The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany is a rare occurrence in the Church year. I've been a pastor for ten years, and I have never preached on this text. It will be another 27 years before I preach on this text again. I'll be 63 years old. God willing, I will still be preaching the Word to His people in 2038—if Jesus does return in glory before then, of course.
“Gather the wheat into my barn.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over the past four weeks you have listened to the eyewitness accounts of those who watched as Jesus manifested Himself as the Son of God through miraculous signs and wonders: His baptism in the Jordan, where the Father revealed Jesus as His beloved Son; turning water into wine at Cana; healing the leper and the paralyzed servant in Capernaum; even calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Once again this week Matthew gives his eyewitness account of Jesus revealing Himself: not through miraculous signs and wonders this time, but through powerful preaching about the nature of the world and the day of judgment. In the parable He told to the crowd, Jesus compared the world to field where the master has sowed wheat; and while those meant to tend the field were asleep, the master’s adversary came in and sowed weeds among the wheat—weeds that would be exceptionally troublesome because they look like the wheat until the head appears.
The master is a patient man. Yes, evil has been done against him. Yes, the evil plot of this adversary has put his crop in danger. But the master would preserve every single stalk of wheat which has been planted. When his servants asked if they should begin pulling out the weeds, the master made a surprising response. He said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” This runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. It doesn’t take a farmer to know that weeds which are allowed to grow can choke out the plants that were planted to feed a family or to beautify a home. Anyone who plants a garden will endeavor to uproot the weeds that come up so that the plant can absorb all the nutrients it can and grow healthy. Nevertheless, the master will not risk having even one stalk of wheat pulled up by an overzealous servant. Do not mistake his patience for indifference toward the weeds among his good wheat. The time will indeed come when the master will harvest both the wheat and the weeds; but that day will not come until the master is ready to harvest the wheat and gather it into his storeroom. Only then will the weeds be pulled up and burnt.
Jesus Himself explains that the field is the world. Unrepentant sinners and repentant saints grow together in this world. Satan does not sow his sons off in an empty field somewhere; he plants them in the midst of the faithful. At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard about someone who said that they didn’t want to go to a Sunday worship service because there are too many hypocrites in the Church. And to be perfectly honest, there’s some truth to that. Jesus Himself affirms the truth of that. If only there were no sinners in the world—if only there were no sinners in the Church—wouldn’t it follow that life would be so much better? It sounds good in theory, but as Martin Luther once preached, “If we proceed to establish a congregation in which there is no sin, we will condemn weak Christians, and even the strong because they stumble at times, and must also exclude them from the Church.” The Church on earth is a mess. If everyone who ever sinned were to be excluded from the Church, the building would be empty; certainly you wouldn’t find a pastor there—certainly not this pastor. Nor, if you were honest with yourself, would you be found in the Church, for you, too, have sinned; you, too, have fallen short of the glory of God. That doesn’t mean the Church should abandon the practice church discipline, though. When a sinner who considers himself a part of the Church refuses to repent of his sins, the congregation must act, or else they share in that sinner’s evil and prove themselves to be sinners, worthy of being thrown into the flames with the unrepentant sinner. But we must not go out seeking sinners to remove from the Church or the world; for only the Lord knows when He will take sinners like Matthew the tax collector, or Peter the pride-filled denier, or Saul the murderer, or Augustine the arch-heretic, men who started off as enemies of the Lord and His Church, and convert them into repentant and faithful saints.
That’s why it is a great blessing and relief to sinners like you and me that our Lord Jesus Christ is so patient and longsuffering with the world. It is truly a miracle that there is a One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. The Lord loves His Church so much that He allows you time to repent of your sinfulness. He continues to nourish you, His good seed, with His holy Word. He continues to water you in Holy Baptism, allowing you to return to that precious Word-filled water daily through repentance and faith. He continues to feed you with holy body and precious blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Eternal judgment is not the outcome for those who are sons of the kingdom of God. The unquenchable fire is not the fate of those who cling to Christ through Holy Baptism.
It’s certainly frustrating to deal with the weeds that find their way into the visible Christian Church on earth. It’s troublesome to deal with those who call themselves Christians but who don’t seem to act like it. Even so, that is not reason enough to refuse to belong to the Church. It’s important to remember that the Lord has dealt with you, too, in mercy. Though you continue to sin, the Lord continues to welcome you back to His heavenly storeroom every time you confess your sin and repent of it. In His good time, according to His gracious will, Jesus will harvest the good wheat, the faithful, and He will separate it from the weeds, the unrepentant. Until that day, do not begrudge the unrepentant their earthly pleasure. Instead, rejoice that you have a place in the heavenly storeroom. Rejoice that you, one of the righteous, will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of Your heavenly Father.
As you wait for that harvest, as you await the day when we will shine forth in the kingdom, continue to return daily to the waters of Holy Baptism through repentance. Continue to seek the nourishment of the body and blood of Jesus. Continue to seek out the Word of God, where Jesus reveals Himself to you as the goodly master of the harvest. Rejoice that the Lord is longsuffering and patient, allowing everyone the opportunity to repent and be gathered up with the good seed. The Lord, the Master of the harvest, will not allow the weeds to choke you out, nor will He allow you to be burnt with those weeds. You are a son of the kingdom by faith. You are His good seed, and He will not let you die. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.