This weekend’s passage from Romans amplifies Jesus’ parable of the weeds. In the same way that the servants in the field desire to pull weeds, Christians on earth wish either for unbelievers to be subdued or for Christ’s return to take the faithful to heaven. Paul sympathizes with our “sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18) that Christians have “eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” and says that we are “groaning together.”
Scripture Interprets Scripture
It is important to note that Paul relates Christians to creation itself. Man’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden corrupted all creation. In the same way creation longs to be “set free,” Christians seek heaven. Paul’s reference to firstfruits is telling. Exodus 34 describes the Festival of Weeks and the firstfruits, the offering of the earth’s best to the Lord. Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrection. As Christians live in Christ, we share in His resurrection from the earth. As wheat, we are the firstfruits of the new creation even as we struggle amidst the weeds of a corrupt creation.
Digging Out the Gems
It is notable that the word for “weeds,” in this passage, ζιζάνια, has a broader meaning than simply undesirable plants that take up space, consume nutrients, and require removal. In Greek, this term also includes a kernel or plant that looks like wheat, σῖτος. (One could argue that the word ζιζάνια bears further significance in that it is present only in this parable.) There are people in the world today who seem to be σῖτος, but are actually ζιζάνια. Jesus calls these people “all causes of sin and all law-breakers.”
When Jesus speaks of the one sowing seeds of wheat, the Greek word used is σπείραντι. This is salient in two respects. First, the Greek word is a present-tense participle, suggesting that the sower, the Holy Spirit, is working continuously, and will do so until the end of the age. Second, the root of this participle is related to σπέρμα, the word for seed or offspring in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. We find this in Genesis 3:15, “enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” Like the sower, the Holy Spirit creates faith through the σπέρμα of the Gospel. Jesus is the offspring, or the seed, of Eve, who would eventually come in the flesh of the Virgin Mary. Likewise, the σπέρμα of the Devil could be thought of as his lies, false teachers, or those who cause sin. It is interesting to note some theologians suggest that Eve believed Cain to be this seed who would redeem their sin. As we know, Cain was not this seed and, related to the first fruits discussed above, did not bring God his best.
Law and Gospel
There is clear condemnation for “all causes of sin and all law-breakers.” These would do well not to blame circumstance for their predicament. God did not make them weeds, and, to the extent that the Devil tempts them, it will not avail them to lay their unbelief on the Tempter when the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead.
Believers, the wheat, should take care not to take credit for their blessed status. God turns weeds into wheat and keeps them so through the Means of Grace. The wheat still bears the nature of the weeds, which perpetually seeks to revert to its original condition. Indeed, the weeds and the sower of the weeds create misery for the wheat, yet God allows this so that He might convert more weeds into wheat and gather them to His heavenly garner. The wheat should share in God’s merciful concern for the lost taking up the cross for their sake and sharing the Good News.
We rejoice in the salvific work of the Sower. Immediately after Adam and Eve convert themselves and their posterity into weeds, God promises a Seed. God kills and buries this Seed so that it comes to life again and bears firstfruits, believers. What is more, the Holy Spirit nurtures our new nature as wheat with the water of Holy Baptism and the fertilizer of the Word and Holy Communion so that we can rest in the certainly of God’s divine care. Our teeth will not gnash but instead masticate Christ’s true body and blood. Even amidst the weeds, God will keep us.
Finally, although we do not rejoice that the weeds and the wicked Sower will be gathered and burned, we anticipate joyfully the return of the Owner, who will send forth the angelic harvesters to gather us into His celestial garner. “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21) so that the wheat will enjoy the new heavens and the new earth, purchased and won by the Lord’s Firstfruit.
To read more thoughts and insightful translation notes on the book of Matthew, order the Concordia Commentary below.