for the temptations, struggles, and difficulties that the taresof this world bring to us. When we become aware of sinful behavior, let us look within our own souls and see if we don’t often indulge the same sin or follow the same temptation. Let us thank God for the temptations of the tares, which in their own way, remind and recall us to our deeper dependence upon Christ the Light. Rather than their being flashing, blazing, or sparkling lights that lead us into superficial spirituality, and thus sin and sorrow, let them generate in us that deeper need for the Light of Christ that alone grows us as good seed into perfection. And, let us never be content that those tares should remain tares. When the Apostle this morning, tells us to put on…bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;  forbearing one another, and forgiving one another…putting on [also] charity, which is the bond of perfectness, (Col. iii. 12-14) he means that we should desire that the taresbecome wheat because Christ the Light desires that all men should become His good seed. If our relation to the tares is one of hope for their conversion, the Light of Christ shall shine forth out of us and into the lives of the tares, whose conversion is no less intended and desired by GodFor, Christ the Light longs to shine into all men’s lives, drawing us and them closer and closer to the day, as Archbishop Trench remarks [when] the dark hindering element [of the tares will be] removed [from the lives of the faithful]…[and] the element of Light, which was before struggling with and obstructed by it, shall come forth in its full brightness. That shall be the day ‘of the manifestation of the sons of God’; they ‘shall shine forth as the sun’, when the clouds are rolled away, they shall evidently appear, and be acknowledged by all, as ‘the children of Light’….