This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-30
But he said, “Nay. Lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, our parents Adam and Eve fell. The first Adam rebelled against God. He ate the forbidden fruit. And when God confronts Adam, He tells him about the consequences of his sin. When God confronts Eve, He tells her about the consequences of her sin. Now when God confronts the serpent, He says something that is very interesting. God is speaking to a snake, in Genesis 3:15. And speaking to this snake, God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed.” This is called the protoevangelion, the very first preaching of the Gospel in Scripture. Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, you have God giving a prophecy of the birth of Christ right here in the book of Genesis.
Well, where is the prophecy in here, in Genesis 3? God says, “First of all, I will put enmity between you, the serpent and the woman.” Well, there was no enmity between them to begin with. She was actually following the serpent. She was in league with the serpent. She was doing what the serpent had told her to do. Following the serpent’s lead, she even took the sin that she had committed and she tempted her own husband with that same sin. And he too, committed it. But in God’s mercy, He says, “I’m going to put enmity between the snake and the woman.” To be at enmity with the serpent is to be friends again with God. And God goes farther. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, AND between your seed and her seed.” Now anybody here who knows basic biology knows that women don’t have seed. There’s only been one person in the history of the world who has been born of a woman only, with no interaction with a man, no contribution from a man. That would be Jesus Christ. This is a prophecy of the virgin birth. That somebody would be born the seed of a woman.
But the prophecy is bigger than this. It’s also the prophecy of the Church and of spiritual warfare. For not only does God say that “I will put enmity between thee and the woman”, but “between your seed and her seed.” You see, the serpent too, has seed. The holy, pure, virgin birth is not the only birth that has ever taken place. Those who follow the seed of the woman, those who follow Christ, are not the only people that are born in this world. There are also born many who are the seed of the serpent. And so we see here in seed form, here in Genesis 3:15, a prophecy of all that is to come: a prophecy of the virgin birth, a prophecy of the warfare between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between the Church and between the forces of Hell.
The parable that we see today in the Gospel of Matthew is the same picture. It is the picture of the seed of the woman being sown by God, and the seed of the serpent being sown by the enemy, from whence we get the wheat and the tares (the weeds).
This is a farming community. We have corn, soybeans, pumpkins, and I’ve even seen tobacco grown around here. I’ve even prayed for a grass fire during that time. We’re a farming community. We plant good seed into the ground to provide good gifts for families, to feed hunger. And there are weeds. The farmers know that there are thorns. There are weed trees. There are all sorts of nasty, ugly things that pop up and try to ruin the crop. And so it has been with men since the beginning of time. You have the seed of the woman, those who follow Christ faithfully. And you have the seed of the serpent. Notice Scripture does not call them “innocent bystanders”, “innocent savages”, or “people that just tried to find the right way, but didn’t quite make it.” No. Scripture says that this is a spiritual head-to-head battle between the forces of good and the forces of darkness: Good and evil. Light and darkness. Heaven and hell. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
And there’s no third team. There’s nobody in between. You’re on one side, or you’re on the other. And here Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a field. It is sown with good seed, and it is sown by the enemy with bad seed, with weeds.
Now the first conclusion understandably that many people come to is, “Well let’s just go and get the tiller out and take care of those weeds!” But even here in our farming community, we know that many times the weeds are in such places, and they’re in such close proximity, and the roots are so intertwined, that if you were to go out there and till up the ground to take care of those weeds, all you’d be doing is destroying half your crop. It’s not nearly so simple that we can have a holy war, because “this country is all good Christians,” and “this country over here is all these bad people.” No, you go try to pull up the weeds too soon, you go out trying to kill people who are not Christians, you’re going to end up hurting a lot of Christians as well. It’s why God says, “Don’t do that. Just let them grow up together side by side.” Is that because God is soft on sin? Is that because God is not going to judge wrongdoing? Is God just going easy on them? No.
Jesus very, very clearly says the day is coming, that even before the wheat is harvested, all those weeds are going to be plucked up by their roots, they’re going to be gathered into bundles, and they’re going to be burned in the fire. This is a picture of the Lake of Fire, of Hell, of eternal torment. Judgment is coming for the weeds. Don’t you worry about that. Judgment is coming for the weeds. But it’s not your job, and it’s not my job, to be vigilantes and to go out there with a gun and to try to pick off the weeds, and to try to purify the human race. God says, “No, no, no, no, no!” That’s God’s job. Let them grow up together, and when judgment time comes, God knows how to burn the weeds and how to gather up the wheat into His barn.
