Judge Not the Weeds
How do disciples live in the midst of sin?
Jesus gave his disciples a set of instructions and principles for life. They represent the ideal human life, the fullness of the image of God, and earthly flourishing. But, we know that not everyone plays by those rules or even respects those who do. What is the attitude of disciples toward those who live either in ignorance of the ideal life or in open hostility to it?
Jesus offered his disciples a useful parable called the “Parable of the Tares” or “The Wheat and the Weeds” (Matthew 13:24-30). In the story, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a farmer who plants seeds in his field. However, at night, some adversary comes along and plants weeds in the field as well. When the plants begin to grow, it becomes obvious to the field hands that there are weeds growing up among the wheat that the farmer had planted. They offer to go pull up all the weeds, but the farmer rejects the idea. Instead, he decides to let it all grow until harvest time when the wheat and the weeds can be fully sorted, one to go into the barn and the other to be burnt.
The disciples are understandably mystified by this parable, and they later inquire of Jesus as to its meaning (Matthew 13:36-43). Jesus explains the parable, and if we carefully notice his words, they will help us with our original question of how to live in a world of sin. I think we can see five reasons disciples learn the practice of withholding judgment.
First, Jesus reminds us that “the harvest is the end of the age.” Nothing looks good in the middle. Farmers don’t really know what they have in the field until the harvest. Parents don’t really know how their kids will turn out until they grow up. In fact, between the beginning and the end of every project is usually a messy part where nothing looks like it is going to work out. That is the wrong time to judge the outcome. Even if we were appointed judges of the cosmos, we shouldn’t judge because now isn’t the time for judgment.
Second, Jesus reminds us that we should not judge because we are just really bad at it. To the reapers, Jesus says not to sort out the weeds “lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” Jesus does not trust the workers to know the difference at this stage between wheat and weeds. He states with certainty that if these laborers take up the task of judgment, they will do it poorly. Jesus, of course, knows firsthand the limitations of human judgment. In just a few verses, Matthew records Jesus returning to his hometown (13:53-58). The people that should have known him best judged him as an unworthy carpenter’s son. We shouldn’t judge because we aren’t any good at judging.
Third, this parable teaches us that we shouldn’t judge because judging was never our job. Scripture consistently affirms that judgment is the exclusive right of God.
Furthermore, we have to notice that we are not even the hired help in this parable. In his explanation of the story, Jesus states, “The reapers are the angels.” This story is about how God and his heavenly hosts view the earth, not how we judge our peers. We are the plants in this story, not the reapers. If angels seated on high are not invested with the trust to judge all human intentions and works, then what would make us think that we could do it better?
Paul asks, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10–12).
James agrees and asks a very similar question: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11–12)
Who are you? That is the question the New Testament asks when we attempt to judge our peers.
You are not the master of the servant. You are not the father of your brother. You are not the judge of your neighbor. “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). There is a judge, and it is not us. Judgment is for God at the end, not for us in the middle.
Fourth, we learn that the true judge will judge in his own time. “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40–42). When we see others living unrighteously, our moral compass knows they should be punished. That moral compass is strangely quiet when I sin, but it is emphatic when I see someone else sin. It shouts to me that this situation is unjust. The wicked are not being paid the consequence of their works.
Jesus reminds us that withholding judgment is not the same as allowing evil to “get away with it.” Withholding judgment is instead trusting that God will do as he has said. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). If God has promised he will judge, why do we feel the need to do the same? We rush to judgment because we don’t really believe God will ever get around to it. Judgment is not only a lack of mercy for our peers; it is a lack of faith in our God.
Finally, allowing God to do the judging also allows God to do the glorifying. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus consistently teaches that those seeking glory now will have it, but not in the life to come. The people who put on a show of praying on a street corner “have received their reward” (Matthew 6:5). If we seek the glory of men, we might just get it, but we will have nothing from God.
On the other hand, Jesus trusted in God to judge both the wicked and the righteous. When he was accused of having a demon by his peers, Jesus wasted little time on his own defense. ““I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge” (John 8:48–50). Jesus trusted in the Father to put glory wherever it belonged, even if that had to come on a Sunday morning after his own crucifixion. Likewise, disciples live to glorify God, not to take his place. We leave any praise we deserve (it is little) to be administered by God.
The lesson for disciples in a world of sin is to remember that we are neither Creator, Redeemer, Lawgiver, nor Judge. We are the created, the ones who need to be redeemed, the ones who must obey the law, and the ones who must be judged. When we judge our neighbor, we have failed to know God as he is and our place before him.
Yes, we live in a world gone mad. But my hands are not clean. Before I render judgment on the weeds, I should remember I may be one.
Dr. Benjamin Williams is the Senior Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Ada, Oklahoma and a regular writer at So We Speak. Check out his books The Faith of John’s Gospel and Why We Stayed or follow him on Twitter, @Benpreachin.