Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide us by Your Spirit to understand what you are saying to each one of us today. Grant us humility to change our ways and faith to trust you, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Today we have another parable from Jesus about farming – but it’s not really about agriculture.
Last week we heard about the parable of the Sower - the same sower, the same good seed, the same potential for a harvest. Jesus was emphasizing that each person – however unlikely – is given a chance to respond to the Word of God. The Word of God has the same potential within each of us to enable us to grow and mature and to be vital Christians in this world. It is only in our response to the Word that we are compared with the pathway, the rocky ground, the thorny patch, the good soil.
Today’ parable is the Weeds and the Wheat.
I don't know about you, but of all the parables Jesus tells, this one about the weeds growing among the wheat seems to irritate me the most. In many situations, I want to have happen what the farm hands in this story are ready to do: pull up the weeds, throw the bums out, see the world free from the latest set of scumbags, and do all this immediately. But that is not how the story goes. The landowner won't allow such direct action. In the face of this, maybe we need to look at the story more carefully.
Two topics deserve more explanation than this parable itself is able to give them. The first is the weeds. The second is the landowner's words.
Let's look at the weeds first. The gardeners among us may raise a suspicious eyebrow at not pulling out the weeds until harvest time. Certainly this is no way to run a farm.
One of my memories of growing up on the farm at a young age is having to walk through the grain and corn fields, pulling out wild mustard and cocklebur plants before they went to seed and multiplied profusely the following seasons. No good farmer wanted to look at a sea of yellow among his young oat field. I wish I had been more familiar with Matthew 13 then. I could have told my dad, "Dad, remember what the scripture says: Don't pull those weeds, for in gathering the weeds we might uproot the plants along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest." Of course, that would be very bad farming. The good thing was that I would get a penny a plant for every one of these weeds that I pulled. Today, farmers have selective herbicides to make the destruction of weeds easier and more certain. I’m glad I’m not a kid on a farm today. I wouldn’t be able to make a cent. But in any event weeds are the enemy!
So Jesus was saying something truly startling: "Don't pick the weeds!" Once again, Jesus uses a parable to instruct us in some important truths about the Kingdom of God. He deliberately chooses a metaphor which everyone understands, weeds, and turns it on its head in order to make a point. No doubt people listening to Jesus tell this parable went away grumbling about how dumb it was to let the weeds grow – but they remembered the parable long enough to tell it to others and eventually to write it down in at least one of the gospels. The lessons we learn the best always come with some irritation, some contradiction, some irony, some surprise. This is what makes parables powerful and easy to remember.
Jesus advised not to be overly hasty in pulling out the weeds because, as he notes, it's not always easy to tell which are the weeds and which are the good plants. You would think that we Christians would have learned this lesson by now. But our history in this regard is a sorry one.
It has been very hard for the Church to wait for God's harvest. Over the centuries since Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Church has often focused more on weeding than planting or tending the garden. If we look at the past two thousand years, we can see that the most tragic areas in the Church's life have been caused by this passion for weeding. Crusades were organized to drive infidels from Jerusalem. Inquisitions rooted out heretics. Women accused of being witches were thrown into the fire like weeds to be burned. Those who were deemed bad seed were excommunicated and cast out of the Church into utter darkness. Organizations had to be set up to decide who the weeds were. The weeds were always people, and sometimes they were called weeds simply because they were different from the groups in power. These human weeds had to be rooted out to protect the harvest.
What had happened to Jesus' parable? Hadn't anybody heard what He said about letting the weeds grow up alongside the good seed? It was just too hard. There was the very real fear that the weeds would overwhelm the good plants altogether. In every generation something always had to be done to clean up the field.
From our own perspective, who are the weeds growing like crazy in the wheat field of the world? These are the plants we want to yank out by the roots.
-- These are the people we want to lock up and then throw away the key.
-- These are the people we want to strap in the electric chair.
-- These are the people we want to bomb into oblivion.
There are times when many of us, at least momentarily, see this as the obvious solution. We want the wheat field of the world to flourish with wheat, and not to be damaged by weeds.
Or we may direct our rage, our helplessness, our despair into a question about God. Why doesn't God do something about those people (whoever they are)? Where is God when they commit their horrible crimes?
The parable does not deny that there are weeds in the wheat. It does not suggest for a moment that the world is free from evil. Instead, the weeds are all too visible. The landowner knows what's happened -- "An enemy has done this!" Yes, the world is a terribly broken place. What is meant to be a wheat field is holding countless weeds.
Jesus told this parable because he knew that we have an irresistible tendency to want to pull weeds. We have a tendency to want to clean up the church, to get rid of the sinners, to get rid of the rotten apples. But Jesus warns us to be careful. We need to realize that if we removed every person who ever sinned, no one would be left.
And you and I -- sometimes we are wheat and sometimes we are weeds. St. Augustine, in commenting on this parable, makes the same point when he says: "There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord's field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow."
God is not an all-seeing farm manager driving by to see how many weeds have grown up. God may be far more concerned about the weeds we pull up than the weeds we pass by. For the weeds are always people; people who are pointed at, chastised, condemned, cast out. Jesus didn't understand how bad it could get in the earthly field. Jesus had never met the people we've seen. Aren't Christians called to condemn evil? Surely God doesn't want us to let anything go. Can't God see that too many weeds could indeed choke the harvest?
Jesus is also telling us that there is a final harvest and a judgment day held at the end of the age and the harvest workers will be the angels; Then the weeds will be separated from the wheat and burned in the fire. "Then God's people will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom" – the church at last made perfect.
We need not rush around trying to do God's job. We only are called to be patient, secure, and confident that God is right and will win in the end. We also should trust that God is at work in the world and in our hearts – where there are also many weeds. In the ultimate moment God will bring forth a great harvest according to God's own plan and with a bounty just as great even if we don't pull out the weeds. Just let them both grow. Who knows what will turn out to be wheat after all?
There is great wisdom in the serenity prayer, which reads; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Perhaps it has its roots in the parable of the weeds.
God wants us to live alongside the "weeds" of life. To be consumed by them could be hazardous to our health and well-being. They are a reality and the parable makes it clear that it is God’s job to destroy the weeds, not ours. For ultimately it is the good seeds that will prevail.
When we are focused on the weeds of life we are in danger of living in isolation. We attempt to live as if they do not exist and in the process we withdraw from the world. That causes us to be alienated from people who may have great potential. We may even reach a state of paranoia, living in fear, instead of living in peace.
It is easy to make judgments about people who are different from us. It is sometimes easier to live in our own little worlds, avoiding the "weeds" of life. Our mission is not to be "weed choppers" but persons who are tolerant, people who build bridges of acceptance and unity. And God wants us to be people who are patient, tending to our lives through continuous nurture, growing, learning and keeping an open mind.
The way to make sure we are part of God’s harvest is not to remove the weeds from life, but to ensure we are growing. As we learned last week through the parable of the sower, we are to be listening. And now through the parable of the weeds we learn to be tolerant of people who are different and cope with the things in life that we cannot change.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your love, a love so great that you have mercy towards all people and give them the time they need to come to you and to open their hearts to the good seed you want to plant in them. Help us to be focused on the good things that you do rather than the bad things the evil one does. Help us to be those who plant rather than pluck up what has been planted. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!