That tells us what we’re not supposed to do. But what are we supposed to do? Well, there is something about this passage that really should get our attention. This is a war. This is not just any war, or a war. This is THE war, the biggest war of all time, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the seed of the wheat and the seed of the tares (the weeds). And what does God say? He said, “It’s not just going to be over there that the weeds grow. They’re going to be growing up right in the middle with you. That means yes, even in America, you’re going to find some weeds. Not just in Syria, not just in China, not just in other countries out there, but in America, you’re going to find weeds. Not just in America, but in Illinois, you’re going to find some weeds. In your own family. Among your own friends. On your own block.” Jesus even warns that for some people, for many people, it will be in their own household.
One of the hardest words that Jesus speaks, He speaks in Scripture and He says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace. I have not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword, to divide a father against his son, a mother against daughter, brother against brother.” (Matthew 10:34-36) Now is that because God does not want unity, and forgiveness and reconciliation? No. If everybody would do what God wanted them to, then we would all repent. We would all become Christians, we would all reconcile with one another and we would all get along. The sword that He brings is not because He has a desire for dissension. But it is because there is an irrevocable dissension between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. You can’t make Heaven and Hell get along. They are absolutely, irrevocably at odds with one another. And so let’s say you have a household where some repent and follow Christ and others do not. Maybe you’re at peace before, because the entire household was the seed of the serpent. The moment even one person accepts Christ and gets serious about their walk with God, guess what? You’ve just brought the front lines of this epic battle into your own home. And the only way there will be absolute peace in that home again, is when everybody in the home is on the same side — whether you apostatize and now your whole family is the seed of the serpent again, or everybody finally repents and your entire household is part of the seed of the woman.
Jesus has no pleasure in dissension and in families being broken up. But you know what? He’d rather see that in your home, than see all of you be the seed of the serpent. And I think every one of us in this room at least – I know in my own family and in other families and friends – most people I’ve talked to [here] are serious about their faith. You can look at people in your own family, people that share your last name, who are not the seed of the woman. They are not following Christ. It’s not some weeds way out there in some other country, but they are weeds that are grown up in the midst of your own family, intertwined together, roots growing up right next to the wheat. And you see, if those were to be uprooted right now and thrown into the fire, it would totally disrupt the wheat. It would hurt the whole family. Things would not go well.
And so God is patient, not because He is wanting to indulge the weeds, but because He has mercy on the wheat. Because He loves His sheep, He puts up with the goats for awhile. So we need to be mindful, we need to be prayerful, and we need to fall on our knees before God, asking Him that just as He was merciful with us – that even those family members that are closest to us, those friends that are closest to us, those co-workers that are closest to us, our neighbors that are closest to us – that they too would switch sides, that they would stop being serpents, that they would stop being weeds, and that they would join ranks with the seed of the woman, covered by the blood of Christ and living for Him.
Another thing that we should take from this realization that the weeds and the wheat are growing up side by side is that we cannot, we dare not, live our lives as if everybody were wheat. Now let’s think of it in the terms of warfare. Currently, as far as I know, the state of Illinois is at peace. Yes, I know that there are American soldiers out somewhere else, fighting on somebody else’s land. But here, at home, I haven’t seen any tanks go down Main St. in Omaha. I’ve not seen anybody in foxholes shooting guns across the front lines. At least from a human standpoint, from a national standpoint, we are at peace. There is no fighting going on here.
And so what do we do? We enjoy our lives. We feast. We relax with our families. We seek to enjoy the good life insofar as we can.
How would things change if this became the front lines of World War III? What if the Japanese or the Germans were over here again, not in Pearl Harbor, but right here in Illinois? In Omaha? You wouldn’t worry too much about whether or not you have a FOID Card, would you? You wouldn’t worry too much about whether this caliber or that caliber of gun happened to be registered in your name or not. If had a gun in your hand and ammunition, you’d defend your family.
Would you take a nice leisurely walk outside with your wife and kids as if there was nothing wrong? Or would you tell your kids, “Look, I know you like to run and play outside, I know you like to do these things that are fun. But just one stray shot and your head is going to be busted open. You stay in that house and you get down in that shelter. I’m going to go out alone, and I’m going to scrounge around and find just enough food for what we need, and I’m going to get back here as soon as I can and I’m going to take care of you. But don’t you go outside!”
Then your boys get a little older. And they’re getting old enough and strong enough, and you’ve been working with them enough, that you realize that they can contribute to the fight. So you finally start letting some of your sons outside. You let them come shoot at the enemy. Even then, are you going to say, “Okay. You’re grown now; go have fun. Go to the movies, go to the grocery store, go play kickball, go play Frisbee.” Or are you going to say, “No, no, no, no, no son. Even though you’re an adult, all it takes is one bullet and you’re dead.”
