Stuck in the Weeds
Today’s sermon on the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn. NIV
I have to confess, I’ve always been a fan of weeds. I love Sunflowers and dandelions and clovers! When I was little, I would collect these little purple flowers for my grandmother, because I knew that she loved purple. I had no idea they were weeds, they were just flowers to me. I’ve always struggled with these parables which focus on weeds as evil, because I’ve felt like it implicitly identified evil as anyone who was a little different or didn’t seem to fit in with the “normal people” or grew in a different way than was expected in society. Now, coming to this parable at this stage in my life, I have to wonder, if maybe that’s the whole reason Jesus felt the need to tell this parable. Like the servants in the story, we too feel a desire to identify people who are evil and people who are good, but Jesus reminds us, our job is not to separate and differentiate between the good and the evil people. We are called to take root in the good soil, to grow strong in God’s love and bear fruit that will encourage those around us, and in that way we will be building up the kingdom of God. We will see the weeds, or the “evil” among us, but Jesus says, “I’ve got that covered, you focus on growing in my love."
This is another one of the few parables where we get an explanation from Jesus as to what exactly he wants us to learn. Not that the explanation makes it any clearer. And not that we know for sure whether Matthew is really using Jesus’ voice to explain in his own words or whether he is recalling this conversation that Jesus had with his disciples. But these explanations are handed to us as a starting place to help us get headed in the right direction.
Jesus and his disciples head back to the house after teaching on the beach for the day, and someone asks, “Jesus can you explain to us that parable you told about the Weeds and the Wheat?”
Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed.” In other words Jesus is the farmer, and he has come to come plant the kingdom of God. He continues, "The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom.” Wow, so here the field seems pretty explainable, it’s the earthly realm, literally our communities and current existence. So, Jesus comes to plant God’s kingdom here one earth, and what is the “good seed” that he sows? People. Humans. You, me, the disciples, the followers of Jesus, and other humans called “the people of the kingdom.” Jesus then identifies the weeds as the people who belong to the evil one, and he further identifies this enemy as the devil who has planted those people among us.
His prophesy about the end of the world may be terrifying to "Anyone with ears to hear" because he says that, “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will remove from the Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Only then will the righteous shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom.”
So separating the wheat from the weeds, or rather making judgements about who are God’s people and who are the Evil ones, that is not our responsibility or capability, that belongs to the angels.
So, until then we are stuck, stuck in the weeds.
In the story, the servants see the danger of letting the wheat grow up among the weeds and they ask their master, “Should we pull up the weeds?"
“ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’ ”
Jesus encourages us to wait before we identify someone as an enemy, before we identify someone as bearing evil or part of the work of the devil. And then Jesus himself waits. Jesus himself hold out with hope that humanity will reflect love and grace and the good seed of God in their lives, rather than reflecting the evil that surrounds us, this evidence of the devils existence. At times we may feel it is easy to see the evidence of evil in the world. We see it around us, outside of us, and if we look close enough, we see it inside of us and inside one another. Our first reaction may be to claim that a person will always be bad, that a person has no hope of changing from evil to good, from a weed to a stalk of wheat, and yet Jesus says to wait on our judgement, because if we cut that person off, if we try to destroy that person right now, then we might uproot others in the process.
One of the things I like about this parable's picture of the end of time, is that the Angels burn up everything that causes us to sin, and I also wonder if you could interpret the “all who do evil” to mean, “all parts of us that are drawn to evil."
The teacher and preacher Rev. Tom Long explains in his commentary on Matthew that the difficulty with sorting the weeds from the wheat is that, “We are, ourselves, a mixture of good and evil. Sometimes we are faithful, and sometimes we are not; one moment we can be God’s loyal disciples, and the next we can be champions of all that opposes the kingdom.” Like Peter who denies Jesus in his darkest moment, we go back and forth between being a solid “rock” and speaking words of Satan.
So when Long imagines the reality of the judgement day ahead, he sees that, “Whatever is in the world, or in us that poisons our humanity and breaks our relationship with God will, thank the Lord, be burned up in the fires of God’s everlasting love.”
So, if the Angels will be sent to do this separation and burning, our task in life is not to condemn and ridicule those who appear as weeds to us. Our task is to grow, to be rooted in the love of God and bear the fruit of the kingdom, peace, mercy, kindness, justice and love.
This does not mean that we are called to be silent. The seeds were not planted in the dark damp earth to remain in the dark damp earth. The seeds were planted to grow up and out into the sun, to soak up the rays of warmth, to draw from the nutrients and water in the soil and bear fruit that would provide nourishment and sustenance for the journey of life. We called to make actions towards reconciliation, and we must call one another to do the same.
This also does not mean that the evil will go unpunished. We may not be handed the tools and divine right to destroy our enemies, like back in the good ‘ol days, but God promises that there will be punishment and our situation right now is only part of a longer process of building something good in the midst of a world which breads sorrow and pain and brokenness. We are called to stay planted next to one another, through our pain, through our sorrow, and we pray that God will bring us together to heal our brokenness and push out the darkness, so that on a good day, we might even feel as though we are stuck in the wheat.
This also does not mean we give up the fight against evil. In fact, I feel like Jesus validates the concern for evil rather than pacifying it. I can almost hear him say, “Yes, you’re right. There is evil in the world. You are not imagining it. There are evil people in the world. I know who they are and they will suffer for what they have done.” But his willingness to let the evil wait, makes me think we can do it. We can survive the heat, we can survive the weeds and we will grow stronger and taller so that God will recognize the kingdom here planted on Earth.
One of Robbie’s new hobbies or vocation, I might say, because I feel like he has been answering a calling to care for our lawn. For those of you who haven't seen the transformation of our back yard, over the summer, he has somehow transformed it from prickly brown dead stuff to Lucious green grass. He talks about his friends on this Lawn Care Fanatics Facebook Group, and how they are always talking about the chemical content of the soil. A soil that has the right nutrients will support the grass and knock those weeds out of there. Whereas a soil which is missing certain nutrients sets the stage for weeds to grow, because the soil welcomes them there. “Weeds plant themselves in open and bad soil,” he said to me the other day. “If you can nourish the soil and balance out the chemical content, the grass will grow thick enough that the weeds will not have room to grow."
And I can’t help but hope for that kind of transformation in our world. When we plant seeds of faith which work towards reconciliation with our enemies, when we unite with our brothers and sisters of faith and find our likeness through God’s mercy above our differences of race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, nationality, faith ancestry, family histories, favorite sports teams, political ideologies, or whatever other boundaries that we let shape and separate those who could and can be our allies against evil. When we share in the fruit that grows from new relationships built across boundaries of differences, goodness will overshadow the evil in the world. Amen.