By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 17, 2011
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In the parable today, Jesus tells the disciples two things; first, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, people should probably not be judging one another. And secondly, in the kingdom of Heaven, God’s fair and just judgment will come about in the end.
You and I live in a world where judgment and criticism are a way of life. A day never passes when we do not make a negative comment about something someone else has done. We criticize people for the way they dress, for the way they talk, and for the things they do.
So, let’s look at the parable a little more closely. The wheat and the weeds are growing together. The gardeners among us may raise a suspicious eyebrow at not pulling out the weeds until harvest time. Certainly this is no way to run a farm.
But consider the weeds that have grown up in the wheat field are an annual grass that looks very much like wheat. Distinguishing one from another in the early stages of growth is nearly impossible. As the plants mature, the roots of weeds and wheat intertwine and become almost inseparable. Yet separating them is necessary. Because, unless the weeds are removed, then flour made from the wheat will be ruined by the weeds, which are both bitter and mildly toxic. The usual solution is to harvest the plants, spread them on a flat surface, and then remove the weeds, which by this stage are a different color than the wheat.
So the weeds can be separated from the wheat only at the proper time, following the harvest. This brings us to something the landowner says. “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” This may now make sense to us in the context of growing wheat in a field where there are weeds. Where it dismays us is elsewhere in the world, when we relate this to people, where we want to clean house, or at least expect God to do so.
If so, then this parable invites us to costly discipleship. The very real evil that others do is not to be answered by pulling out the weeds, by attacking and destroying the people responsible. Doing so only adds to the harm. Instead, our response is forgiveness, and a willingness to trust in the purposes of God.
In this view, God the landowner practices forgiveness and patience. And by his example the same approach is recommended to us.
And you and I — sometimes we are wheat and sometimes we are weeds. St. Augustine, in commenting on this parable, makes the same point when he says: “There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord’s field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow.” [“Sermon 73A.1,” quoted in Manlio Simonetti, ed., “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1a, Matthew 1-13” (InterVarsity, 2001), p. 277.)
God gives us all amazing latitude to make choices, to do right, even to do wrong to the point of inflicting grievous harm on others and on ourselves. And God does not pull people out of the mire of their mistakes by condemning them, but by forgiving them. It’s a strange way to run the world, and sometimes it seems scandalous. Often we would like the Lord to hurl thunderbolts — only at our enemies, of course. But the record indicates God works differently than that.
Once the harvest is in, the weeds will be recognized for what they are and thrown into the fire. There’s mercy, but there’s also justice. There’s a God who welcomes us with open arms, and there are some of us–just maybe–who will insist on keeping our distance. Wheat and weeds. Who’s one and who’s another? Augustine reminds us that no one knows what they will be tomorrow.
Yes there is something greater than justice here. There is divine forgiveness, the willingness to let weeds and wheat grow together for a season because they are somehow inseparable, the recognition that revenge resolves nothing, but only increases evil. Whether we are capable of living in the light of that truth, it is clear from this parable, clearer still from the cross, that forgiveness and forbearance are God’s way of working with a broken world. This approach may leave us profoundly uneasy, even at odds with God, but without this forbearance, this forgiveness, not one of us stands a chance.
Our preoccupation with the weeds must not prevent us from recognizing the wondrous conclusion of the parable: how indeed the harvest happens, an abundance of wheat is gathered in, enough to make landowner and farm hands rejoice together. The weeds in the field have no power to stop the realization of this bounty. The seed was good, and it bore, through adversity, a fruitful harvest. And so the parable ends on a note of brilliant triumph about that harvest: “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Several years ago, there was a film entitled “A River Runs Through It,” and while I remember little about the story, but I do recall one line from that film. The narrator was quoting his father when he said “I only know two things for certain in this life. First, there is a God, and second, I’m not him.” That’s why it is so unfair of us to make judgments about peoples’ lives. We’re not God. We don’t know the baggage they carry. We don’t know the scars upon their hearts. All we know is what we see on the outside, and according to the gardener in the parable, that’s not enough information to start pulling weeds.
Could it be that even in the weeds – even in the weediest people we know – could it be that God has sown some wheat? Could it also be true that, in time, God will carry out his weeding process in their lives, so that good wheat will begin to grow where only weeds were once visible?
Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.’ ? You know, like I know, that even in our own lives there are more weeds than we care to admit. Our secret weeds of which we are ashamed and embarrassed. Oh, we keep those weeds well-hidden so that no one will see us and judge us, but we know that they are there, and so does God.
Life is a process where God, by his amazing grace, thins out the weeds and makes us wheat once again. God never gives up on us…ever! God would never say “Oh, that garden has gone to the weeds, so I think I will just ignore it and let it die.”
And that’s the first lesson we learn about the Parable of the Wheat and Tares: The kingdom of God is a mixed bag, in which it’s not always clear which is the wheat and which are the weeds. We’d do well not to try to judge one from the other.
And the second lesson to learn is that, when it comes to human nature, not of us is ever completely a saint or a sinner, but a combination of both. One of my favorite theologians, Mr. Rogers, used to say: “Have you ever noticed that the very same people who are bad sometimes are the very same people who are good sometimes?” Which reminds me of a story I’ve shared before entitled, “Two Wolves.” It goes like this:
“An old Cherokee once told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside of him. He said it was between two wolves. One was evil: Anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, gossip, resentment, and false pride. The other was good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf do you think will win?’ The old Cherokee replied, ‘The one I feed.’” (Anonymous)
Evil is real, but it is not ultimate. It never has the last word. Greater by far are those who shine in their Father’s kingdom, those who mirror the bright light of divine compassion. Jesus died for our salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins. Amen.
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