The "Parable of the Sower" readily comes to mind as a possible explanation for this frustrating spiritual phenomenon.
Matthew 13:1-23 (ESV) That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears,a let him hear.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The sword divides and separates and the seed gives renewed hope and life.
As Rev. Sam Schuldheisz once preached about this passage, it's a "parable about a reckless sower who scatters his seeds everywhere -- hard-packed turf, rocky soil, weedy dirt, good topsoil -- it doesn’t matter! Jesus treats the proclamation of His merciful, gracious word of forgiveness the same way too: spreading it with abundant, joyous abandon."
Yes, Jesus uses the examples of three different soil conditions to explain why hearers failed to understand the Word. Understanding the Word of God is the Father's gift to His children.
Parables both reveal and conceal. For the non-believer, parables were a form of God's judgment, because they refused to listen to the clear Gospel message.
This parable gives us encouragement that when a laborer faithfully sows the seed, a plentiful harvest may follow, even if some seed goes to waste.
We are tempted to give up a task when we experience little success. That is also true of our efforts to share the Gospel. Let us not grow weary in doing good, knowing that at the right time we will reap, because God provides the harvest (Galatians 6:9).
However, at the same time, we dare never take our spiritual blessings for granted, for then we put ourselves in danger of losing them.
The Large Catechism expounds upon this parable quite nicely when we read (from the section on the Third Commandment)...
99] Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called ajkhdia, i.e., torpor or satiety, a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God's Word from us.
100] For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all the commandments. Therefore you must always have God's Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware.
101] On the other hand, such is the efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but creative, living words.
102] And even though no other interest or necessity impel us, yet this ought to urge every one thereunto, because thereby the devil is put to Right and driven away, and, besides, this commandment is fulfilled, and [this exercise in the Word] is more pleasing to God than any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant.
This is most certainly true.
I can't just stop there though, because the "Parable of the Weeds" immediately follows this one and it definitely speaks to me in my current situation for sure!
If you think about it, Jesus has some rather strange farming habits. Last week he tells us a parable about a reckless sower who scatters his seeds everywhere – hard-packed turf, rocky soil, weedy dirt, good topsoil – it doesn’t matter. Jesus treats the proclamation of his merciful, gracious word of forgiveness the same way too: spreading it with abundant, joyous abandon.
This week Jesus’ parable starts off the same way: the kingdom of heaven – in other words, the rule and reign of heaven, the gracious action of God in the world to save us through Jesus crucified – that kingdom of heaven; is compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Then while the servants of the field were sleeping the enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. The shocking thing is that where we’d prefer to apply the Caddy Shack treatment and soak the entire field in pesticide, pull of all the weeds, and then nuke them with some radiation just to be sure those weeds are gone, Jesus simply replies: “Let both grow together until the time of the harvest.”
But of course, Farmer Jesus has the whole field in view here. And though his farming methods may seem strange and backwards to us his gracious rule and reign, the kingdom of God in human flesh, works among us precisely by such strange and backwards methods: his incarnation, his humble life, his more humble death. So, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, stop and think: what’s this parable all about? And don’t say: “Duh, pastor, Jesus gives us the explanation. Just read that.” True enough. But what’s Jesus teaching and declaring to us? How would you summarize this parable for someone else? What’s the parable primarily about: judgment or joy? God’s justice or mercy?
Now, before you jump up and raise your hands, be careful. Think about your answer to that last one. And while you’re thinking about that question, let’s hear the parable again.
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also." Now, the sower of the good seed is the Son of Man, Jesus. The field is the world or literally the cosmos. The good seed is the sons of the kingdom – God’s children, heirs of Christ, who like Paul says in Romans 8 are adopted by grace and receive the Holy Spirit. The weeds are the sons of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed the weeds is the devil: he who was thrown down out of heaven and he who throws accusations and sin in our face.
In this parable, the good seed are doing just fine. It’s sown by the Son of Man and grows automatically. Faith and the fruits of faith follow wherever Jesus sows his Word.
But this is a tale of two sowers. The devil has also been busy planting weeds all over. And the weeds also seem to be thriving. We’ve all echoed the words of the Psalmist: “Why, O Lord, do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?”
