Parable of the Weeds
My new house is certainly a work in progress. One of the chores on the list is to take care of the backyard – which is almost completely weeds. At first I just cut the backyard really short – that way the weeds were simply a patch of green. Yet, the weeds were still there – ready to grow back quicker, stronger. So, now I am in the process of preparing to grow grass in the backyard, which includes first killing the weeds and grass and starting over.
Weeds – it’s the reoccurring theme in today’s service. George Washington Carver described weeds as flowers that simply grow where we do not want them. In your yards, in your flower beds, in the cracks in your driveway – weeds have a way of continually popping up and annoying us. Yet, what happens when we want to dig up the weeds of the world? What happens when we feel like we are the weeds that have been dug up and pitched aside?
In today’s parable Jesus describes a householder who sows good seed in his field. That night, while everyone is sleeping, the enemy comes and sows weeds right in the same field where the wheat seed has been planted. This action was surely understood by Jesus’ crowd. It was a crime that had a specific punishment under Roman law. The tares – this weed called the bearded darnel was impossible in its early stages to distinguish between wheat. Once it is grown, its roots become intertwined with the plants it is around, which is why it becomes impossible to uproot without uprooting the wheat. The Jewish community had a very fitting name for the tares – bastard wheat.
Once Spring comes, the scene is anything but perfect - the weeds rise out of the ground right alongside the wheat. A mixed-up mess was what it was. You can't tell where the good stops and the bad begins. The master knew that the enemy had planted the weeds - Notice the master isn't worried in the least that the wheat will get choked out by the weeds. He knows that what he has planted will come to harvest. We know it, too. But sometimes we forget. Nothing can stop God's work in Christ. God’s kingdom is forever. Even when it's difficult to discern signs of the kingdom, the seeds of God plants are alive and well, growing, always growing in our midst.
Jesus is not teaching a lackadaisical faith. Jesus calls us to go out and transform lives – so we certainly are not called to sit back and watch the world pass us by. I struggle with the master's instructions to the servants that they are not to get involved with separating the wheat from the weeds. The master goes so far as to say that if they even try to do it, they could end up damaging the wheat. We can actually do harm to the new life Jesus is bringing into the world if we put on our garden gloves and head out with our bottles of Roundup aimed and ready, certain that we know what is useful to God and what is not.
Our churches are embroiled in all kinds of wrangles over issues – over which weeds need to be pulled. Our Christian denominations are even divided these days. Do you ever think our churches, our denominations, would be better off without those other people who are so wrong-headed and argumentative and with whom you vigorously disagree about important matters?
On a vastly deadlier scale, there are extremists all over the world today who believe they have a mandate from their god literally to destroy those whom they deem to be enemies of God. You would think that in a world so divided and filled with terror due to religious overload, that Christ's people have a special responsibility to bear witness in a better way.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he wrote: "God's purpose is not wrathful judgment. God's purpose is redemption, and the road to redemption is by way of reconciliation. Only in that way will the world finally be saved." Today's parable warns us against relying on our human capacity to know fully the mind of God. It also suggests that what might appear to be good and pure to us might not necessarily be either one.
We have the ability to judge pretty quickly what and whom we consider to be wheat and whom we consider to be weeds. What we want to grab at and who we want to cut down. Today’s parable coincides nicely with Jacob’s ladder. Up until this point in Genesis, Jacob, whose name even means striver and hustler, is painted as a weed. Some people have it made and others of us have to make it happen. Jacob was in the second camp. His older brother Esau, though, had it made. Esau seems to stumble into everything the rest of the world seems to be working so hard to achieve, and he takes it all for granted. Some people are just born right.
Quick background in case you don’t know - Jacob and Esau were twins. But they were far from being identical twins. Esau was a hairy man of the field. Jacob was a quiet, thoughtful, schemer. Their father was named Isaac, who isn't all that significant a figure except that he was their link to the blessings of life that Jacob wanted more than life itself. However, everyone assumed that these blessings would naturally fall to Esau, the first born. Everyone, that is, except the twins' mother Rebekah, who remembered that God promised to give the blessing to Jacob when the boys were still in her womb.
Surely Rebekah told her son about this promise. God told Jacob on several occasions. But Jacob just couldn't believe it, because everything in the world proclaimed a preference for Esau. The scriptures make it clear that Esau was Isaac's favorite son. Esau was chosen first when their friends were picking teams for games. Esau was the one picked by the teachers in school. Esau got into the best colleges, he had the highest paying job when he graduated with all the honors. Esau's grass was always greener than Jacob's. So maybe Jacob’s mamma thought he was pretty special. But Jacob was no Esau. Esau was a mighty piece of wheat, Jacob was a raggedy weed. That's the message Jacob constantly heard.
Today Jacob is on the run because Esau was so angry he wanted to kill Jacob. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, which we heard about last week. Jacob also deceived their father in order to steal Esau’s blessing – the one that Isaac received from Abraham who in turn received it from God. So, Jacob, who has actually been hustling and running his whole life, now runs away from the inheritance he tried to hustle from his family, he falls to the ground in exhaustion. As he falls asleep, Jacob receives the dreams of God.
While Jacob was sleeping, a great ladder appeared between heaven and earth. Angels were going up and down the ladder. Before this night Jacob had been dreaming that if only he could climb the ladder of success, he would make these wonderful things happen. So he climbed and he climbed-but he never got to his dreams. Yet, in God's dream, Jacob isn't even on the ladder. He's not climbing. God is at the top. The angels are the ones going back and forth. And Jacob just receives the blessing, by grace. See, Jacob was trying not to be a weed his whole life – he tried as hard as he could – yet it wasn’t until God got a hold of him that he was transformed.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant in today’s parable – that we can try as hard as we want to make a field of just wheat – void of any weeds – yet the enemy will still creep in and weeds will still emerge. People have tried to create perfect communities – yet they have failed. One pastor preached that “We could work hard to have a town characterized by the absence of evil, yet that is not the same as a town characterized by the presence of good.” And maybe this is what Jesus was talking about all along, when we strive to clear out the wheat field we can wind up having a field with nothing in it at all.