Sunday’s gospel, the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), addresses the tension between good and evil coexisting in the world and the implied question: how can evil persist when the good news has been spread by Jesus.  

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’

The Greek word for weeds, zizanion, refers to a noxious weed that, in its early stages, closely resembles wheat and can not be easily distinguished from it. The master told the slaves not to pull up the weeds for fear that they might mistakenly pull up the wheat. So the landowner, (Jesus) counsels tolerance, at least in the present, for fear of uprooting the good with the bad. 

The harvest, for which they are to wait, refers to an Old Testament metaphor for the last judgment. (Joel 3:3, Hos 6:11, Jer 51:33)

In his parables Jesus addressed the problem of good and evil in terms the people could understand.

He spoke of the kingdom of heaven in an earthy way… seeds, fields, weeds and wheat. Jesus constantly addressed people in ways they could understand.


As with last week’s gospel Jesus’ disciples did not fully grasp the parallels in the parable.

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’

He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

The story assured his disciples that, ultimately, justice will prevail. This was an important message. For most of the crowds who followed Jesus their lives were hard. They experienced tyranny from the Roman conquerors in the form of oppressive taxes and arbitrary judgment and from the religious authorities who interpreted the covenant laws in harsh and unreasonable ways (They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matt 23:4.) The world of the common folk did not seem just or fair. Jesus’ story reinforced the message that, for those who follow the commandments, particularly the greatest one of loving God and neighbour, that God will reward them and those who are evil, in the end.

But there is another subtler message within.

The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.

People or events, who may at first be perceived as ‘evil’ may, in fact, be ‘wheat’, in need of nourishment and care. Jesus, himself, took Matthew, a hated tax collector, and made him a disciple. (Matt 9:10-11) He used other parables (the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37) to tell of unlikely people who were good. He greeted the Samaritan woman at the well who seems to have been shunned by others in her village as an adulterer (John 4;7-40) yet he made her an early disciple. In Jesus, the default position was always that the person is, at heart, good. Looking at them when they made their first appearance in the gospels one might have mistakenly judged them to be ‘weeds’. So Jesus permits them to co-exist. 


Yet the tension between good and evil persists. Whether it is state-sponsored terrorism by Russia, Syria or Israel: criminal gangs in Somalia, Haiti, or Toronto, or: the religious oppression of some right-wing evangelical Christians, or Iranian theocrats, the burden of evil falls most heavily on the vulnerable.

Individually, every person has seen and experienced evils that call out for redress. One of Jesus’ messages in the parable is for tolerance and compassion towards the apparent perpetrator. At the same time, the injustices beg for resolution.

As long as this tension persists, our obligation is to act towards those who create them as though they are God’s beloved, regardless of their behavior and to trust that justice will ultimately prevail.

That ‘ultimate’ position is a final point of faith and tension. Jesus does not guarantee that we will see justice in this life. His message requires faith in a ‘future’ or ‘other’ life characterized by right-relationship with God and justice. For many, that is a hard ‘ask’. For Christians it is an act of faith.


  • Try reimagining this parable about good and evil using other metaphors than wheat and weeds. (Predator and prey coming to a watering hole? Invasive species displacing native birds or fish? Or something more whimsical, like a wolf trying to deceive lambs by wearing a sheep’s coat?) Focus on what you think is the main message.
  • Does the fact that Jesus recognizes the simultaneous presence of both good and evil persuade you that he understands ‘the real world situation’.
  • Do you think the parable of the ‘weeds and wheat’ applies to your own internal life? How do you experience the tension between competing impulses? Try reading the gospel as a story about one’s inner life.



There will be no commentary next week. I will be on vacation, without internet or cell phone access. The commentaries will resume in two weeks.