7/23/2017 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, we have another one of the parables in Matthew where Jesus “unravels” the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. These parables are not puzzles in story form to be solved, like jumbled letters on a page to be decoded. They are clear glass windows to give us a look into the reign of God among us, now and forevermore…amen.
Today’s parable of the wheat and the tares is one such window. Like last week’s parable, it involves a story about farming. Jesus tells a lot of farming stories because farming was the common occupation in Jesus’ world and people could relate to what he was saying. The imagery was vivid to them, a lot more vivid and common than it may be to us who make our livings in factories and stores, hospitals, schools, office buildings and homes. And yet, this farming story is easy for us to envision because while we don’t make our living off the land, most of us have planted a garden or two in our life time
Who among this motley crew of backyard florists and small plot vegetable growers has had to deal with weeds growing among and between the sprouts coming forth from the good seed which we have planted and around the tender plants which we have nurtured in hope of producing an abundant harvest? Even this past week, I had to muscle my way through intrusive bittersweet vines in order to allow the weeping cherry trees in my yard to thrive. Weeds are frustrating and getting rid of them is a lot of never-ending work. In fact, dealing with weeds is often more back breaking work and frustration than we have time for in our busy schedules. So, we are tempted to hope for the best and leave the pesky weeds alone, even if they overtake our pristine gardens.
The question in today’s parable is not whether the plants which spring forth from the good seed will survive the invasion of weeds. They will surely grow and develop into a fine crop that will be safely harvested in due season. Not even the deliberate introduction of weeds will prevent this from happening. The question at hand is why there are any weeds in the crops at all – “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?”
I suppose that any competent gardener or farmer would think this to be a silly question. For even with all the chemicals devised to control the weed invasion and all the insects, like lady bugs, put in place to control it, it cannot be eradicated. No matter what we do, there will be weeds, weeds that can even find a spot in flower pots that have never been placed outdoors.
For the gardener or farmer, then, the question becomes, “Why didn’t you do everything in your power to root out the weeds – to pull them up, to destroy the pesky plants when they appeared? Was this sower of seeds in today’s parable so lackadaisical that he would not immediately have spotted the weeds and carefully plucked them out of the field? Would we not do this, if we had the time and energy and help to accomplish this task? And yet, it would make no sense to even try to do it if the good plant and weed looked so much alike that you couldn’t distinguish between the two. It is the wise farmer who doesn’t follow the suggestion of the well-meaning servants in the parable. In his wisdom he lets them both grow together, lest the wheat be mistaken for weed. He lets them both grow until the harvest and then he has both his wheat and some free kindling as well – and with this he outwits his enemy.
When this story of the wheat and the tares is seen as a parable of the kingdom of God, the questions still remain: Why are there any weeds in the crop, and why would the good farmer let the weeds remain? Why does God, the good farmer, who plants good seed in this world let sinners take root in the church? Why do hypocrites and sinners fill the pews that should be reserved for the righteous and pure in heart? Should they not be rooted out?
Look at what Christians do to each other – in the abuse of women and children; and in the way in which people of other races, socio-economic status, and differing sexual orientation have been ostracized rather than welcomed as children of God. Look at what Christians do as they ignore the poor and the hungry, the elders and those in need. Look at the gossip and the cliques, the control games and the lack of forgiveness within the church. And look at the hostility between different dominations, all of which claim to be sole possessor of the truth. Why isn’t the crop free of such weeds?
C.S. Lewis, in one of his books, points out that when people become Christian, if they are not careful, their sinning often shifts from the overt, outward, visible sins of lying, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing, to the more inward, hidden, non-apparent, invisible ones, among which is a spirit of judgmentalism. In fact, he points out, that this sin is one of the transgressions which is more commonly committed by church people than by those who are not. In judgment, we are quick to assume what is wheat and what is not. We are quick to weed out the “bad apple” from among us and in so doing we show our foolishness.
Our Lord is a wise farmer, a gracious and merciful God, who is slow to anger. Our Lord is patient and he knows that there will be weeds even in the church and also in each of us. For, Jesus did not come to a perfect world filled with perfect people. Jesus came to a real world and suffered and died for real people who are both saints and sinners, wheat and weed. To despair over the weeds, the sin which is present in us and in the church, is to ignore the good seed, the love and mercy of God shown to us most vividly on the cross. To be blind to the weed and to treat it as though it were good is to be foolish and uncaring. It is to ignore the gifts of God’s law and the desire of God for peace and harmony, justice and wholeness of life. But the judgment between weed and seed belongs to God. We, who are wrapped up and entwined in the two as tightly as the bittersweet that has invaded my yard, simply cannot accurately distinguish between them. Our gracious and compassionate God allows the two to grow together and at the right time, he and he alone will separate the wheat from the weed.
For us, that is good news…just like it was good news for my weeping cherry trees this week when the bittersweet was removed and they were no longer being choked by the weed. What is left in my yard is good…but I know that every year, I will need to do the same thing as the invasive bittersweet will not go away.
The same is true for the invasive sin that lives within each and every one of us. It will not go away. But, thankfully, we don’t need to distinguish between weed and wheat. The fate of both is in God’s capable hands. And in the end, what will be left is the good. What will die is the bad. In the end, all work out as it should and the good seed will not be destroyed.
We not understand why Jesus permits the weed to develop. There is no point in asking him why. He simply does. For, somehow, in his vast wisdom, Jesus knows that destroying the weed will mean destroying some good seed too. And the loss of even the smallest, most tender of sprouts is simply too high a cost. Therefore, both shall grow together.
So relax – grow and bear good fruit. Be nurtured by God, seek his guidance and forgiveness, and leave the rest up to him. The Lord is patient with us as he carefully tends his field. He will wait until the end for the fruits of his labor to come forth. Let him be the judge. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.