Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 23, 2017

17.07.23 “Wheat or Weed?” – Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

Central United Methodist Church
Wheat or Weed?
Rev. David L. Haley
Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43
July 23rd, 2017

Wheat

“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 Jesus 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!” – Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43, from The New Revised Standard Version

We have come here today to talk about important things like God and religion and church and society and good and evil. But because all those are controversial things, instead we are going to talk about farming, which is what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel. Farming is non-controversial, that is, unless you are talking to farmers, which – thankfully – I am not. I made that mistake once many years ago with a relative who was a farmer in Oklahoma, and I eventually escaped to be here with you today.

Jesus used disarmingly simple stories from such things as farming, to talk about important, even controversial things, in a parabolic way. Eventually people figured out what he was saying and what he was up to, which is why they nailed him to a cross. But before that, he left us a collection of these intriguing stories called parables.

C. H. Dodd, one of the great NT scholars of the last century, once defined a parable as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application as to tease it into active thought.” (C. H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom.) The point of a parable was not to explain things, but to disrupt previous explanations. Most New Testament scholars agree that Jesus’ original parable is the first part of the text, with the explanation likely added later, in the form of an allegory, likely because even Jesus’ early followers couldn’t stand the wild ambiguity of parables. With parables, when you think you have got it, you almost certainly have not.

You began Jesus’ parables last Sunday with Lisl, with the Parable of the Sower, about God as an extravagant sower of seed, even wasting a lot of good seed in the parking lot. We continue with another seed story today, with Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

A farmer is sowing seed, but this farmer must have been either a Hatfield or a McCoy, or maybe Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd, because that night “an enemy” came and sowed weeds among the wheat that had been sown. (“Oh, that wascally wabbit!”)

Nobody knew nothing until the wheat came up, and with the wheat came the weeds. Some speculate Jesus was talking about the dreaded bearded darnel, a devil of a weed. Known in the Bible as “tares,” bearded darnel’s roots surround the roots of the good plants, sucking up nutrients and water, making it impossible to root out the weed without damaging the wheat. Above the ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed, which can cause everything from hallucinations to death.

But really, for the sake of the parable, it doesn’t matter, because that’s not the point; the point is that the wheat and the weeds were all mixed together. Even when the farm workers wanted to pull it all up and start over, the farmer said, “Nah, let it grow, because if you pull up the weeds you’re gonna pull up the wheat.” “Wait until harvest, and we’ll get it then.”

Some of us who grew up on or around farms understand. Rev. Barbara Lundblad, for example, is a Lutheran pastor and a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, but she grew up on an Iowa farm. She describes what would be going on there about now:

“It’s already the middle of the summer and if I were back on the Iowa farm where I grew up, I’d probably be “walking the beans” for the second or third time. “

“Now that phrase may sound odd to you if you’ve never lived on a farm . . . I walked, and my dad, my mom, my sister and brother too. We walked up and down between the mile-long rows of soy beans. Down one row, back another. We walked acres and acres of soybeans to pull or chop the weeds out of the row . . . the weeds you couldn’t get with the cultivator and tractor…. “

“Sometimes, when the day was very hot (which it almost always was in Iowa in July) or when I was very tired and didn’t want to be there (which was almost always true), I’d look down at the weed in my hand and realize it was indeed a beautiful green soybean plant. With luck my dad would be several rows away from me and I’d stick the plant back, hoping no one would be around to see it wither and die.”

Lundblad added: “I wish I had been more familiar with Matthew 13 then. I could have told my dad, “Dad, remember what the scripture says: Don’t pull those weeds, for in gathering the weeds we might uproot the plants along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (“Bad Farming”, a sermon preached by The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad, on Day 1, July 26, 1998)

But you don’t have to be a farmer or to have farm experience, to understand that really, Jesus was not talking about farming. he was talking about life, about people, about human institutions including church, even about us.

All people, including us, and all human institutions made up of people – whether Government or Church, Marine Corps or Girl Scouts – because they are composed of people – are a peculiar mixture of wheat and weeds, good and bad. Sometimes the wheat prevails, and sometimes the weeds prevail.

Quite likely, Jesus’ words were addressing the situation of the early church, where it didn’t take long for both wheat and weeds to appear, with each side labeling the other the weeds, just as we still do.

Throughout the centuries, it has always been a temptation to think this way, proving that it is difficult to wait upon God for the weeding. Tragically, the results have often been some of the most tragic episodes in the Church’s life. Crusades were organized to drive out infidels. Inquisitions rooted out heretics. Native Americans and African Americans were deemed sub-human. Women accused of being witches were hung or burned, like weeds. Those deemed “weeds” – whether or the basis of theology or race or gender or sexual orientation – were excluded. What was lost sight of was that all those “weeds” were people. Some of those labeled “weeds” by us were in fact delicate and beautiful flowers, because God has a special place for people like them.

It does not mean we ought not use our critical faculties to evaluate truth statements or dispute falsehoods, not does it mean to apathetic in the face of injustice or need. What it does mean is that while inept farmers may think they know the weeds from the wheat, wise farmers know that weeds can’t always be distinguished from the wheat, and can’t be pulled without damaging the wheat. The more we think we know about who are the weeds, the more we prove ourselves to be not only inept gardeners, but perhaps the real weeds, ourselves.

Father Michael Renninger is the Pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia, and this week in a “Sermon for Every Sunday,” he put it this way: “How often do we look at people, and upon the basis of what we see, make a snap judgment and decide that is all we need to know?”

“He’s gay”
“She’s divorced”
“They’re Muslim, or Mexican, or Jewish, or immigrant”
“He drinks”
“She’s unfaithful”
“They don’t go to church”
“She watches Fox news, he likes CNN”

Says Father Renninger, when we make these snap judgments, thinking we know all we need to know, once we actually get to know people, experience often teaches us otherwise. (Rev. Michael Renninger, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Richmond, Virginia, “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” July 23, 2017).

“Be patient, be gentle, let God do the judging, gathering the harvest and separating the wheat from the weeds,” says Jesus. Why? Because this is what God does with us. Christ plants within us the seeds of the gospel, but the Enemy sows weeds also. God sees all and knows all, but remains patient and forbearing with us, giving us the chance to live and change and grow. Personally, I’m thankful God has such a lax system of agriculture. Now, if I can only remember that when I’m up to my neck in the weeds.

One of my favorite poets was the 18th century poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake, who was largely unrecognized in his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. And – it just so happens – Blake is buried just across the street from John Wesley’s City Road Chapel in London, in the same cemetery where Wesley’s mother, Susanna Wesley, is also buried, in Bunhill Fields Cemetery.

In his Auguries of Innocence, Blake’s poem reminds me of what Jesus taught in his Parable of the Wheat and Weeds:

“Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.”

There is wheat and there are weeds, including in us. Nevertheless, God in love forbears, allows us to live and grow and even prosper, and asks us to do the same for others, even those we are tempted to call “weeds.” When this we rightly know, through the world we safely go. Amen.

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