By this point in Jesus’ ministry, His followers had grown from a handful of disciples to a mob of thousands who, as we will see in the next chapter, were willing to follow Jesus great distances.
As the crowd around Jesus swelled, more changed than their mere numbers. While Jesus’ closest followers were dedicated - the sort of men and women who would eventually surrender everything for the Kingdom, these new followers were a mixed bag. A few may have been just as determined and committed as the Twelve, but most were little more than tourists hoping to glimpse a miracle.
This likely created some stir among Jesus’ disciples. Some likely viewed the ever-expanding crowds as a sign that the Kingdom was thriving. Others no doubt worried that these fair-weather followers would scatter the moment they encountered serious opposition. What were they to do about these new converts?
Jesus teaches a series of parables aimed at addressing this issue. In His first parable, Jesus compares the good news of the Kingdom to seed scattered widely by a farmer. Though much of it fell on the path, among weeds or on rocky soil, some fell on good soil and yielded an ample harvest. Jesus is telling His disciples that this sudden wealth of new followers is expected and temporary. The side effect of winning over a handful of genuine disciples is drawing in a drove of tourists who will not last.
The other parables in this chapter continue this general theme. In the parables of the Weeds and the Net, Jesus discourages His disciples from trying to “weed out” the true disciples from the false - instead, they should be patient and let time and adversity settle the matter. In the parables of the Pearl, Mustard Seed and Yeast, Jesus lets His disciples know that the whole process is worth it - the small number of true followers are a treasure well worth whatever effort it cost to acquire them.
These parables communicate both an encouragement and a warning. To those genuine disciples frustrated by the sheer number of hypocrites and pretenders who are Christian only when it is convenient, Jesus gently says, “Don’t worry. I will sort it out in the end. You just keep seeking the Kingdom.” But at the same time, His words invite us to examine ourselves to ensure that we truly are among the faithful, lest we one day realize with a shock that He was not fooled.
Which message does He mean for you to hear today? Are you a stalk of good wheat who has gotten distracted by the weeds around you when you should be focused on growing? Or are you a weed, trying to blend in and hoping no one will notice? If so, know that it isn’t too late to change - all you have to do is ask.