Matthew 13:24 He 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.” ’
36 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.’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!
The Wheat Fields. We’re continuing the series “Growing Season,” and as we all know, if you have ever tried to grow a plant for some good purpose, trouble isn’t far away. Assuming that you’re using good soil, there’s the right amount of sun and water, your crop has a good chance – if bugs and animals don’t get to it. They love it when your garden flourishes. And then there are weeds. If the conditions are good for your flowers or tomatoes, they are good for weeds. Maybe you’re making the spiritual connection in your mind, and that’s what Jesus intended with these little stories called parables. Someone has thrown some seeds of weeds among the good crop and he wants us to learn from that. Let’s think about weeds.
There was a weed that grew near our house in Connecticut that was a kind of organic wonder of the world. Many years ago, I was told, some farmers around that part of the state began planting a distant relative of bamboo next to their outhouses. Its formal name is Japanese Knotweed, but it was also called “Kiss-Me-Over-the-Fence.” It’s a perennial that can grow 9 or 10 feet high during the summer and hides those things you don’t want to see. It will grow over your fences. Maybe it will try to kiss you.
It grows thickly and by mid-summer it’s hard to walk through, unless you have a machete! It also spreads uncontrollably. It slowly conquered about an acre of a field behind our house and we were told that the only way to get rid of was to put down black plastic for two years. The roots are so deep that the usual weed-killers have no effect. These weeds don’t really hurt anything until they get close to your house. Better mow the lawn every week next to the Kiss-Me-Over-the-Fence – if you took a vacation from yard-work for a couple of months in the summer, by the time you got back to it, you wouldn’t be able to see out of your first floor windows.
If you don’t try to control it at all, it will literally take over your house. It can grow in concrete and asphalt. Banks in England may not give you a mortgage for your house if your neighbor’s yard has Japanese knotweed growing in it.
It can grow through walls, and since it’s root system is so deep and extensive, some houses have to be torn down to get rid of it. In some places, it’s that serious. I know that it’s in Pennsylvania, but I can’t say that I’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve got Japanese knotweed in your back yard and you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you want to check out that thick patch of tall foliage that wasn’t there last year!
The irony of it is that this plant can actually be eaten. It apparently tastes something like rhubarb, which may not be appealing to some of you, but I like rhubarb. But it really can’t be grown for profit because it would take over the world.
We learned that you don’t get rid of this weed. It’s almost impossible. But you can control it.Is there a spiritual lesson in that weed? To get rid of it, you have to destroy almost everything it touches. But if you pay attention, you can control it. Many problems in the Christian life are like that. Some problems in the church are like that. A total “cure” would kill the patient.
In the parable, Jesus was talking about weeds that grow in – and with – wheat, which is a bigger problem. These weeds affect the food supply. I can see him sitting on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee, waving his arm toward a field. The weed Jesus is talking about is a plant called darnel, which looks exactly like wheat while it’s growing. You can’t tell the difference until both the wheat and the darnel are grown and by then, their root systems are intertwined. There is literally nothing you can do about this weed until the harvest. Then you can tell them apart.
He says he’s talking about the “kingdom of heaven,” which he also sometimes calls the kingdom of God, which is the community of faith, the “wheat-field” of those who believe. In those first days of the church, in that place, the believers gathered around you were mostly Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah. You do believe Jesus is the Messiah, yes? Awesome! But now there are these non-Jewish people joining us, who have no respect for our ancient traditions. It’s a mess. The church was a mess from the beginning!
So, we’ve got weeds growing in the church. And those of us who are wheat, well, we don’t like it. I heard this one not long ago: “If Bill was a Christian, he wouldn’t have treated me the way he did last week. Pastor, you really ought to do something about him.” How many times have we each thought something like that?
We have a huge collection of weeds, an enormous variety. I think each of us has a different perception of what a weed might be. It’s a problem when you look at that plant growing next to you and your mind is telling you, “Hmmm, sure looks like a weed. Must be a weed.”
I don’t know if I can trust you because the color of your skin or where you live or the kind of place you live in. Whether you live in a shack in the Dominican Republic or a trailer in West Virginia – north or south of town. This certainly says something about the type of person you are and whether we can share faith in Christ. We certainly aren’t that shallow.
Are you liberal or conservative? I’m concerned about whom you live with and what your sexual orientation might be. Or how your marriage is doing. Or whether you are married at all. Or whether your kids act the way I think they should, or whether you have kids. How you dress or the type of church music you listen to. The way you pray. What you believe about the Bible. We really need to keep God’s wheat-field pure.
But the more we try to pull the weeds from this field, the more harm we do to ourselves. Jesus is clear about this: we have no business pulling weeds. God is the only who can tell what the real weeds are.
Many folks have high standards for the church and if anybody should be pointing out issues of justice to deal with, it’s us. It’s okay to have standards or ideals, unless we feel that they give us the right to condemn the people we should be loving.
I’ve heard it said that the church is like a hospital. Whom do you see in a hospital? You see sick people. People with all sorts of needs and ailments. In confirmation classes I’ll sometimes hear somebody say that it seems like the church is full of hypocrites and sinners. And in a tactful way, I try to respond, “and that’s why we’re asking you to join.”
In fact, are those things I mentioned the real weeds? The passage says that the weeds are “all causes of sin and evildoers.” We might not be able to tell who the weeds are, but we can see their effects. Weeds have more to do with bad relationships and the bad choices we make more than people themselves. Opportunities for bad choices and behavior are always present no matter who is in the church.
The effect of these bad relationships and choices depends on the strength of our relationship to God and to each other – whether we trust God enough to talk with God about it together, and whether we trust each other enough to get through the hard choices together.
The best weed prevention for the church is trusting, honest relationships. Communication with an open door to reconciliation. It can make all the difference in your faith. Can you own up to your own short-comings and ask for forgiveness? Can you let go of grudges and forgive? Are you open to the relationships God wants you to have? Are you open to healing? Talking through your issues? Can we trust God enough to let God do the weeding?
Jesus had no grand plan for getting rid of the weeds in that field of wheat. He doesn’t call the army of the faithful together; he didn’t give each of us a gallon of Round-up. He doesn’t give everybody a hoe. There are no rules of engagement about marching into a field of wheat to root out the weeds. In fact, Jesus says that we should go about our business, which is… to be wheat, not weeds. We’re not called to be the farmer. We are not God. Rooting up weeds is not part of our job description. We’d like to rain down hellfire and brimstone, but Jesus has other ideas. Wheat farmers say that at harvest the dry weeds will just blow right through the combine. We don’t have to worry.
So, be the wheat. Grow in the row where you were planted. Grow tall and strong and crowd out the weeds. Nurture the good in the midst of the evil. Don’t be a stalk of wheat in a field by yourself. Grow with the rest of the wheat. If you do, you worry less about weeds. The farmer’s going to take care of the weeds.
God has a plan. We can trust the plan.
When we respond to God’s call to faith in Jesus, and begin trusting each other, things begin to change in our wheat-field. Our world becomes a different place both in the way we see others and the way others see us. We stop seeing others as weeds and start doing something about the weeds in ourselves.
We thank you, God, for the summer sun, for cool water to swim in, for the fun of family and friends spending time together. We thank you for these summer days, which remind us that you are the creator and keeper of all good things. But God, we know that you want to create in us more than a pleasant day; we know that you have given each of us a dream, a purpose that you are ready to unleash in us if we will allow you to do it. Help us walk toward your future.
Give us the courage to dream your dream; give us the boldness to claim your vision; give us the strength to carry out your purpose in our lives. Help us clear away the weeds that keep us from being the people you intended us to be. Help us each surrender to your will. Amen.