This problem of the weeds is made all the more difficult by the fact that the weeds don’t have neon signs flashing: “Open for business!” They don’t stick out like a patch of dandelions on a perfectly manicured putting green. In fact, Jesus says the weeds look identical to the wheat until the harvest.
Weeds and wheat are only known by their fruit.
So it is with the Christian faith. The fruit of evil is parasitic, destructive, and deceitful, while the fruit of faith in Christ is mercy, forgiveness, and love – sown in abundance like the parable of the sower. As we sing in the great Reformation hymn “Salvation unto Us Has Come”:
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone / And rests on Him unceasing; / And by its fruits true faith is known, / With love and hope increasing. / For faith alone can justify; / Works serve the neighbor and supply / The proof that faith is living. (LSB 555:9)
But that’s not what’s on the mind of the servants in Jesus’ parable. ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’
The devil sows corruption, confusion, and chaos. Reminds me of Alfred’s words to Bruce Wayne when talking about the Joker: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” That’s why we join Paul and all creation in groaning with expectation for the revealing of the sons of God.
We groan as we see a world full of weeds; we groan in anguish at the abortionist’s instruments; we groan in sorrow when planes are shot out of the sky for no good reason; we groan in frustration at the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ; we groan at injustice and inhumanity spoiling God’s creation.
And groan we must. Truth be told, there’s a weed patch as deep as the grave in each of us, a weed patch is full of the hypocrisy of sin. It’s not just the weeds that look like wheat. We, God’s good seed, have a rather nasty habit of thinking, doing, and saying weed-like things. Sin wrecks everything.
Looking at the world around us it might be tempting to come to the same conclusion the master’s servants came to in the parable:
The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ That’s us alright. Impatient. Call in the weed wackers. Root em up. Pull em out. Exterminate. Like the disciples we want to call down fire. We want judgment. Thankfully we’re not the ones in charge of the field, otherwise there would be nothing left, not a single living plant left standing, we included.
‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest...
Jesus’ words are shocking. Let both grow together. Let it be. Permit it. Suffer it. Jesus reveals God’s very nature. Where we would call down judgment, Jesus calls for patience; long suffering is the word. The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Jesus’ words teach us how we live with others. God is patient and longsuffering towards us; therefore we are patient and longsuffering towards others. Or as C.S. Lewis once said, “We can forgive the unforgiveable in others because God has forgiven the unforgiveable in us.”
That’s Jesus’ answer to the problem of the weeds: “Let it be.” The Greek word is aphete and in many parts of the New Testament this word has another use. To release. To let go. To forgive. That’s right. Jesus’ answer to the problem of the weeds is forgiveness.
And this really is the only satisfying solution to the problem of evil. How does God deal with all the evil and weeds in the world? How does God deal with all the weeds and sin in man? In us?
God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. Jesus became the weed for us. Jesus took all the seeds sown by the evil one and planted them into his body on the cross. Jesus took all your weeds, all your sin, and your death and he died for it. Jesus died for you, to make you his precious wheat, God’s own good seed, sown by Jesus and sown into Jesus, planted in his wounds.
For there on the cross God poured out both justice and mercy. The cross is both judgment and joy. Judgment of your sin. And joy because Jesus was judged in your place.
Above all, this is a parable of God’s patience. Yes, there’s judgment over sin. Jesus’ parable is a warning as well. The world will be set right. Indeed, all is right in the cross of Christ.
Fear not, then. The field of the world is his. Today the Lord of the harvest takes the seed of his word and spreads it to you his good seed. He takes the grain and grape and gives you his body and blood to eat and drink. Jesus takes the first fruits of his death and resurrection and washes you with them, feeds you with them, and forgives you all your sin. No more weeds.
You are the Lord’s good seed. And he will guard you until the harvest as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sorry that was so long making this post even longer, but I wanted to include the entire sermon for impact, especially for those like me who needed to be reminded of those truths.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, we should continue to pray that the Lord would keep us from becoming discouraged as we entrust our lives to His Word, experience divisions within our families due to our faithfulness, and seek to share His message of salvation with others who are sinners just like us.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!