The Weeds And The Wheat
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
This week has been a hard week for our world. Another Malaysian Airliner in the news – this time taken out of the sky, shot down over a conflict zone, though entirely uninvolved in the conflict – you saw the headline: Fallen Bodies, Jet Parts and a Child’s Pink Book. 298 on board in the air – then still in a wheat field. And, the day before, you saw the cover of the Times, children dying on Gaza Beach – 4 cousins – “military targets” seem to be causing a lot of collateral damage these days. The war keeps raging and peace seems impossible. This has been a hard week for our world, indeed. So, I would like to take a moment to gather our hearts in prayer – as our world hurts, may God be with us all. Let us pray,
O God, how good and gracious you are. We remind ourselves of that, day in and day our, even as our hearts break for the world around us, as we dwell in this place of weeds and wheat. We pray for the families of those who perished on Malaysian Flight 17. We pray that the conflict in Ukraine will dissolve into peace just as we pray that the conflict in Gaza will cease to exist. Revenge and retribution seem to be triumphant over reason and reconciliation – Lord, in your mercy, may your healing presence be in your hurting world. Amen.
Our text this morning comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew. It is another parable and this time, Jesus explains it to the disciples. It’s a tough text to hear – for those of us who are uncomfortable with thoughts of the devil or the evil one, or even the existence of the devil or an evil one, this text can be tough to get through. But, I encourage you to bear with it. It is another parable about seeds. The unique character of this parable is that the seeds are intentionally planted – they aren’t scattered across the land, leaving it up to chance where they fall. These seeds are planted intentionally – good seeds and bad seeds – and they are planted together and left to grow together, monitored by the Wise Master. Jesus’ explanation will seem clear-cut at first – it seems eschatological, about the end of the age. But, if you listen carefully and place yourself in the midst of the story, we find it is a little more complex – that it is also anthropological and ecclesiological – it relates to us now. We are in the field described – in our personal lives, in our lives together as a community of faith, and in our lives as a global community. So, let us turn to the text and listen intently for the presence of God.
Our reading is from the Gospel of Matthew – and, by the way, this is the only account of the weeds and the wheat in any of the Gospels – this is unique to Matthew. It comes to us from the 13th chapter, verses 24 through 30 and then we’ll skip ahead to start again at verse 36 and read on through verse 43. Let us listen for God’s Word.
Let us pray: In the complexity of life, Your Words speak to us, O God. Let us have ears to hear and hearts to receive. Amen.
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.’”
36Then 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.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Gosh – everybody loves a ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ passage on a Sunday morning, right?! Particularly Presbyterians – ha! No – I only kid – this text, though intimidating at first is quite life-giving and I do hope we all have ears to listen.
Scholars have agreed that the Gospel of Matthew was written toward the end of the first century by someone who was not an eyewitness to Jesus, but rather was within the church community of Antioch. Acknowledging this history will help us understand why this particular parable is included in Matthew’s account, and why it was not included in the other Gospel texts.
The church at Antioch began as a church of Diaspora Jewish Christians following the initial persecution of Jerusalem. As an urban church, it reflected the ethnic diversity common to large cities. With the population shift, especially following the destruction of Jerusalem, the shifting cultural settings of urban centers intensified the faith community’s struggle with religious diversity. Therefore, the writer of the gospel is trying to address issues of brokenness and of schism. The writer is trying to address the experiences of oppression and acknowledge the doubt present in a community of believers. As David Lose of Luther Seminary suggests, “This is meant as a word of hope to a community that is struggling – exposition of the complexity of life is lifted up.”
The complexity of life – the weeds and the wheat growing together. At one point this week, I opened my Facebook account and didn’t scroll down for long before being confronted by the complexity of life in front of my eyes. At the top of the feed was a former professor and colleague of mine posting a quote from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich articulating some of his thoughts as they relate to the crisis on our border shared with Mexico. Next, a friend commented how she can’t wait until the end of the work day because she would then get to head out for a weekend of camping. Then, a cousin posted an article about cats and just below that, another friend, who once lived in Jerusalem, raged over the portrayal of the conflict in Gaza by American media. The next was a picture of a Northern Irish friend on an African safari, and her post was followed by another friend’s lament for the top AIDS researchers who perished on the Malaysian Airliner over Ukraine. Another friend shared a joy for his fifth wedding anniversary, and following his post was a picture of a baby born that day. The next was another lamentation for the conflict in Gaza and finally, I stopped looking when there was a post on the types of food served at State Fairs. Like the Matthean community, we, indeed, are a society struggling with issues of brokenness and schism as our lives grow more diverse. And, we experience this complexity on all levels – in the world, amongst nations; in our communities amongst parties and sects and cliques; in our lives, amongst the parts we like about ourselves and the parts we don’t so much like. Life is complex, indeed. It is full of weeds and wheat and the weeds and the wheat are growing together, intertwining, intermingling.