We need to be so serious. We need to be so vigilant. If we were in wartime in Southern Illinois, and your life was in danger and your children’s lives were in danger, would you spend more time playing football with your son, or would you spend more time making your son do push-ups? Would you spend more time out shooting squirrels with you kid? Or would you spend more time in target practice, telling your son, “Look, one of these days the enemy might come right over that hill. And if he comes towards this house to hurt us, this is how you defend your family.” It’s a whole different mindset, isn’t it?
Christa, your Dad grew up in exactly that sort of environment. Do you think his parents, during peacetime, would have had anything against him spending hours outside playing and having fun, running and playing, and just being a kid and enjoying life? But is that the kind of childhood that Jurgen got to experience? No.
Here he is, 4 or 5 years old in Bremerhaven, Germany – this little kid. And he didn’t even know this was strange, and he didn’t even know this was unusual; this was just life. Air-raid sirens would start whirring, just filling up the entire town with this horrible noise. And they knew that one more time, “Here they come again, these bombers are going to start flying over.” And those bombers don’t care whether the people down there are soldiers or civilians, whether they are men or women, or whether they are five-year-old children. The bombs don’t ask any questions. And so all the kids would hurry up and they’d go inside, and they’d go down into this shelter. And everybody would be scared, and you would hear the bombs dropping and the ground shaking. And finally the air-raid sirens would stop, and the skies would be clear, and everybody would stay in these shelters just a little bit longer. “Is it safe to come out? Is it safe to come out?”
So finally an adult peeks out and there’s no planes. So everybody comes back out to see what kind of damage there is. There is very often virtually no food, so that boiled fish bones – you’d have this real light soup that was from boiled fish bones – and that’s all they had to eat that day. And then it would happen again. He’d be outside. He’d be just inside the house. And the air-raid sirens would start going again. Again, all adults, all children, would have to go down into the shelters.
Now, if I told you that I raised my kid that way, you might easily say, “Well, that’s no way for a child to grow up! That’s not going to give this child a very positive outlook on life, if you’re always telling him to stop playing outside and to go underground and eat this nasty fish soup. Children need to play! Children need to have fun!”
If he had been allowed to play, and been allowed to have fun, he would be dead.
You do everything differently when you are in war.
And one of the reasons that the enemy keeps choking us at the very root with its weeds, one of the reasons that the enemy keeps stealing our children and getting them involved in the things of the devil, is because we are trying to live the “good life,” instead of preparing our children for war.
There may be no bombs dropping in Omaha, there may be no planes flying over, but in my Bible it says that there are no exceptions anywhere in the world. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual rulers of darkness in wicked places (Ephesians 6:12). This is a war. This is a battle. And it’s far worse than anything that ever happened in Normandy. Far worse than anything that ever happened at Pearl Harbor. Because the worst they could do is to kill your child. But the worst the devil can do is to drag your child’s soul to Hell. Which is the worst violence? Which is the worst attack?
If you knew that the bombs were about to start dropping, how quickly would you get your little ones underground? As your little ones start growing into adults, how hard would you work with them to toughen them up to be powerful warriors to fight the enemy and to defend the family? And yet, what weenies we often are when it comes to preparing our children for spiritual warfare. We need to harden them up. We do not live in peacetime. We live in wartime. This is bigger than World War III. This is war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The devil is insidious; he will stop at nothing. And he will use absolutely any means at his disposal to deceive you and to distract you, and to get you involved in anything other than protecting your family. Stop thinking of this as peace time. Start thinking of it as war time. Realize that the devil plays for keeps, and he plays to kill.
Toughen up yourself, your wife, and all of your children. Realize that sin itself is the enemy, and drive it far from your home. Every speck of it. Be merciless to it and eradicate it. Be satisfied with nothing short of a home – the four walls that you live in – that it is a sanctuary for God, for Jesus, for the Holy Spirit, and for the angels. And not one demon is allowed, not through a song, not through a book, not through a movie, not through a dirty joke!
If you’re going to be a godly husband, father, wife, mother, parent, then you’ll be as merciless with sin in your home as you would be merciless to an Arab, Japanese, or German enemy coming up over the hills with a gun about to kill your family. That is how vigilant you need to be in your home. That is how serious you need to be, realizing that this is a time of war. And the weeds – the seed of the serpent – they are not “way over there somewhere” and “we’re all safe and at peace over here.” Oh, no, no, no, no . . . according to this parable that Jesus taught, the weeds and the wheat are right up next to each other. The roots are intertwined, so much so that you can’t even pull up the weeds without hurting the wheat.
And if we would realize that we are currently in a spiritual war, in a spiritual battle, then we would have a different view of how vigilant we are with our marriages, with the way that we raise our children, with the way that we evangelize and bring others to Christ. We would not treat Christianity as something really wonderful that we’d like people to share in. No, we would treat it as life and death. And that’s exactly what it is.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.