Between the parable and the explanation are several verses, and footsteps, and years.
Among the verses, Matthew repeats that Jesus only spoke to the crowds in parables, a
questionable choice about which the disciples asked him directly.
The reason I speak to them in parables, he replied, is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and
hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'
Now you know how the crowds felt.
The footsteps are from Jesus: then he left the crowds and went into the house.
The explanation of the parable is then given to the disciples, for internal ears only.
There is also ample reason to suspect it was really given not to the twelve guys around
Jesus but to the church around Matthew about fifty years later.
The early church assigned this anonymous gospel to the disciple who was a tax collector, if not on the basis of hard evidence and clear memory, then on a well educated guess.
The tax collector is an excellent candidate because this writer, who was obsessed with mercy and judgment, also had a mathematician's appetite to read parables by solving for x.
Literary types call this allegory: each detail stands for something else, like letters in algebra.
Matthew makes his church listen in with the disciples as Jesus cracks the code: the sower
is the Son of Man, the field is the world, etc.
He does not identify the slaves who do nothing because he is talking to them, and intentionally omitting them from the action.
Matthew is trying, yet again, to get a central truth through to his people.
There will be a judgment, and you are not in charge of it.
Do not judge, Jesus preaches directly in his first sermon, so that you may not be judged.
For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be
the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Throughout the gospel, Jesus constantly chides the Pharisees, who embody religious
judgment of others, as a "don't be that guy" warning to the people in the church.
He spends a whole chapter near the end dismantling them with withering, sarcastic critique.
I suspect it is a different version of the same thing he is doing by confusing the crowds
with parables: before building up understanding, he has to tear it down.
He is doing a teacher's hardest work: he is teaching us to unlearn things, especially judgment.
Finally, as his grand finale, Jesus tells a story that sounds a lot like today's.
Instead of wheat and weeds, he tells of the final fate of sheep and goats.
The king has to separate them, and everyone is surprised to find out which is which.
Not only did they fail to recognize the king hidden among them in the most needy and vulnerable, they also fail to recognize themselves.
It is the final, thundering drum solo completing the beat Matthew has been pounding all along.
There will be a judgment, and you are not in charge of it.
Imagine, if you can, a community of people who rush to judgment about each other.
I know it's a stretch.
We've come so far and matured so much as a society since then.
Current politics and social media demonstrate such advances in mature discourse and
civility that it can be hard for us to relate, but please try.
Matthew's church, it seems from reading between the lines, was inclined to judgment and petty social comparison and conflict.
There were Jews and Gentiles, which is to say natives and immigrants, poor and rich, newcomers and oldtimers, reliable heavy contributors and marginal flakes, holy ones and hypocrites, all mixed and tangled up together in one social platform.
I know this must be really difficult to imagine, so thanks for hanging with me.
In this motley mix, it was sometimes easy to distinguish the good eggs from the problem
children but sometimes not.
There was also a vast network of relationships with plenty of history and personal entanglements beneath the Sunday morning surface.
People, including Matthew, were both protective of their friends and sick of other people's crap.
The temptation to judge, and to try to winnow out the weeds, was strong.
What does God have to say about this?
God says no.
No, for in gathering the zizania you would uproot the siton along with them.
Forgive both of them to grow together until the harvest..
Zizania is a particular kind of weed that looks almost exactly like wheat; they are easily mistaken for one another above ground, never mind what's happening below.
So the master says forgive, which we should do for the translator who settled for the word let.
We can let the weeds grow, we can forgive their presence, with confidence in Matthew's drumbeat: there will be a judgment, and we are not in charge of it.
Both of these unwelcome truths are actually good news.
We're not as good at judgment as we think we are, but if we insist on doing it, God will
honor, which is to say punish, our judgment by using our standards on us.
Since all of our hearts and track records are mixed fields, that's not a great idea.
The sorting is better left in wiser hands than ours.
But the fact that there will be judgment, in God's time on God's terms, is also good news, albeit terrifying, as our Revelation Bible study class is learning.
If you like weeping and gnashing of teeth, we've got two solid weeks across thirteen chapters of it for you in vivid and gruesome technicolor.
If you don't—if, like me, you look in the mirror and see weed and goat and dental doom—listen carefully again to Matthew's drumbeat.
There will be a judgment, and we are not in charge of it.
If you are sick of people's crap, Jesus is promising a justice better and truer and more complete than any we can manage on our own.
We can and should still call out unacceptable behavior, but for us to judge and uproot people—any child of either kingdom or the evil one—is the most unacceptable behavior.
God has appointed Someone Else to judge—and it happens to be the one who loves us all enough to die and rise for us.
The twist in Matthew's story is that we judge Jesus, quite badly, and then God overrules it.
Resurrection, Frederick Buechner notes, means that the worst thing is never the last thing.
Judgment is part but not all and not the end of the story.
Judgment is part of mercy.
Judgment is ordered toward redemption, Anna Case-Winters writes; judgment is part of the
renewal of all things.
If judgment is indeed fire, it is an essential part of the equation that makes the righteous shine like the sun.
We cannot separate them any better than we can separate weeds from wheat or sheep from goats or neighbor from Christ, so we will have to forgive God handling judgment without us.
It won't be the way we would we do it.
Thanks be to God.