Wheat and Weeds

Matthew 13: 24-30

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 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; 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.’”

 

Matthew 13: 36-43

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.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 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. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

whear“Green Bean” was what they called me. I spent many hours on my great-uncle’s farm in Cleveland, Georgia picking green beans. It seemed fitting to the adults around me that my nickname would be green bean. We would pick bushels of green beans early in the morning and then come down the Farmers Market in Gainesville and sell them off the back of a truck. The ones we didn’t sell we would take back home to string and snap so my mother could can them.

In the weeks leading up to harvest time, we would take a hoe and dig out the weeds around the beans. I was never really good at telling a weed from a bean plant. The adults saw that I was cutting into their crops and decided to give me another task.

In the religious business there are those who have convinced themselves that they are the experts at telling the difference between a good crop and weeds. There are many who go around naming what represents a weed and what doesn’t. They are servants trying to tell the Master what belongs in the field and what needs to be plucked out.

The Russian novelist put it best when he said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” Romans 7:20.

But of course this doesn’t stop some from still trying to create a clear dividing line between what they believe to be good and evil. The drive for purity is strong. If we can get rid of the problem-causers, rabble-rousers, we can get on with the mission of the church. The only problem is when we start down this road we may well discover that others may start making similar conclusions about us.

The parable of the wheat and weeds is a parable on honesty. Johnny Carson once said, “Choose your enemies carefully, because you become like them.” It is easy to become intolerant of intolerant people and hateful toward hate-filled people. The parable calls us to be honest with ourselves and to recognize that the line that runs between wheat and weeds many times runs down the middle of our own hearts. In an attempt to pull out the weeds, we can easily become the destroyer of God’s crop.

There is an ambiguous notion to life that Jesus picks up on in the telling of parables. It would have been a lot easier if Jesus would have stuck to black and white declarations instead of elusive story-telling. In chapter twelve of Matthew’s gospel, the opposition to Jesus reaches its boiling point in a conflict over the issue of Sabbath observance. We are told, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” Matthew 12: 14. Then the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being in cahoots with Satan.

It was after this that Jesus gets in a boat and turns to telling stories to a crowd that has gathered along the beach.  Jesus doesn’t simply tell stories to illustrate a point in his teaching. The parables are a reshaping of Israel’s very story as it centers on Jesus. They are a radical way of saying this is how God’s story is being shaped by the in-breaking of the kingdom in and through Jesus. Jesus is feeding his audience bite-size snapshots of God’s kingdom.

We think the kingdom of heaven is like this…….but Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is really like this. If you are always the good and righteous character in the parables of Jesus, then you are probably reading them wrong.

The kingdom of heaven is compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field……that’s me. But while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…..that is everyone that doesn’t believe, act, or do what I think they should. The servant of the house……that’s me because I always know what God wants to do……….says to the Master, “You want me to go and get rid of the weeds?” because you know we cannot tolerate messing up a pure church. The farmer replies, “No! For in the gathering the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” What? How dare the farmer to think I don’t know the difference between wheat and weeds. How dare him to think that I don’t have the competence to make the kind of judgment implied in separating wheat from weeds.

It is easy to forget our calling to plants seeds when we are spending all our time pulling weeds.

Imagine how different our church would be if we acted more like the Master and less like the servant. Imagine if every time we thought we recognized a weed among the wheat we took on the attitude of the Master.

If the Master knows the difference, I don’t know why he doesn’t just show the servants the weeds and have him pull them out. It would make things easier. If everybody who wasn’t like me, thought like me, and acted like me was just jerked out of the church, it sure would make my job easier. If the Master Farmer knows the difference, then just get rid of them.

It isn’t just a parable about honesty. It is also a parable about patience. Maybe the Master Farmer knows that in some miraculous way what might have started out as a weed could be transformed into something of value. I mean this is Jesus telling the story……..dead to life, old to new, useless to life transformation is his mission. Maybe this isn’t just a parable about honesty. Maybe it isn’t a parable just about patience. Maybe this is a parable about grace. “Let them grow together” the Master Farmer says.

It seems to me that weeds are only a concern for those who have forgotten the message of God’s amazing grace.

I don’t want you to think that I am ignoring the judgment. There will be judgment in the end. But I think what I am hearing is that we need to leave the judgment to God. The future might include a word of judgment. But the present presents a word of hope. Imagine if we learned to live together, worship together, and be in community together and let God do the sorting.

I am still not good at telling the difference between a weed and good plant. For some, this as a short coming in religious leaders. Just the other day I was talking to my neighbor and he said, “There was once beautiful daffodils that lined the edge of your driveway and the woods. But I haven’t seen them bloom since you moved in.” It occurred to me that the first year I moved into my new house I had sprayed weed killer along the edge of my drive way and the woods because I thought they were wild onions. And now, now I miss out on all those beautiful daffodils.

Let anyone with ears listen! Amen.