Tuesday, March 9, 1999

The Tares and the Net That Caught Fish of Every Kind

Chapter 3

Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43; 47-50

The parables of "The Tares" and "The Net That Caught Fish of Every Kind" are placed together here because almost everything that the latter teaches is included in the former. However, there are elements in the parable of "The Tares" which are not found in the other. The chief difference is the inability of the observer to distinguish between tares and wheat as young plants.

The Parable of the Tares

Jesus gave the parable of the soils because the disciples could not understand why everyone else did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus' point in that parable was that though his message was "good seed", even good seed required good soil (receptive listeners) if growth (acceptance) was to occur.

The parable of "The Tares" deals with the fact that evil and good people are included in the kingdom. The disciples may have wondered why evil people were among Jesus' followers. This story of an enemy who came in the night to sow weeds in a field freshly planted with wheat provides the answer.

In explaining the parable in Matthew 13:38, Jesus said, "The field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one. . .." This verse has caused considerable discussion. The field seems to refer to the proclaimed followers of Christ, and there may have been an attempt on the part of the disciples to disfellowship those who they believed to be lacking in sincerity. The problem with this view, of course, is that Jesus says that the field is the world.

Roger Williams, the person to whom we owe the concept of the separation of church and state, interpreted this parable to refer to the world and applied it to his concept of the separation of church and state. According to Williams, the church was not to persecute those who were not orthodox in their worship. People should be allowed to worship as they pleased. In Jesus time, however, the followers of Jesus were the persecuted minority, not the persecuting majority. Ellen White understood "the field is the world" "as signifying the church of Christ in the world." 1 However it is to be understood, it makes sense to refer to the sown field as the Christian church.

Jesus is not teaching that the church should condone immorality. Jesus (Matthew 18) and Paul (1 Corinthians 5) both recommend that unrepentant sinners be disfellowshipped, and in Matthew 18, Jesus sets out also the preliminary steps to be followed before this final step is taken. However, the point here is that darnel or tare is a member of the grass family that resembles wheat. Its grain is poisonous and must be separated from the wheat. But until both grains head out, wheat and tares are indistinguishable. Even when it becomes possible to distinguish the wheat from tares, to uproot the tares would mean that good wheat would be uprooted also. The wheat and tares must be allowed to grow together until the reaping, when the tares can be separated and burned without diminishing the wheat harvest.

Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church; but He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive. He knows our nature too well to entrust this work to us. Should we try to uproot from the church those whom we suppose to be spurious Christians, we would be sure to make mistakes.

As the tares have their roots closely intertwined with those of the good grain, so false brethren in the church may be closely linked with true disciples. The real character of these pretended believers is not fully manifested. Were they to be separated from the church others might be caused to stumble, who but for this would have remained steadfast. 2

As we study this parable, it is important to keep in mind that it speaks to sin that is not overt, flagrant, and obvious. Like darnel, it may be impossible to distinguish "false brethren" from "true disciples". When Satan rebelled in heaven, many of the angels listened to his specious but subtle arguments and were honestly unsure of their validity. If God had destroyed Satan then, before the real nature of his rebellion was unmasked, real questions concerning the truth of Satan's arguments would have arisen. God dealt with the angels as we are to deal with people in the church. To disfellowship people before others are convinced they are evil and detrimental to the church is to cause sincere, honest people to leave the church.

This parable teaches us is to guard against judging people's motives and thoughts, things that are not visible and apparent. Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:2-5:

Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.

Paul warns against pronouncing judgment before the time since we cannot read the purposes of the heart. When we do this we have in fact usurped the place of God and acted in his stead. A person driving by a home noticed the owner sitting on a stool while watering his flowers. He thought to himself, "What a lazy man!" He didn't realize that the man didn't have any legs. A church member that does not drink alcoholic beverages might criticize another member who was seen buying beer at the grocery store to kill slugs. I wonder what some church members might have thought if they had seen me walking through the red-light district in Amsterdam one evening when my wife and I got lost and took a wrong turn.

Even those who believe themselves to be wheat should carefully inspect their own attitudes and motives. Hunter refers to this old rhyme:

There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us. 3

The Net That Caught Fish of Every Kind

The parable of "The Net Which Caught Fish of Every Kind" teaches us that the gospel net catches all kinds of fish, good and bad. Everyone who is acquainted with the drag net type of fishing, hukilau, in Hawaii, knows that this is the case. It is not geared to catch a certain type of fish but everything in that area. After the catch separation takes place--the varieties of good fish in one bushel and the varieties of bad fish in another. Separation is inevitable. But the parable suggests that only God, the infinitely experienced fisherman, is qualified to make that distinction.

These parables teach us that we should not expect perfection in the church, in its members, its ministers, or its leaders. Some of us join a company of believers with the unrealistic expectation that every member and minister of that company will be perfect. When we discover that the people in that fellowship are human and imperfect, we leave in search of the perfect church, the perfect community. Our search is hopeless; there is no such community in this world. In Christ's little band of apostles there was a Peter who stumbled often, a Thomas who doubted, and a Judas, who betrayed him.

The church is not a museum of perfected saints but a hospital for hurting patients. What is required for entrance is not wholeness and perfection, but a longing for healing and wholeness. All Christians, wheat and tares, are sinners in need of God's grace. He alone can "bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and. . .disclose the purposes of the heart".

1. Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1900), p. 70.

2. Ibid, p. 72.

3. A. M. Hunter, The Parables Then and Now (Phildelphia, 1971), p. 48.

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