Waiting is an inevitable part of life. Even people highly skilled at multi-tasking and time management cannot avoid waiting at some point in their day – red lights, checkout lines or doctor’s offices, to offer a few examples.
I cannot think of anyone who enjoys waiting. If we’re honest, waiting doesn’t often elicit our best qualities.
Therefore, it is interesting that the Bible presents waiting as something God enjoys and that elicits God’s best qualities (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Romans 2; 2 Peter 3:8-10).
The patience of God is a central focus of the parable in Matthew 13:1-9, in which Jesus portrays God as a profligate seed-sower.
It requires patience to sow seed and wait in hopeful anticipation for something worthwhile to grow, especially when sowing seed in soil that seems less than ideal.
The patience of God is reiterated in a subsequent parable in Matthew 13:24-30, in which Jesus suggests there are both good and bad seed being sown, resulting in a field (a world) of weeds and wheat growing together.
The first half of the parable (verses 24-28a) is about required waiting; you must wait after sowing seed for the fruit to grow before you can determine whether the plant is weed or wheat. The second half (verses 28b-30), however, calls for what seems to be unnecessary waiting.
Once the plants can be recognized by their fruit, the servants inquire about removing the weeds. Their request seems logical, yet the farmer (God) instructs them to leave the weeds and the wheat together until the harvest.
This second period of waiting at a time when weeds and wheat can be distinguished causes me to ask, “Why?”
One explanation is given in verse 29: “You don’t want to risk spoiling the good while trying to get rid of the bad.”
A second explanation is provided in verse 41: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers.”
Nevertheless, I wonder whether this parable contains a message beyond: “Put up with the bad weeds so that you don’t harm the good wheat, and let someone more qualified than yourself do the sorting.”
There must be more to do while waiting for harvest than passive resignation to the presence of the weeds.
I believe an answer is found in looking at the subsequent parables, in which Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) and a pinch of yeast (Matthew 13:33).
Both parables note positive, transformative results out of proportion to the initial action, which provides insight into the reason for waiting until the harvest for separating weeds from wheat.
Perhaps these parables reveal that God’s patient waiting results from a daring hope that the leavening yeast might provide a positive transformation, akin to C.S. Lewis’ description of Jesus’ ministry as the spreading of a “good infection” that brings new life?
Maybe the call to wait is inspired by a daring hope that weeds can be transformed into wheat, so we better not pull them up just yet.
This might seem an exegetical leap based on these parables alone. It becomes more plausible in light of the many stories in Christian Scripture about “weeds” being transformed into “wheat” (Acts 9, for example), as well as proclamations that God’s patience and long-suffering result from the hope of repentance and transformation (2 Peter 3:9, for example) in the time between planting and harvesting.
In this period of waiting – between sowing and reaping, between adding yeast and the dough becoming leavened – we are called to active waiting that joins the profligate farmer (God) in broadcasting seeds of grace, hope and love upon all soils (people) in hopes that the world might be leavened with a “good infection.”
Advent encourages such active waiting in this “time between the times.” It is a time of hope – for expectant longing that dreams of a better world. A time of peace – for engaging in the pursuit of reconciliation and reunion. A time of joy – for believing that there cannot be joy for one if there is not joy for all. And a time of love – for proclaiming that a deep, abiding concern for all creation is the only sure foundation for a lasting and redeeming life.