This parable of Jesus has been used by JWs to show that God has made a definite distinction among people and religious organizations and that you need to be apart of the ‘wheat’ (THEIR organization) in order to be saved. If not, especially if you belong to any other church, then you are in the ‘weeds’ category and are inline for destruction at Armageddon. It’s a common explanation that describes their ‘us vs them’ viewpoint. They will point to this illustration and other sayings by Jesus to prove this point. Such examples will be:
“Go in through the narrow door……narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are finding it.” – Matthew 7:13,14
“Not everyone saying to me Lord, Lord will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens….” – Matthew 7:21-23
“And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left……These will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” – Matthew 25:31-46
And of course, the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (or Tares, as most other Christians call them) found at Matthew 13:24-30,36-43.
I will be speaking primarily about the wheat and weeds parable here, but the principle can be applied to all of such verses.
To one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, when you read this passage this is what you REALLY read: When Jesus came he started a group of TRUE worshipers (They didn’t call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses or use a corporation known as Watchtower, but we all know he is really talking about us…..). This new business venture of his started growing rapidly in the first century after his death, with thousands being baptized in Jerusalem and beyond. By the end of the first century, congregations (extensions of the branch office in Judea) were spread out over the then known Roman world. Then Satan spread false teachings and ideas into this organization after the death of the apostles (read governing body) and for some 1800 years or so ‘Christianity’ was overrun with the ‘weeds’. That is until CT Russel in the late 1870s began his group of Bible Students and began publishing the Watchtower magazine. Then in 1919 the ‘wheat’ clearly began to be distinguished from the ‘weeds’ so that now, if you want to be under God’s protection and blessing, you have to be apart of this ‘wheat’ like group of TRUE Christians (who just happen to be run through a publishing company, you know like the apostles).
-See the Watchtower 8/1 1981 pg 21-26, Watchtower 3/15 2010 pg 19-23
Is that what Jesus really had in mind when teaching is disciples? Was he laying out the historical blueprint of his true organization, and trying to show his disciples what the future of Christianity would be?
To a JW, that is the only explanation they have always heard. And my goal here is not to show them the actual one and true answer, but to just provide an alternative possibility. To shine a light through the fog of absolute certainty and show that there are in fact different ways of understanding biblical texts.
What you have to keep in mind when reading the words of Jesus is that he was talking to people in a specific period of time and circumstances. He was teaching them lessons that they could use and understand things with. So would the disciples had understood the parable as JWs do today?
Many Bible commentators take this passage to refer to, not a lesson on joining the right organization, but a lesson on people in general. Jesus was warning his followers that the evil in the world and in people would sometimes be hard to distinguish from good, it would blend in. That within a group of people, like a field, there would be good and bad, virtues and sin. The natural reaction would be for us to try to fix the problem (‘Should we go out and collect the weeds?”). However we humans are terrible about trying to separate people into groups, and strangely, we always seem to put ourselves into the ‘good’ group. Jesus’ solution was that we should not be the ones to judge others or the situation. God would to that himself at the right time. He would separate the wheat from the weeds because ONLY HE CAN.
This view of the illustration shows that rather than focusing on, are we or our we not part of the right group, we should realize that it is not our place to judge, and to be on guard for any ‘weed-like’ tendencies in our heart.
JWs though always take an ‘organizational view’ of everything. To them, every scripture applies to a group, their group. So all the above mentioned examples all boils down to ‘us or them’, ‘my religion or your religion’, ‘my congregation or your church’. Whereas Jesus was pointing us to lessons for ourselves and warning of the dangers to our own spirituality. Remember he was speaking to people that already thought of themselves as part of the right group of people. Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jewish people. They were God’s chosen people in their minds, so it wasn’t a question for them about joining the right organization. Jesus warning was about them on a personal level. So whether it is ‘the narrow gate’, or being a ‘sheep or a goat’, we are taught that we have a personal responsibility to examine our own motives and actions. Its about us not the group we belong. For the Jews back then it was about not being self-confident like the Pharisees were because they thought they were apart of God’s organization. No, they individually had to work and be apart of the Kingdom of Heaven in their lives.
Does it mean then that those who did not were doomed to be destroyed? Again, this is not a blog post about having all the correct answers, just possibilities. But I find that a lot of what Jesus taught about such things, can be applied, not to what will happen at Armageddon, but what happens TODAY in your own life if you don’t take heed.
So taking the ‘broad road’ and not the ‘narrow path’ can lead to destruction in your life, because your not following the path of love that Jesus left you. You could be saying ‘Lord Lord’ to Jesus and yet he doesn’t know you. Even the ‘sheep and goats’ passage is not a ‘we win and you lose’ parable. The goats are said to go into ‘everlasting cutting-off’ (NWT). The Greek word for ‘everlasting’ is ‘aion’. It can be translated as ‘age’ or ‘period of time’. ‘Cutting-off’ comes from the Greek word ‘kolazo’. This is a gardening term, like pruning. Why do you prune a plant? So it can THRIVE and FLOURISH. You don’t destroy the plant. So at this great separating event described by Jesus the sheep are praised for how they lived their lives and followed the path of love. The goats on the other hand are not. They have some major work to do, they didn’t show love during their life. They will have to go into a ‘period of time of pruning’ (Greek – aion kolazo) a correction experience.
God wants all to be saved, not destroyed, and he will lead us all to Himself one day. He does this, not by separating us into groups,( or as JWs think -ONE group vs everybody else) but by leading us as individuals on a path in love. The more we choose that course the better it is. If we choose a different path our lives we will suffer for it, there will be ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ as we naturally get the consequences of that way of life. We are God’s plant, his cultivation in his garden. Sometimes we are pruned and corrected, but only so we can grow more abundantly in love.