“Good and Evil”

Scripture – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, July 23, 2023


All right, I’d like all of you who are wheat to move over to my right and all of you weeds to move to my left please. What? I’m just trying to help Jesus know who will be singing in the heavenly choir and who will be roasting on the infernal grill!

In today’s reading, Jesus is telling another parable – another parable about seeds. Last week’s parable described the various terrains on which seeds fell, but more importantly, it highlighted the lavish generosity of the Sower.

Today’s farming parable is far different. It is stark, it is unnerving, and it is judgmental. It spotlights a divide between those received into God’s eternal kingdom and those condemned to the outer darkness.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a farmer who planted good seed in his field. When the job was complete and evening came, he and his workers tucked in for the night. But while everyone was asleep, an enemy slipped into the field and planted weeds among the wheat. No one noticed anything for days, but when the plants began to grow, the workers saw that something was awry. As the wheat began to grow, weeds popped up with it.

Puzzled by what was occurring, the workers scurried to their master and said, “Didn’t you sow good seed in the field? Why are weeds appearing?”

The master replied, “An enemy has done this.”

The workers immediately volunteered to remedy the situation. They said, “We will take care of this. C’mon, boys, let’s jerk out those weeds!”

“Whoa,” said the master, “That won’t work. If you yank out the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with it. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the reapers to bind the weeds into bundles to be burned and to gather the wheat for the barn.”

That’s the end of the parable, but like the Parable of the Sower, this parable comes with an interpretation.

Jesus explained that the one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The good seed represents the children of God’s kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the Devil. At the end of the age, the angels will collect the evildoers and pitch them into the fire. Then, the righteous will shine like the sun in God’s eternal realm.

It sounds awfully clear cut, doesn’t it? There is good and there is bad. There is the virtuous Harry Potter and there is the evil Lord Voldemort. There is the upright Batman and the wicked Joker. If you are a Democrat, it’s obvious that the weeds are the Republicans. If you’re a Republican, there is little doubt that Democrats are children of the devil.

To understand this parable, we need to dial back to the time of Jesus. In his day, those in power demanded obedience and enforced it with the sword. When Jesus announced that a new kingdom was dawning – the kingdom of God – he was announcing the beginning of a revolution that would overturn the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus joined the Jewish prophets who foretold a day when God would set the world right. The oppressed would be set free, the hungry would be fed, hostilities would cease, and peace would reign.

Jesus announced that with his ministry, the long-awaited revolution was underway. As you can imagine, those who suffered were ecstatic at the good news. But those who were benefitting from the status quo were less than enthusiastic.

According to Matthew, those who followed Jesus were the wheat and those who opposed him were weeds. Or, as Captain Obvious would say, there would be a day of reckoning when God would set the world right and reward those who were faithful.

In our day, we can quickly jump to false conclusions if we rip the parable out of its original context.  We run the risk of imagining that we possess more insight than is humanly possible as to who falls into the categories of good and evil. Haven’t you known someone you thought was a wonderful human being until you discovered his dark side?  And haven’t you known dubious characters who surprised you by their acts of compassion?

Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was sentenced to a forced labor camp and eventually exiled from the Soviet Union. He witnessed cruel acts and experienced harsh punishment. He could have easily written about clear distinctions between people who were good and people who were evil, but instead, he wrote these words: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between (social) classes, nor between political parties, but right through every human heart…This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil…If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”1

Is not this the reason that Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”?  Our motives are not always pure, and we do not always choose to do what is right.

A colleague tells about her precious three-year-old grandson who was saying his prayers. He said the sweetest thing: “Thank you God for giving me friends to run around with on the playground.” It melted his grandmother’s heart. But then he topped off his prayer by saying, “And thank you God for giving me people to kick!”2

That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Good and evil are not only around us, but also within us.

Rather than handing us a justification for declaring who is wheat and who is weed, this parable “is a cautionary tale, warning us to beware of the weed pulling impulse – the moral need to improve the field based on our own limited judgment.”3 Isn’t that why the farmer prevents us hired hands from yanking out the weeds? He knows our perspective is skewed and our judgments are often faulty.

Moreover, when we take the full gospel story into account, we see a much more complex situation than simple stock characters who are either wheat or weed. In fact, rather than avoiding the weeds, Jesus sought them out; rather than condemning, he was in the business of transformation.  He was constantly finding those who were lost, extending forgiveness, and turning lives around. This parable cautions us to not condemn too quickly.

Young Ben was simply trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally while their mother was out. He found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. However, by the time their mother returned, ink blots stained the table, the chairs, and the floor. Their mother surveyed the mess, and the room went quiet. Until she saw the picture. She picked it up and exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” And she bent down and kissed her young son.

In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Ben – that is, Benjamin West – was selected to paint England’s King George III. West became one of the most celebrated artists of his day, becoming president of the Royal Academy of Arts. Imagine if his mother had responded differently. What if she had screamed at young Benjamin for the mess he had made? What if she had scolded him and taken away all of his art supplies? Years later it might have been said, “His mother’s rebuke crushed his artistic gift.”

Perhaps his gift would have emerged either way, but isn’t it grand that his mother’s kind and encouraging words affirmed him and gave momentum to his talent. He would go on to paint Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”4

There are weeds lurking in the best of us and wheat to be discovered in the worst of us. May we resist the temptation to rush to judgment, knowing that God can burn away the weeds in each of us and harvest what is good in all of us.



  1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918 – 1956.
  2. Marilyn T. Hedgpeth, “Solutions: Part 1,” July 23, 2017
  3. Jeanyne Slettom, “Lectionary Commentary,” on the Process and Faith website for July 20, 2008.
  4. Don McMinn, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter,” Think with Me, July 12, 2023.