A recent demographic survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that Christianity is in decline, and Christians are dwindling in number so rapidly it won’t be long before they are a minority in almost every nation in the world, with perhaps the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. We can see the evidence of this around us as churches are emptying at an alarming rate, with only the elderly still faithful in attending services regularly in many countries, necessitating the sale of church buildings and the liquidation of assets. So is this the beginning of the end? Not if you believe Jesus who said these powerful words to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
This, of course, is used to prove the primacy of Peter, which in turn is the basis for the primacy of the bishop of Rome over other bishops throughout the Church via the doctrine of Apostolic succession. This is not accepted by Protestant denominations who believe it was only relevant during the lifetime of Peter, but as there is another element of this statement that might be more pertinent to our subject, we will leave the doctrinal differences for another time. The statement is this: The gates of Hades will not prevail against us.
The Gates of Hades
The gates of Hades rising against us conjures up images of a fierce invasion of dark spirits hell bent on tormenting us. This, of course, implies a need for some strong defenses, and this is the assurance that Jesus appears to give us in this statement. However, when you examine it carefully, you realize it can be read differently and considered not a defensive statement but an offensive one! That we will be the ones on the attack and the gates of hell will not be able to withstand our assault; not the other way round. Therein lies the problem. We are defensive instead of offensive, and we need to switch mental gears to move from one state of mind to another. How can this be done? Only by learning to wield the mighty sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (cf. Ephesians 6:17).
Let us begin by looking at a few parables, beginning with the Parable of the Sower, which we looked at in Issue 6.
It is taken from Matthew 13, which begins with Jesus speaking about his true followers bringing “forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (v.8) while others respond very poorly to his message. This might disturb those believers of Christ who haven’t produced anything to date, but they might take some consolation from the three parables that follow, which speaks about the survival and flourishing of the seeds that had very unpromising beginnings.
The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat
Also referred to as the Parable of the Tares/Wheat/Weeds, this is one of only two parables that Jesus actually explained, the other one being the Parable of the Sower. Most of the parable is easily understood, especially in the light of his earlier explanation of the Parable of the Sower, but let us see how Jesus explains this one.
“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! (Matthew 13:36-43).
Most of Jesus’ explanation is very logical, except perhaps the command not to uproot the weeds. Every farmer tries to protect his crop, plucking out the weeds that take away much-needed nutrition from the wheat he has planted. Jesus’ advice goes contrary to that. Why?
There are two possibilities, and we will consider both because there are lessons to be learned in either scenario. One is that the root systems had become intertwined, and destroying the weeds would also destroy the wheat. The other is that the weeds in question may have been darnell, which looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth, making it hard to distinguish between the two.
Christians vs. the World
The first scenario lends itself to the idea of Christians being the good seed and the rest of the world, with its assorted beliefs—New Age, Atheism, Humanism, Secularism, etc.—being the bad seed. The influences of non-Christian philosophies have become so pervasive, especially in recent times, they are threatening the complete destruction of the wheat (us/the Church), but Jesus’ advice is to let them grow nonetheless. There will be a final reckoning where everything will be resolved, with the weeds bound and burnt, and the wheat gathered into the barn—the kingdom of the Father—which is, quite obviously, heaven.
It is good news that the wheat will not be destroyed by God. But for this to happen the wheat has to survive until the end. In his warning about end times, Jesus had this to say: “Many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:10-14). We have to take steps to survive the onslaught of the weeds. How?
Christians vs Christians
In the second scenario, where the weeds are darnell, barely distinguishable from the wheat, this can only mean it represents false believers. Is there such a thing? Yes, just like there are false prophets that we just heard Jesus speaking about, there are false believers too. Paul writes: “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
While Protestants are quick to accuse Catholics of being false believers, and vice versa, it is not the intention of this author to perpetuate divides but to end them, so we will leave denominations out of the equation and simply introspect if we are true or false believers. Or, if you prefer, if we are the wheat or the darnell? Such introspection is necessary because all too often we think we are the good guys and it is the others who have it all wrong.
There is a simple enough test to see where we stand and it comes from Jesus: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
This test isn’t applicable only to “prophets” but to the general Christian as well. Do we bear the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)? This comes only from those who are led by the Holy Spirit, or if you prefer, these are the good seeds planted in the field. Those who don’t bear these fruit are the seeds planted by the enemy, and theirs are the works of the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Dissensions and factions are two elements that don’t seem obvious to many of us, especially to some leaders in the Church, because instead of taking the fight to the enemy they fight with each other. In many instances this resembles the type of street warfare you hear about in cities like Harlem, where each gang leader jealously guards his turf, threatening death and destruction upon any encroacher.I have personal experience of this attitude and unfortunately some of these alleged leaders have the ears of those who shepherd the church at the highest levels. One can only hope that the shepherds pay more heed to the voice of the Holy Spirit than these pretenders, whose fruit is obvious from the decimation of the church at every level from prayer groups to parishes.
Questions and Answers
So given all this, is it really a wise thing to let the weeds remain? Yes, and for a couple of very good reasons. One, because it tests us, and testing makes us mature, especially in the context of this parable. James writes: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2‑4).
For another, just as we are influenced by the world, we can influence the world in turn, and bring so many others to salvation. Weeds cannot turn into wheat, but that’s a botanical truth, not a spiritual one, and even those who are “bad” among us can become “good”. It is certainly not Jesus’ wish that anybody perish and the time until the harvest affords those who live according to the flesh an opportunity to start living according to the Spirit. And the good seed might accomplish that. Even though it is in the minority, and it often seems that what’s in the minority can have very little effect on the huge majority, that is not true, and the next two parables illustrate this great truth.