Loving God, may we trust in your goodness, may your Holy Spirit be felt in this time of worship, and may you add nourishing grace to our understanding and practice of faith. Amen.
Today, we continue our sermon series, Don’t Just Go Through It, Grow Through It, in which we are reflecting on some of Jesus’ parables in the gospels that use the metaphors of planting, gardening, and growth to help illustrate the life of faith.
To recap, we started off with the notion that our lives might become good soil to receive the good seeds of love, peace, hope, and more that God is always sowing. And then we considered the seeds others have sown into our lives and the seeds we sow into this world. And last week was all about fertilizer – recognizing that, like the fig tree that needed another chance and a little extra care, we need God’s care and spiritual nourishment too – and that even our stinky experiences can be learning experiences that foster growth if we let them. And today, we come to the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
The story goes that a man sowed plentiful good wheat seed into his field, but while he was asleep an enemy came and sowed bad seeds among the good. The plants came up and the landowner’s slaves see that many are weeds. “What happened?” they wondered. “Should we pull all the weeds and throw them away and be done with it?” But the landowner says, “no, if you uproot the weeds now, you’ll uproot the wheat too.” “Wait until harvest time and I’ll let the reapers sort them then.”
What are these weeds and what is to be done about them?
It could be that Jesus imagined the weeds in the parable to be darnel, a prevalent plant that mimics wheat while growing. Though a good farmer could probably tell the difference, darnel is sometimes hard to differentiate from wheat until closer to harvest time. Darnel is also a noxious weed that can have intoxicating affects if consumed in small amounts but can be poisonous in large quantities. So, these weeds could become a threat to the wheat crop if they weren’t removed at harvest.
But the other thing that Jesus must have known is that while growing so densely together, these plants, both wheat and weeds, would intertwine their roots beneath the surface of the soil. So, to try to uproot one would also uproot the surrounding plants and possibly ruin the whole crop.
“Let them grow together then,” the landowner says.
This parable asks the question of when is it time to deal with the weeds and whose job is it? And the answer it gives is that it is not yet time, and it is not our job. Wait until harvest – the harvest which the landowner will supervise and manage. Then it will be clear what weeds can be pulled and burned and the wheat can be safely harvested and gathered into the barn. But it is not yet harvest time.
Now, some folks have a hard time with this parable, and understandably so, especially when we read a little further in chapter 13 and we come across the allegorical interpretation that is offered in verses 36-43. The field is the world; the sower is the Son of Man (Jesus); the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the enemy is the devil; the weeds are the children of the evil one; the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels who will sort out the bad and the good, casting the bad into the fiery furnace and letting the good enjoy the everlasting kingdom.
Yikes! That seems harsh and awfully black and white doesn’t it? What happened to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace? What do we do with this?
Well, one thing we might consider is why this parable might have been told. What prompted it?
And I suspect one of the things that probably brought on this story is the human tendency to want to play the judge. It’s so tempting for human beings to think that we have both the perspective and capacity to judge unequivocally the good from the bad – who should be in and who should be out; who’s doing things right and who’s not; the absolute right course of action, no questions asked; who’s faithful enough; who’s productive enough; who’s worthy….
We know that humanity has always struggled with the desire to play the judge… the first folks who heard this parable up to the present day.
And to this human tendency, this parable says, “You are not the judge. You are not the landowner. This is God’s world. God is the only worthy judge.”
It’s not our job to separate wheat from weeds. And, as I mentioned, it’s not always so easy to tell the wheat from the weeds.
And so, the parable warns us that our judging and weeding efforts could very likely end up doing more damage than good. We could uproot other plants and ruin the crop.
And it’s true, isn’t it? How often do our misjudgments cause more pain, and suffering, and lasting damage? And, even when we feel it might be justified, does our judgment of another’s actions or behavior always help create positive change in the long-term?
Certainly, we should have courage and conviction. But we know there is a difference between being grounded in our principles and values and just being judgmental.
We know that self-righteousness and triumphalism don’t help in the long-term. But humility, patience, faithfulness, and perseverance do tend help create lasting change for the better.
And here is what is particularly interesting to me about this story. Though the parable offers a stern warning about harvest time, the reality is that the landowner is not yet ready to make a final determination. The crop is still growing.