This parable of the weeds and the wheat is a description of a reality we often would rather not acknowledge. At first glance, this might even be a description of a God in whom we’d rather not believe. It is often uncomfortable to hold the mirror up in such an honest fashion. We don’t like to acknowledge that the darker parts of our being as individuals, and as a people, exist. We prefer things to look nicer, cleaner, less complicated and more aspirational. Though, when we get into that habit, when we feel hopeless or like we can’t do it all, we get defensive and ask questions like: What is God good for anyway? If God is so powerful, how can bad or evil things happen? – Questions that, in reality, seek to protect our own sense of strength, and place the weakness we possess onto God, that it is somehow a failing of God’s that darkness exists.
I read a blog post the other day by a gentleman who was frustrated with the weeds of life. The author was wailing against God – holding God up to the standard in Matthew 25 where Jesus declares, ‘when you have done this to the least of these, you have done this for me’. The author challenges God to answer for Godself saying: “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was trying to solve the HIV/AIDS crisis and you let a missile obliterate my body. I was on death row and you let them kill me. I was simply playing soccer with my cousins and you let the bomb kill all of us. I was cooking for my family and you let tanks into my neighborhood…[this week], The tragedies that have taken place are too numerous to list. What you have done to the least of these you have done to all of us. What do you have to say for your self [God]? Silence…just like always.” – so says this blogger. But, our text today offers a bigger picture, a complex response to a complex life. Today, we find ourselves in the middle of this field. Weeds and wheat as far as the eye can see and we would be remiss deny the honesty of this mirror. As your mother always said, ‘honesty is the best policy.’
When we look inwards, at our ownselves, weeds and wheat exist. Mean-streaks, selfishness, and anxiety dwell among compassion, a deep capacity to love, and a desire to care well for others. We would like to think that the good parts of ourselves, the parts we like the best, the parts we admire most and aspire to be, define the whole of us. But, in reality, our beings are made up of a complexity of characteristics. We are both self-conscious and beautiful. We harbor feelings of anxiety, fears of failure, and we are smart and clever at the same time. We are experiencing both feelings of depression and gratitude for a supportive community. I listened to a report on NPR the other day – maybe you heard it – Ari Shapiro and Emily Harris have been reporting from Israel and Gaza and one day this week, they both attended a funeral – Harris in Gaza and Shapiro in Israel. They asked the same questions of mourners and the interviews were heart-breaking. Emily Harris asked a family member of the 4 boys who were killed on the beach whether he saw a way forward through a cease-fire or reconciliation. He said that he had been in favor of a cease-fire yesterday. But, today, when he attends the funeral of 4 children, he wants revenge. The pain of the weeds is real – and the weeds and the wheat grow together within us.
When we look out, when we gaze at the world around us, weeds and wheat. We are inundated with images of strife and sadness, weeping and gnashing of teeth: wars being fought, planes crashing, borders blockaded while children are caught in the middle. All this dwells among babies being born, anniversaries being celebrated, judges ruling in favor of marriage equality, random acts of kindness, and acts of justice.
Weeds and wheat – Complex layers – a complexity of experiences and all, together, create of our lives as individuals and our lives as a collective. Compartmentalizing is an unsustainable model, as is denial of this reality. The weeds and the wheat are growing together inside of us and the weeds and the wheat are growing together amongst us. And, all the while, God abides – tending to the crop, nurturing the wheat, ensuring the wheat will not be choked out by weeds.
Through the parable of the weeds and the wheat, it is made possible to imagine that our life is in the hands of God. We have evidence that God is fully aware of our brokenness and our brilliance. Our complexity is not hidden from God. Our complexity is acknowledged and still tended to by the Great Gardener. And as the weeds and the wheat grow together, we are still called, as complex and created children of God, as followers of Christ, to persevere in trusting God’s faithfulness to care for the whole. Trusting in God’s vision of justice – not simply our own, which can become hindered by weeds. We are called to grow. We are called to trust that the weeds do not overcome the wheat – that the weeds will not choke the life out of the wheat – but that the weeds will disappear, and through grace, the wheat will flourish. The sources of darkness, the weeds of anxiety and pride and greed – they can and will be overcome. The weeds of violence and war – they can and will be eliminated. And, the wheat – the efforts that work towards justice, the efforts that work towards living in peace, the efforts to grow into the hope that is the love of God – it is the wheat that shall be harvested and shared to feed God’s people – over and over again.
Friends, as we strive to lift up the goodness in ourselves and the goodness in our world, we will continue to meet the resistance of problems and evil. We are called, as followers of Christ, to love God and to love one another, even as we experience the darkness within and among us. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not told for the sake of action, it is told for the sake of honesty – that God understands our situation, the reality in which we dwell, and God tends to us as we are, with the tenderness and care of a loving and thoughtful Gardener. It is clear that it is not our role to judge – we are not the reapers. Our role is to resist darkness – first within ourselves and then within our communities, through seeking reconciliation and peace. Our role is to grow – not to stunt ourselves with the burdens of regret or the burdens of revenge, but to grow in grace. Our role is to see those that are growing beside us, and to recognize that we are always reaching up for fresher air, for a softer breeze, for a more peaceful existence together under the caring wisdom of our grace-filled God. Amen.