Seventh Sunday in Pentecost

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

[Jesus] 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.’ “
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!”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Have you ever told someone a joke that the other person just didn’t get? If so, then you know that your then have to try to explainthe joke pretty much takes all the fun out of it! Sometimes,  have you then have someone burst out laughing once you finished explaining a joke? Generally what happens is the other person responds to your explanation not with a laugh but by saying, “Oh, now I get it. Very funny.”

That wss not the reaction you were looking for when you told your joke in the first place! The same can be said for what we see in Matthew 13 today, there’s something a little dry about Jesus’ having to spell things out so simply for the disciples. The punch of the original story gets lost a bit. In fact, if you read only the parable, then in the end you also may be left wondering just what it might mean to let the wheat and the weeds co-exist and grow together for now. You ponder how and why pulling up the weeds would threaten also the wheat. And if you see that the wheat stands for the true members of the kingdom and the weeds for imposters, you end up wondering how you should behave when forced to grow right alongside of “those” folks.

Jesus found a vivid image: wheat and weeds, growing together. The question we should be asking in Jesus’ simple, unexplained parable isn’t : Am I wheat? Or weeds? You’re both, of course… But this story is about the community, the people of God. The Church is wheat, and weeds, both, and we like to think we know who’s who, as if you could simply put a sticker on each person’s name tag so we could accurately identify people. And we’ve got to do something about those darn weeds.

Roman Catholic scholar Robert Capon points out, “This is no way to run a farm. Maybe Jesus was just not as good a gardener as he was a carpenter… Programs designed to get rid of evil are doomed to do exactly what the farmer suggests they will do. Since good and evil commonly inhabit not only the same field but even the same individual human beings, the only result of a dedicated campaign to get rid of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.” He suggests that the devil’s best strategy is to sucker good people into taking up arms against one another, while he sits back and laughs.

Churches divide — grieving Jesus’ heart, who prayed for unity on the last night of his life (John 17), and still does. All churches tend to want to separate wheat and weeds, which Jesus said we should keep them together.

The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by it. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds in the same way it is for wheat. In the end the final job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming some ultimately good and others ultimately evil or dividing along the “us and them” line might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are wheat and weed, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other.

If all things are indeed created good, as we read in the first chapters of Genesis, then we ought not write off weeds so easily. One person’s weed may be another’s medicine, wine, salad, or bouquet. We now know that plants even communicate using certain organic compounds and electrical impulses through their roots. Perhaps we have a few things to learn from weeds—scientifcally speaking, perhaps starting with the notion that they are here for a reason and are an integral part of our ecosystem. They help us understand the composition of the soil in which they grow, they are soil stewards and promote biodiversity, and they feed us if we’ll let them.

All too often we look at people (or entire communities or races) and decide that they are weeds without even getting to know them, without developing a relationship or at least an appreciation for their God-given talents and giftedness. We want to pull them out of our lives, yanking them up by the roots without appreciating what they have to offer and without taking the time to see that they, too, have a place in our “ecosystem” of life and faith. By dismissing “weeds” or trying to rid ourselves of their presence we hurt ourselves, stressing our own roots in the process. The catch 22 of a community is the realization that the fate of one is linked to the fate of all.

Perhaps Jesus’ disciples, like us today, were thinking dualistically when they asked for an explanation of this parable. Can’t we make it simple as left/right, up/down, in/out, right/wrong? “No,” Jesus says, “Let me and the reapers take care of everything when the harvest is complete.” We, dear friends, must learn to live with ambiguity and “weeds” in this life.

As we read this piece lesson today in a highly polarized time in history in the United States, many of us may find ourselves in the shoes of the eager slaves. We see that there are problems in our world. We know that there is brokenness.  Accordingly, we jump at the opportunity to pluck the weeds from the fruit bearing field, and allow the good seeds to flourish.  There is a problem here though. 

We are not the ones called to do the plucking.  Rather, we are called to be the ones who continue to tend to the field in general. God does the planting, the Church on earth does the tending, and the reapers do the reaping.  

The end result is still that the seeds flourish, but the judgement and condemnation come not from us, but from God. Christ in the midst of this text invites us as followers to focus less on separating ourselves as wheat or weed, and focus more on the growth that lies between being planted and being harvested. Think of it this way: When you look at a tombstone the imprtant part isn’t the dates of birth and death, but it’s the dash in between that tells the story of the person’s life.

So instead of concentrating on who’s in and who’s out we should focus our attention on more pressing questions that we can control:

  • What are the fruits that we will produce in our time of growth? 
  • What are the fruits that Christ is growing in and around us?
  • In what ways can this parable told by Jesus guide our community to focus on growth rather than judgement and/or separation?

A powerful example of people coming together in the midst of differences came in 2018 during our ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering in Washington D.C.  Dozens of ELCA World Hunger Leaders from across the nation came together to discuss the Farm Bill, advocate for their communities at the Capitol, and work together to help move towards a world in which all are fed.  As they gathered during that time it was evident that different aspects of the farm bill would affect each of them in vastly different ways.  Those from large urban areas were passionate about certain aspects that folks from rural areas hadn’t thought much about, and vice versa.  

There were moments that those who were gathered did not agree about aspects of the Farm Bill, and there were moments in which they did not understand where others were coming from in the midst of the conversations.  

As they all had the conversations though, they operated out of a shared covenant.  This covenant that they had made with each other was a covenant of respect and love for one another that was based in their faith and the teaching Jesus Christ.  They promised each other to listen. They promised each other to be curious, and they promised each other to not lead with judgement.  

Because of this covenant, and the incredible group of folks that were gathered there over the course of that gathering, a group of wildly diverse people were able to gather around this piece of legislation and have civil and productive conversations that ended in positive advocacy for each of our communities and our nation as a whole.  They did not erase their differences, but rather grew together so that the harvest could bear more fruit at the end of the day.

Just as we can and do make covenants with one another so that we might grow together, God makes a covenant with us. This covenant that God makes is that throughout our lives we will be gifted with love, mercy, and grace for all of our days. In this covenant we gain new life and have the opportunity to share that new life with all around us as well! So let us continue to tend the field, letting wheat and weeds grow together, and leave the judgement to God in the end.