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Luther on Epiphany 5 – Matthew 13:24-30

by pastorjuhl ~ February 2nd, 2011

From the House Postils:

[Christ’s] purpose, therefore, is to emphasize that whoever possesses the gospel should be forewarned and spiritually forearmed. For alongside the true, pure doctrine of the gospel many fanatical spirits, heresies, and offenses will sprout up, over which we must not fret unduly.

When now these satanic henchmen who distort and pervert everything and spawn fanatical sectarianism make their appearance among Christians, the gospel is scandalized before the world, turning people’s eyes, ears and hearts away from it. For human reason, wise in its own conceits, straightway pontificates; who wants to accept a teaching about which the teachers themselves cannot agree? Such reasoning scores so impressively against the gospel that there is no way to counter it. Even we ourselves, if weak and ill prepared in our knowledge of God’s Word, can be intimidated with overwhelming odds by the devil.

The devil likes nothing better than to sow his tares among the wheat; and there is no one else whom he would rather trouble than Christians. We must not hope or expect, therefore, that, just because the evangelical doctrine is good and completely in harmony, all who hear it will be nicely united. Rather, things will proceed as before: mingled in with the wheat there will also be those who are not wheat, but tares.

If the Christian church here on earth, therefore, were to be completely pure and without tares, without fanatics, sectarians, and non-Christians, that would not be a good omen. In fact it would be a sure indication that it is not a true spiritual body, that is, not the true church, just as the body cannot be a true natural body if it is without corruption; that the church is mere filth, just as the body putrefies when it no longer expels waste.

For wherever Christ scatters the seed, there the devil also sows his tares. Christ does not sow noxious corn cockles and weeds, but pure wheat. The devil, however, sows the tares. Therefore, we must not blame Christ or the wheat, or say that the wheat seek was contaminated with corn cockles and henbane. But we should acknowledge that the devil also wants to be in that company among the Christians. Wherever there is a stand of pure wheat, there he also seeks to have his stand of corn cockles, henbane, and tares.

We must not for this reason trample the field, nor reject it, even though tares are growing among the wheat, nor be unduly concerned about the fact that blades of wheat or blades of corn cockle are simultaneously seen growing in the field…. For the sake of the wheat, a Christian should value the field and not despise it because of the tares. Often for the sake of one righteous man we must spare seven villains. When the tares are sown, one cannot recognize them immediately, for the enemy makes off, wipes his mouth, as though he had never been there. But when the plants begin to grow, the tares become evident.

What does the Lord mean when He says here, “Let both grow together”? Are we not to root out the tares? But this is not the way to go, nor should it be. But are we to do nothing and let the tares flourish uncontrolled?… That would be to misunderstand the text. For the Lord does not say we are to leave the tares unchecked, but that we are not to root them out.

He wants to show what His kingdom is and how it is to be distinguished from the kingdom of the world…. In Christ’s kingdom there is neither sword nor rule of force. We, preachers and Christians, are to engage in combat solely with the Word…. Christians are not to weed out the heretics or combat sectarians with the sword, as the pope is doing.

…let things be as they are; you are not to set things right by using the sword; simply continue on with the Word and preach it resolutely, against heretics and sectarians. You cannot stop the tares with the Word, for they were sown while you were asleep, so let them be with the wheat until the harvest. Then surely they will be rooted out.

This parable, therefore, is given to us for our consolation; we are to know that we are not sinning when we allow sectarians and fanatics to exist. That is what the Lord means, “Let both grow together.” Concerning the use of the sword, Christians are to know that they must not resort to the sword, nor with the sword root out the tares.

…it is very exasperating to sow good seed and have to tolerate tares growing in the midst of the wheat; to preach the gospel pure and undefiled and see all kinds of fanatics and sectarians arise and not to lash out against them but simply contend with the Word…. But Christ says, No, “let both grow together until the harvest.” In other words, since you cannot win the fanatics over by what you are saying or convert them by the Word, you must also not exterminate them by use of the sword.

However, this we may do: If two kinds of sermons are being preached at a given locale, a prince or municipality may show good sense by not tolerating two kinds of preaching in their area, in order to avert disunity and turmoil. They might examine both and judge them according to the proper norm, namely, according to Scriptures and the Word of God. Then whichever party taught in accord with Scripture and the Word of God would be allowed to remain. Whichever party, however, was teaching contrary to Scripture and the Word of God would be given permission to leave. But to exterminate, never.

Christ says here, At harvest time my workmen will gather the tares and tie them into bundles, just as a farmer gathers tares and bundles them, indication they are ready to be burned. In like manner, the angels of God will separate the tares from the wheat and tie them into bundles, that is, they will condemn the evildoers to eternal death and unending fire. You who murder heretics ought to be praying for these poor people, that they might be converted and not be judged and condemned in this fashion. What you are doing is rushing in and condemning them before the time.

As St. Paul says (Titus 3:11), A heretic has a distorted mind and stands self-condemned. A man should be moved to pity such a person rather than to desire to kill him. This is the way for God-fearing preachers and Christians to act.

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