Sunday, July 17, 2005: Even the Weeds

Click here to read Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43.

A farmer sows seed. The seed is good; there is no reason to believe that anything other than a nourishing wheat field will result from his labor. But when green tendrils begin to sprout from the rich earth, it becomes quite clear that something is amiss. The farmer’s slaves are concerned that an unexpected crop of weeds has taken root among the precious stalks of wheat, thanks to the handiwork of a not-so-neighborly enemy. They assume the task at hand is to immediately weed out the unwanted growth, but their Master encourages a plan centered on patience, trust, and preservation of the good. He wants to save each and every grain, and haphazard weeding would likely destroy some of the valuable wheat. The plan, therefore, is to let the good and evil plants mature side-by-side until harvest time, when the wheat is finally sifted from the weeds. Not a grain of wheat is lost.

Last week, we explored the parable of the sower. In that parable, we are invited to imagine the breadth and depth of God’s extravagant hope—the astonishing abundance that marks the nature of our Creator.

The parable of the weeds and wheat is clearly a related text. Jesus uses the same set of imagery to tell the story. Again, we are invited to imagine the Kingdom of God as a living entity, growing in the same mysterious-yet-ordinary way a tiny seed becomes a great stalk of wheat. In addition, both parables invite us to stand in amazement at God’s surprising economy.
Last Sunday we marveled at the seemingly wasteful manner in which God spreads the seed of the gospel—dispersing it even in inhospitable ground. Today, on the other hand, we witness the great care God exercises to ensure that no seed is lost. The reason for this swift turnaround is a good lesson in the nature of parables—no symbol is static. For in the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus tells us that we are like the grains of wheat, children of God emerging from the garden of faith.

The weeds are a fact. One of the reasons I love Jesus so much is that he doesn’t mince words about the state of the world. Just as there was only supposed to be grain in the field of this story, there was only supposed to be goodness in this world. But here we have these weeds. Weeds of violence and despair, injustice and loneliness, greed and infidelity have infiltrated creation, growing gnarled and ferocious roots.

We might think that we are supposed to single-handedly eradicate this unwanted blight. And sometimes I think we are supposed to roll up our sleeves and participate in the eradication of evil. Certainly, we can participate in the dismantling of our own sinful tendencies. And social sins like racism and sexism require our attention and effort. There is a season under the sun in which our participation in the redemption of ourselves and our sisters and brothers is imperative. After all, this is the same Jesus who also preached that if our right hand causes us to sin we should cut it off. But there is also a season in which our efforts to help are futile.
There is a brand of weed that cannot be addressed by our flawed human approaches. For one thing, as the farmer pointed out, the weeds at hand are deceiving; they look an awful lot like the wheat itself. If the well-meaning servants were to yank out fistfuls of weeds, they may very well find that they have destroyed a perfect stalk of wheat. And God just won’t have any of that.

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies that illustrates the folly of well-meaning but damaging interference. The film is called About a Boy. The title character is a terribly awkward British pre-teen who just can’t make it through a day of school without getting picked on mercilessly. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Although he is brilliant and loving, he does not possess the characteristics necessary to be considered “cool.” He is not athletic. He does not wear the right clothes. And he most certainly does not wear the right shoes. While all the other kids wear brand-name sneakers, our favorite pariah is stuck wearing heavy brown oxfords. Well, he is in the process of befriending a selfish yet harmless rich guy.
This man spends all of his money on stuff for himself, and is fully convinced that he does not need other people. However, the man finds himself feeling unusually sorry for the young boy. And he realizes he can actually do something about it. He can buy a pair of sneakers for this kid. In the voiceover that plays as we watch the man hand his credit card to the cashier, he ponders how easy it is to help this kid, and how positively pleased with himself it makes him feel. Sadly, things don’t turn out so well. In the next scene, we see the boy running home in the pouring rain with no shoes on. The same bullies that had teased him about his ugly shoes have stolen his brand new sneakers. The man’s good intentions to solve the boy’s problems backfired terribly, doing more harm than good.

If we so easily fumble when trying to help an awkward kid fit in with his classmates, however can we adequately address the roots of evil?

We simply do not have the wisdom, the vision, or the power to deal with all the weeds of this world. We know that evil exists, and we are pretty sure we are able to accurately recognize the weeds from the wheat. But our vision is too often clouded by impatience. So often we cannot see the forest for the trees. We get panicky when the forces of evil encroach on our safe soil. We long for quick solutions and an end to our fear. We lash out in vengeance when we are hurt, or maybe we just try to ignore that the weeds even exist. We are quick to settle for a superficial peace.

We forget that our job is not to weed the fields, but to be the wheat. We are called not to judge what is good or evil, but to surrender ourselves to way of Jesus Christ. In our hunger for God to hurry up and start whipping this world into shape, we forget that the seeds of the Kingdom are already flourishing. As Garret Keizer put it in The Christian Century, all too often “our attention is fixed more intently on the stubborn persistence of evil than on the slow emergence of good.”

We must pay our attention and our trust to that slow emergence of good. And the only way we can accomplish this is to place our absolute trust in our just and merciful God.

Trusting ourselves to the care of God is utterly radical. It transforms the way we see the world. Instead of believing the lie that matching violence with more violence will save us, instead of playing along with the hoax that human power can ever eliminate evil, when we trust God we surrender ourselves to a wholly different wisdom. God considers the world with the utmost patience and hope. God wants each and every good seed to come to fruition, even if it means that the weeds, too, will prosper.

The parable of the wheat and weeds ends with the promise that by and by, the Kingdom of God will succeed. The wheat will be harvested. And so will the weeds. I shudder to think that a single soul will ever meet the fiery furnace of God’s wrath.
But I delight in the closing image of the parable in which the Master and his slaves gather up the last of the weeds of sin and evil. The punch line of the story is that the enemy who sowed those pesky weeds has been bested by the clever farmer. Not only is every single grain salvaged, but all those weeds are transformed into valuable fuel. This is the economy of God. Even the weeds are put to good use.

If we entrust ourselves and our world to our Creator, we open our minds and our hearts to the hard work of growing as disciples. We are freed to extend our roots into the good soil of Christian community. We are welcome to drink the waters of scripture. We are blessed to bask in the sunlight of God’s love. As our faithfulness blooms, we become shining witnesses to God’s unfailingly green thumb. Amen.

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