The text is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Last week I admitted my lack of skill when it comes to growing plants. I have a black thumb rather than a green thumb. I have another confession to make. I have a hard time telling weeds from plants and flowers. After all, some of the weeds are beautiful and look like something you might want to keep in a garden. And some plants don’t look as beautiful as the weeds. After all, are the wildflowers we see growing in fields along the side of the road weeds or flowers?
In last week’s gospel, we heard about different types of dirt and how the planted seeds were affected by the ground in which they were planted. That was Farming 1.0. Today, the issue is that of wheat and weeds that look alike in the early stages of growth or Farming 2.0.
There are several astonishing things about this parable that would have made the hearers of it scratch their heads. First, as we find out later in the story, the sower is a wealthy man of status who has slaves to do his work. Does it seem a bit odd that the householder himself should be the one sowing the seed into his field rather than the slaves doing it?
Nevertheless, the seeds are planted, but then there’s a problem. There are weeds in the garden.
What’s our response when we see weeds growing in our gardens? “Pull them out” or “Quick get the Round Up!” However, the master told his slaves to leave the weeds alone. That too seems a bit odd. It was a common practice to uproot weeds before the roots got entangled with the wheat. That makes sense, except the type of weed in this parable is darnel, which was nearly impossible to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of growth.
Darnel is organically related to wheat and is also known as “cheatgrass” or “false wheat.” It has a vigorous root system, which spreads deeply and widely, intermixing its roots with the roots of the wheat and greedily sucking up the water and nutrients of the soil. Darnel produces bad fruit and bad seeds which can kill humans and other animals. If you are a farmer, you really want to separate out this weed from the wheat. However, by the time the difference between the wheat and darnel could be seen, it was already too late. At this point, uprooting the weeds would damage the wheat.
Once the wheat and darnel had fully matured, they were easily distinguished from each other. Reapers would gather the darnel, which could be burned as fuel. Then the wheat would be gathered into sheaves to be transported to the threshing floor.
In talking about seed, wheat and weeds, Jesus was not teaching a course on farming, but was speaking allegorically. Jesus again is the sower of the good seed as he was in last week’s parable. However, rather than the seed being the word, the good seed is the children of the kingdom, believers in Jesus. The wheat and weeds are people. The task of judging between good and evil belongs to Christ. We are not to judge, but rather work at reconciliation and to forgive. That is why the Master directed his workers not to remove the weeds. The householder cared so much about the wheat that he did not want any of it to be damaged.
Sowing describes Jesus’ ministry of proclamation and demonstration of God’s empire and saving presence. The image of slaves is one Jesus used to describe his disciples earlier in Matthew’s gospel (10:24-25).
This is a parable about a field—the world, the church, ourselves. It is about a collective experience. There is always an inseparable mixture of good and bad, wheat and weeds together. We should not expect that God is going to come and take out all the bad things and make everything and everyone completely good and pure. That is reserved for the last day and is not something we will see in this lifetime. This is not to say that God doesn’t change hearts and turn weeds into wheat and make the wheat mixed with weeds wheatier.
Jesus identified the field as the world, which was the realm of everyday political, economic, social and religious life. At that time, it was dominated by Roman imperial power. Jesus’ sowing of the good seed concerned another empire, the kingdom of God, which worshipped a different king and God. Jesus formed the distinct community of his followers right in the middle of the weeds of the Roman Empire.
Don’t we find ourselves in a similar situation today? We struggle with choices we have to make like deciding between: getting a job to support our family or staying at home to spend more time with the family; or between supporting someone who struggles at work and pulls down the quality of our team or firing that person; or between the best school your child has been accepted to or one that is affordable; or between two different treatment options for a severe illness; or between giving into peer pressure because you can’t stand being left out or choosing to stick to your values and risk isolation. You get the idea.
So…are we wheat or weeds? The answer is “Yes.” We as a church and individually are both. It goes back to Luther’s teaching about us being simultaneously sinners and saints.
What makes us weedy? How about when we are upset with someone because of something they have done and we won’t forgive them. Sometimes the person is unaware of having done anything hurtful. Another is talking behind someone’s back when we’re upset with them. Scripture tells us to go to the person who has offended us and make it right with that person. Then if the person will not listen, we should bring others into the situation.
What makes us wheatier? Spend time in the presence of God in prayer and reading scripture. You know how good friends or couples become more alike the more time they spend together?...the more time we spend listening to God’s voice and in fellowship with him and one another, the more we become like Jesus. We get wheatier! Sharing our faith with others is another way to get wheatier. We should not keep the good gifts and blessings of God to ourselves! We become wheatier, healthier Christians through the bread and cup of the Eucharist as well.
We are a mixed bag of wheat and weeds, much the way we were one or more types of soil last week. We cannot so easily divide the world into Christians (the righteous) and non-Christians (evil doers). “Both the Gospel and our experience tell us that such categories are fluid, co-existent, and difficult to discern at best” (David Lose). Earlier in Matthew, Jesus declared that his family was composed of those who do “the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 12:50). That description could include a wide and surprising variety of people. Do we always do the will of the Father? No.
We are tempted to judge others though, aren’t we? Aren’t we pretty sure where some will spend their eternity because they don’t act like we think they should act?
Our presence and job in this world is not one to eradicate evil wherever we see it. God is the judge. At the end of the age, the Son of Man will send his angels to collect evil doers. Remember, God is God and we are not. The final victory belongs to God despite all appearances. God will bring history to a close with justice and the saints will be freed from abuse and oppression. This is good news.
This parable is not a threatening word, but a comforting word. What a relief that God does not call us to judge all the peoples of the world.
What is God calling us to? God is calling us to be: to be wheat rather than weeds, to BE the good in the world, fully aware of how we will be resisted, to live the Gospel, to be the light when the darkness seems overwhelming, to be the salt when blandness and conformity are the easier paths.
Do you hear the promise, the good news in this parable? In confusing, challenging situations, we have the promise that God will sort things out. Think of yourself as the field. At the harvest, the weeds in us are removed and what is wheat in us is gathered into God’s care and keeping.
Let our growth be that of moving from being weeds to being wheat.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, our lives are colored by ambiguity and we do not always know the right or best thing to do. But we do know that your love is guiding us and that you have called us to live as your people in the world. When we face hard choices, give us eyes to see the best path forward and the courage to follow it. When we make mistakes, forgive us. When we are hurt by our choices, comfort us. When we hurt others, help us to reach out to them in love. And above and beyond all these decisions, remind us that you still love us and call us back to this place that we may be forgiven, renewed, called, and sent forth once more as your beloved children. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
M. Eugene Boring, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII: Matthew.
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year A.
Intervarsity Press Commentaries
Karoline Lewis, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3285
Rev. Nanette Sawyer, Greedy Weeds, questionthetext.com