“Ignore the weeds” does not sound like good advice. Gardeners know that if you leave the weeds alone, they will overwhelm the grass. One wonders if Jesus-the-carpenter had been misinformed by his fisherman disciples on agricultural matters.
Probably not. Read here and here for accessible word studies* on “weeds,” “enemies” and “evil.” What these word studies suggested to me was that Jesus was talking about plants which were difficult to tell apart until they were mature. “Wheat” looked like “weeds” until harvest time. So, the moral of the parable was “be very careful” or “judge not…” as Jesus says elsewhere in Matthew (Mtt.7:1.)
“Judge not…” does not mean that we should never decide or discern. It does not mean that we should let the fox into the hen house and just hope for the best. It means we should be careful when making decisions about other people. Before we judge a friend or fellow-worker or fellow-believer we should remember that we may not know them or their lives as well as we think we do. Our “judgment” of them may be wrong.
How do we know whether or when to judge? Matthew’s Jesus offers two guidelines:
(1) Be sure you know others well enough to know their fruits, (Matt. 7:16) and
(2) Use a standard that we would want applied to us. (Mtt.7:2)
This teaching fits well with Paul’s vision in Romans: “All creation groans… and we ourselves groan inwardly…” Paul says we have God’s spirit in us, but not perfectly. So even when we are doing our best, we can miss the mark. We want to avoid “missing the mark” in a way that would hurt or injure a friend or other innocent person.
I am glad for these reminders about when and how to judge. This week I and a group of six other white people are beginning a month-long on-line conversation based on the book Me and White Supremacy. I expect it to be an experience which calls for insight. But it may also give rise to an awareness of shortcomings, wrongdoing and feelings of regret or worse. Most likely none of us will be in a position to judge one another, and I at least will be hoping that I can bear better fruit before whatever “end of the age” judgment might come my way!
Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash
*At the time of publication, WorkingPreacher.org was temporarily off-line. I will keep checking and refresh the links the the word studies when the site comes back on-line.