Sometimes we need to get into the weeds. That’s what Jesus did with his first followers.
Jesus told a story to a crowd, according to Matthew 13:24-30, so they’d better understand what he meant by the kingdom of heaven.
Using an agrarian metaphor, Jesus told of someone planting grade-A wheat seed in a field. Yet, during the night, some bad actor slipped in and threw out some weed seeds.
The bad mix created a dilemma: early efforts to pull the weeds could result in the wheat being pulled up as well.
So the owner told the workers to wait until harvest to separate the two — burning the weeds while bundling and storing the wheat.
Jesus went on to tell a couple of more stories, but the weed and seed one caused the disciples to do some head scratching. So, they followed Jesus when he left the crowd and went into a house.
It’s interesting that whenever a Gospel writer doesn’t identify the questioner it’s easy to have one’s default set on Peter.
But Matthew records this questioning as if 12 men spoke in unison: “They said, ‘Explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.’” And Jesus did.
Rather than throw a question back at them or tell another story, Jesus explains that he (the Son of Man) planted the good seed — which stands for those who belong to the kingdom. The weeds represent those who choose evil over good.
It was a straight-forward story of judgment. However, Jesus often seemed to enjoy messing with his disciples a bit when telling parables without obvious meanings to them.
My favorite nonbiblical but well imagined scene is one in which Jesus and the disciples have settled in for a night around a campfire. After a long day of storytelling, Jesus rolls over to warm his back and the disciples assume he’s asleep.
“Pssst,” one of them (probably Peter) whispers to the others: “What in the world was he talking about today?”
The conversation goes well into the night as these followers of Jesus explore the possibilities and ingest his teachings into their very own lives. And Jesus, with his face turned toward the darkness, smiles brightly.
They are doing exactly the kind of spiritual homework he desires of them — and all the followers who follow.
Yes, I imagined that scene. But in other recorded situations, the disciples again ask Jesus for clarification.
A couple of chapters later (Matthew 15:15) it was indeed Peter who said: “Explain this to us.”
His request followed Jesus’ exchange with religious law proponents about what it does and doesn’t mean to be “unclean.” Jesus told them that it’s what comes out of one’s mouth, not what goes in, that matters.
The disciples had observed that Jesus’ response did not satisfy the inquirers who held great interest in ceremonial purity. They wanted to be sure Jesus also knew that his sermon had bombed.
So Peter asked for further clarification — and Jesus gave it. Exploring what Jesus really meant by something he said or did is a good practice for all of his followers.
Jesus doesn’t seek to mislead — but neither does he spoon-feed truth to be passively consumed without discernment and digestion.
In fact, Jesus included loving God with all of our minds as part of his greatest commandment. Therefore, noodling out the truth he revealed — in ways that become thoughtful core truths within us and that flow from us — is essential to spiritual maturity and faithfulness.
On the other hand, uncritically accepting as truth something that doesn’t derive from the essence of Jesus’ life and teachings is a sign not of seeking to understand his message but of attempting to recruit Jesus into one’s preferred and often self-serving way of thinking.
Sometimes the disciples seemed satisfied with Jesus’ explanations — and said so.
Following a whole string of stories delivered by Jesus from a boat, Mark reported:
“Using many stories like these, Jesus spoke the word to them. He told them as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a story. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything,” (Mark 4:33-34, NIRV).
Jesus’ stories and other ways of truth telling were chocked full of insights — both implied and clearly explained — about how one is to perceive the world and to live in faithfulness to his teachings.
At times the disciples asked Jesus to clarify what he meant. We should too.
It is one thing to seek a bit more clarity. It is quite another to see and hear what Jesus expects of his followers but then take an opposing route of our own choosing.
Following Jesus means taking the same paths he chose and illuminated for us — not an easy street of privilege and self-absorption.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.