No weed pulling

Jesus’ stories often have a big surprise. Last month in the parable of wheat and weeds in Matthew 13, we noticed the lack of a full explanation for the origin of the weeds, but that is not the big surprise.
Interpretation of the parable given in Matthew 13:37-43 gives us the sowing and the harvest – the beginning and the end. We live in the middle, in the midst of wheat and weeds.

The big surprise is right in the middle of the parable and addresses us in the middle of our lives. Once the servants receive the explanation that the weeds are due to the activity of an enemy, they think they know exactly what they should do. Pull the weeds out. Their response is usually translated as a question, but the original is more like a conclusion. A literal translation would be “You desire, therefore, that going out we pull them up.” They start heading out the door to do it.

“No!” cries the master. No, this is not what I desire. No, you are not good at pulling up weeds. No, in pulling up weeds you will also destroy wheat. No, it is not the time to pull up the weeds. No, it is not your job.

This is counterintuitive. We know what to do with weeds. From an early age I weeded in the garden. You pull them up from the roots. You kill them with Roundup. What do you mean “No”? No, do not be a weed puller?

God’s ‘no’ is God’s ‘yes’
God’s “no” to judgment is God’s “yes” to us. God’s “no” is the “yes” of the Gospel. The wonderful “yes” expressed in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” is follow by “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (3:17).

At the time of Jesus and still today we want God to defeat evil. We want God to destroy our enemies, to pull the weeds. At the time of Jesus, the weeds were identified as the Romans, the abusive landowners or the corrupt religious leaders. The people expected the Messiah would come and rip out these weeds and create a field of only wheat. Jesus confused the people when he did not pull the weeds.

We still try to identify the weeds out there. God still confuses us with his mercy and long-suffering. This is grace. Grace to us. Grace to our enemies.

Gracious servants
We are to be gracious servants of a gracious master. We need to recognize our own limitations. We are not good weed pullers. Have you pulled up a flower seedling or herb that you thought was a weed? How much have we killed trying to get those weeds? What are the long-term consequences of herbicides? We might pull up a late bloomer. We pull up wheat and accept it as collateral damage.

We are not good weed pullers because it is not our job. The parable interpretation tells us that there will be a discerning harvest, but the harvesters are angels, direct messengers from God, not us.

Growing wheat
We are to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together until God’s appointed time of harvest. We are to help the wheat grow, not pull the weeds. This perspective of grace and goodness has profound implications for life.

Weed pulling parents can destroy children and drive them away. Wheat growing parents bring forth fruitfulness. Similarly, in education we see wheat growing teachers encourage, motivate, help students explore and overcome mistakes.

The church is sometimes seen by society as weed pullers, self-righteous and judgmental. People have been uprooted by others in the church and thrown out. We used to do this when it came to divorce. Now we are doing it on the issue of homosexuality. We need to humbly acknowledge that often we do not know enough to decide what is a weed and that it is not our job to pull it out.

Don’t pull weeds. It’s not our job, and we are not good at it. Grow wheat.


  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at

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One Comment

  1. I have a genuine question. Why are the weeds pulled and taken first and the wheat second? Looking at this in light of the rapture it would seem the wheat would be taken first.

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