“Lord of the Dance” is one of my favorite hymns; I am sure many of you love this song too. One of the verses says, “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.” That’s where I got the title for this message. If you imagine life as a dance, the image of dancing with the devil on your back sounds heart-wrenching.
We all know life is not a bed of roses but more like a mixture of roses and thorns. But you can still make the most out of life if you know how to smell the roses without touching the thorns. Life can be very joyful if you know how to dance with the devil on your back.
In fact, the devil on your back may not be the devil. That reminds me of a story of the Desert Fathers that goes like this:
Going to town one day to sell some of his handicrafts, Abba Agathon (a Desert Father) met a crippled man on the roadside, paralyzed in his legs, who asked him where he was going. (By the way, this is a different story from what I told you in my message two weeks ago.)
Agathon replied, “I am going to town to sell some of my crafts.” The paralyzed man said, “Do me the favor of carrying me there.” So he carried him to town. The man told him, “Put me down where you sell your items.” He did so.
When he had sold an article, the man asked, “What did you sell it for?” and he told him the price. The crippled man said, “Buy me a cake,” and Abba Agathon bought it for him. When Agathon had sold a second article, the sick man asked, “How much did you sell it for?” and he told him the price of it. Then the paralyzed man said, “Buy me this,” and he bought it.
Having sold all his items, Agathon was ready to leave. The man said, “Are you going back?” and Agathon replied, “Yes.” Then the man said, “Do me the favor of carrying me back to the place where you found me.” Once more, he picked him up and returned to that place.
Then the disabled man said, “Agathon, you are filled with divine blessings, in heaven and on earth.” Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no man; it was an angel of the Lord. (End of story).
This story humbles me and makes me reflect on my spiritual status—the fruit of the spirit I have. Abba Agathon personified a fruitful life. His love and patience are admirable. He didn’t question whether the man was worth carrying. He didn’t feel taken advantage of when the man kept asking him to buy things for him with his hard-earned money. I doubt I have that level of patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control. Stories like this make me strive for a more fruitful life.
Until the end of the story, we feel Abba Agathon had the devil on his back, but the story surprised us when it revealed that he entertained an angel. What if Agathon stopped fulfilling the man’s request at some point? (This story contrasts with the one I have told you previously, in which the hermit lost his patience to help the old man who asked him to carry him to town.)
We live in a fallen world and have to deal with fallen people. How do we know whether we are being taken advantage of or entertaining angles? How do we know we are dancing with the devil on our back or an angel on our back? How do we know whether God is testing us or the devil is abusing us?
The good news is Jesus came on earth and showed us how to dance with the devil on our backs and still make a difference in this fallen world. Today, we will explore this subject based on Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds.
Can we take the devil off our backs? If not, how do we enjoy life to the fullest despite the devil on our backs? Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Mt 13:24–43).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
That is another parable that Jesus not only told but also explained the meaning of it. We have been dealing with a series of Jesus’ very practical teachings, starting with “How to Stop Overthinking,” “Practice Deep Learning,” and today, “Dancing with the Devil on Your Back.” Jesus said,
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.” (Mt 13:24-26).
Jesus explained that he sowed the wheat, but the devil sowed the weeds secretly among the wheat. The wheat and weeds grew together, and they looked similar.
The word “weeds” is translated from Greek, “ζιζάνιον (zizanion), which is also translated as “tares,” which look very similar to wheat, except the grains are black, like ryegrass. It’s devastating for the farmers to see these weeds growing among the wheat. They are parasitic, meaning they rely on the wheat to survive, and their roots are intertwined with the roots of the wheat.
Jesus reveals that good people and bad people grow together. That’s like growing up with the devil on your back. They are emotional parasites clinging to your back. You might ask, why do we have to let the devil ride on our back? Why can’t we get rid of them? Someone in the parable had the same idea. Jesus then said,
“And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’” (Mt 13:27-28).
We share the same sentiment. We want to get rid of the weeds. Some weeds can be unplugged and thrown away, but not this kind of weeds. Since they are parasitic with their roots intertwined, you will also unplug the wheat if you unplug the weeds. Jesus said,
“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest;” (Mt 13:29-30a).
That means some parasitic people are so closely knit together with you that, by removing them, you get hurt. It could also mean it’s not our job to judge, or we don’t have the ability to differentiate between real weeds and wheat because they are so similar to each other. Some people we think good turn out to be bad, and some bad people turn out to be good. Jesus ends the parable by saying,
“and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” (Mat 13:30b).
It is the reaper’s job to differentiate the weeds from the wheat. Jesus said the reapers are angels. They have special assignments and skills to separate the weeds from the wheat. Jesus explains,
“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:40-42).
I think what’s frustrating is that it will take place at the end of the age. Until then, we will have to dance with the devil on our backs, but who knows if it is the devil or an angel?
This parable reveals that our job is not to separate good from evil but to bear fruit because, in the end, the weeds will be separated from wheat based on their fruit. Jesus said,
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Mt 13:43).
When Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen,” he means we must take this parable seriously. Jesus wants us to focus on fruit, not who is on our backs. There are two things we can do in the meantime.
1. Sow the Good Seeds
Let me tell you a parable.
There once was a sage who went to the city with his three students to shop for the necessities for his school. They passed by a farm infested with weeds. The sage wanted to teach a lesson to his students and asked them what they would do with this field.
The first student said, “I will unplug the weeds.” The second said, “It’s too slow to unplug them. I use a horse and a plow to plow them all out.” The third said, “The field is too large to plow. I would just burn the whole place down. And all the weeds will be gone.” The sage said, “All of your ideas are good.” Without saying anything more, the sage went on.
Six months later, they passed by the same field and saw a farmer take over the land and plant rice on it. The sage said, “This is the best solution.” If you remove the weeds, they will grow back since the field is empty. The best way to keep them from growing is to replace them with good plants that crowd them out. (End of story.)
This parable teaches us that if you want fewer evil people in this world, sow the good seeds so that good people will crowd out the bad ones. Even though the devil will keep sowing bad seeds, we can work more diligently to outnumber the bad seeds. Jesus gives us the mission to sow good seeds.
2. Share the Good Seeds
There once was a corn farmer who grew top-quality corn in his field. Every year, he took his corn to the city for competition, and he always won the first prize. One day, a reporter followed him to his village and asked how he grew that top-quality corn.
The reporter discovered the farmer shared his high-quality seeds with his neighbors. With astonishment, he asked, “You gave your top-quality seeds to your neighbors? Why? How can you win the competition if you give away your seeds?”
The farmer answered, “If my neighbors have bad seeds, they will affect my corn during pollination. I can have a high-quality harvest only by ensuring my neighbors have good seeds.” (End of story.)
When your raise the quality of your community, you raise your own quality too. You cannot maintain your quality by hoarding it. So, sharing the good seeds create a stronger community leaving no room for the devil to sow weeds.
So, may it be an angel or a devil on our backs, let’s keep dancing and bearing good fruit—the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.