And so are we – in our own lives and in our collective life. This field is still growing. This world is still growing, and unfolding, and evolving, and changing. And God is still watching over us as we grow, offering care and nourishment… still planting good seeds, still fertilizing the soil to foster growth… not yet ready to judge the outcome of this growing crop.
One of the messages of this parable for us, really, is that in God’s field our job is not to worry about rooting out the weeds, but to grow. Just grow. And perhaps growing, with God’s help, will give us the best chance we have to bear good grain that will feed and nourish and produce yet more grain.
And we also know that people are much more complicated than seeds. We’re not predetermined to become one thing. We are capable of both good and bad. We do loving and caring things for others. And sometimes we hurt people, whether intentionally or not. We do courageous and beautiful things. And we make mistakes.
We all have our wheaty tendencies and our weedy tendencies. We’re a mixed field.
But, perhaps with God’s help, we might grow…
Perhaps, with God’s help, our negative tendencies won’t ultimately have the power over us that we think they do. And maybe, even when a struggle seems stubbornly persistent in our lives or in the world, perhaps we can trust that over time God will help us sort it out.
Perhaps, with God’s help, we’ll recognize that there is actually a lot of good crop growing around us and within us… perhaps more good grain than we thought, perhaps more wheat than weeds.
Perhaps, with God’s help, we might even make some peace with the weeds. And in doing so, we might see that some of them aren’t as big a threat as we thought. And that our growth need not be impeded by the weeds, even though it may be challenged at times.
I suppose I have a soft spot for weeds. Unless they are really problematic, they don’t bother me. As a kid, I always questioned why we should dig up the pretty yellow dandelions in the front yard. Weren’t they just wildflowers too? Why are they weeds? I admire their wild persistence.
After all, determining what is a weed is subjective. One of the common definitions of a weed is a “plant that is growing in the wrong place.” Why is it wrong and where’s the right place? Ralph Waldo Emerson held a more hopeful perspective and suggested that weeds are plants “whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” These are human determinations, of course… not God’s determinations; not nature’s determinations.
Weeds are just plants. So who are we to judge sometimes? Time, a change in perspective, and growth might well change our mind. If God is still watching the field grow and withholding judgment, shouldn’t we?
And instead, let us put our time and energy into growing.
And perhaps, with God’s help, we’ll also take notice of our intertwined roots beneath the soil… perhaps we’ll recognize that if some among us are uprooted and perish, we are all in peril too.
We know that a big part of living out our faith is not only to be concerned with our personal, individual growth, but also with our collective growth. And that is part of the message of this parable. We are intertwined, growing in the same field together. Damage to a few can do damage to all.
I know many of us have been thinking a lot about this over the last several weeks. Our collective wellness is dependent upon our collective willingness to work together and find a way through this pandemic.
And this whole situation has cast a bright light on the ways in which our collective wellbeing has been threatened for quite some time. Those who have born the oppressive weight of poverty and economic disparity, of systemic racism, and of social marginalization are now bearing the heaviest weight of the fallout from this pandemic. The unjust structures we have built are contributing to our collective trauma.
This is a harsh and troubling reality that we can’t ignore. And this is a reality that we, as people of faith, are called to face and engage.
There are no easy answers. This is not new. But perhaps we are poised at this point in history (more than we were even a few months ago) to deeply recognize and take in the reality of our interconnectedness and our interdependence – as one human family, as inhabitants of this planet.
There is a lot we can’t control. That’s true.
But we do have a choice to strive for growth rather than tearing one another down and doing more damage. We do have a choice to trust God’s grace and good judgment. We do have a choice to patiently listen for God’s call to growth in us – to take notice of those seeds of God’s love that have been planted in us and to nurture their growth so they may bear more love into the world.
Perhaps, in doing so, we will be able to choose a new and better future that respects and honor our interconnectedness and collective wellbeing. Perhaps we will choose not to just go back to business as usual, but will instead use this collective experience and challenge as an opportunity to try something new, to strive for a different way, to seek more just and equitable ways forward together.
Can we, humanity, planted in God’s good field grow together in this way? Time will tell.
But I think we have to try. I think we are called by our faith to try.
For our God is a good and gracious gardener who is still tending the soil, who is still watching over us with loving care, and who is waiting to see what good grain this planted crop might produce.
So, let’s keep growing… in hope that one day the harvest will be abundant and all will be fed.