To pick-up from last Sunday and to catch up those who may not have had the chance to hear, Jesus begins to teach us in parables, from a boat just off the beach, because the gathered crowd including fisher folk followers is so large. The first parable is about a sower who sowed seed on a path, rocky ground, among weeds and in good soil, and all the ways it grew or not because of where it fell. And with Jesus’ somewhat mysterious and sometimes confusing words about why he teaches in parables in between, he then offers an allegorical explanation as to what the sower who sows on varied soils means in the realm of God’s world. And if we can resist the temptation to think we know what it all means, we hear Jesus’ parable-teaching holds possibilities we may never have “thought of that way before.” And all with the assurance that there will be a harvest, 30, 60 even 100-fold! Let anyone with ears, listen!
Well, listen up! again! As we just heard, Jesus tells another agricultural parable, this time unique to Mathew’s Gospel, of the soil not being an issue, but of wheat and weeds growing together. And with a couple little parables about a mustard seed and yeast in between, Jesus again offers an allegorical explanation to unknowing disciples. This way of hearing the parable, of the wheat - children of God’s world sown by Jesus, and weeds - children of evil sown by the devil, all growing together and the great judgement at the end of time, may be very connected to the Gospel writer of Matthew’s own time of painful community divisions over loyalty and disloyalty to Jesus and one another in the midst of social, political, religious upheaval and crisis. This way of seeing people as wheat or weeds and harsh judgement to come, is troubling. But again, is Jesus’ parable-teaching inviting us to imagine ways we have not seen or thought of before, for us and this world, in our time.
This is a quirkier story, with strange ideas of an owner sowing seeds herself, an enemy sowing weed seeds in the same field at night, servants who notice the weeds and ask how they got there, and the owner’s surprising but seemingly true explanation of an enemy doing this; the servant’s suggestion they pull up the weeds right away, and the owner’s decision not to, because the wheat would be lost with the weeds, and instead to let them grow together until harvest and everything will be sorted out in the end into weeds to be burned and wheat to be stored in the barns. What could Jesus’ parable-teaching be showing us this time?
Weeds grow. Around the church, in the garden beds and the lawn, like anywhere, weeds grow. We are grateful to those who have been tending to the weeds over the past few weeks, since they have been growing in abundance! Many of us have noticed how evident it is that Bob is not here who used to tend the lawns and keep the weeds in check right up to his 93 year! I never heard Bob complain that some enemy was sowing weed seeds in the grass! Just the wisdom that if you kept the grass healthy (and yes, used a little weed control) the weeds didn’t take over. We’re working at it, Bob. And you are surely missed in this and so many ways! I never heard Bob name the weeds evil children of the devil either but disliked them just the same. And he, nor we, would refer to someone as just a weed, even if any one of us in any number of ways can be out in the weeds sometimes.
The Hebrew scripture reading for this Sunday of Jacob on the run from his brother Esau after tricking him out of his birthright and inheritance, holds the gracious blessing of God, that is essentially the same blessing God gave to Abraham, of ancestors and the land, all in God’s constant presence, but this time for his grandson, Jacob, despite his cheating his brother and deceiving his father. Jacob could certainly be seen as among the weeds. But God sees a seed of wheat in Jacob that will produce 30, 60 even 100-fold, that all the families of the earth would be blessed. The “certain place” where Jacob slept with his head on a stone pillow and dreamed of a ladder and angels ascending and descending from heaven, that Jacob then recognizes as “awesome” and anoints as “Bethel - the house of God” and the “gate of heaven,” was the very place where Abraham had previously set up an altar to God and returned to worship there, but Jacob did not know it. Wheat and weeds altogether, and God brings a harvest of blessings out of it all.
A colleague in university chaplaincy and ministry, David Kaiser, whom some of will know, years ago wrote about weeds, and specifically dandelions. Dave liked dandelions. Their bright yellow flowers and tenacious ability to grow in the slightest soil. Dave wrote poems about them asking who declared them a weed to be weeded out, rather than a flower. Is anything truly a weed in all God’s creation, or is that entirely our designating? Distinguishing between weeds and wheat is not so simple, so maybe, like Jesus’ parable says, we better be careful when pulling up weeds since we may be pulling up wheat also.
Assistant to the Bishop in our BC Synod, Pastor Kathy Martin, in her sermon for this Sunday, identifying the weed in the parable as darnel or “false wheat,” a rye grass that looks like wheat as it’s growing, with roots that entangle themselves with the wheat and produce a poisonous seed, writes: The church has been wrong enough times in these situations of trying to determine what is wheat and what is weed, that we need to exercise a fair bit of caution before we judge or uproot things we think don’t belong. I think of the church’s involvement in unbelievable things in the past like witch burning or crusades, in our treatment of the (Queer) community, or… it won’t take you long to add to the list (I’m adding: women, children, indigenous, black, other people of colour, differently abled, people questioning or believe differently, political opponents, those who are poor, addicted, struggling, the earth…) Attempts to weed out those we think don’t belong can have horrible consequences for generations. Kathy quotes author Barbara Brown Taylor who wrote: “Sometimes it is mighty hard to tell the difference between a good plant and a bad one especially when it can act both ways. I suppose we have all had the experience of uprooting the raspberries by mistake or protecting something interesting that turns out to be a thistle. I don’t know what makes us think we are any smarter about ourselves or about the other people in our lives. We are so quick to judge, as if we were sure we knew the difference between wheat and weeds, good seed and bad, but that is seldom the case. Turn us loose with our machetes and there is no telling what we will chop down and what we will spare. Meaning to be good servants, we go out to do battle with the weeds and end up standing in a pile of wheat.”
In the reading from Romans that continues this Sunday, Paul writes about all who are led by the Spirit, receive a Spirit of adoption, like weeds to wheat, to call God “Abba” as God’s very children and heirs of God’s promises like Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, Esau and Jacob before us. And with all creation waiting with eager longing, groaning in labour pains right up to now, to be set free from captivity to decay, for glorious redemption of the body of all creation, in patient hope, wheat and weeds altogether, trusting the God of harvest!
Patience, faith, waiting with eager longing, groaning with all creation in labour pains, wheat and weeds altogether, not knowing what may grow, or be born, or not - we hope in black lives that forever matter and a blessed end to anti-black and all racism, hope in just reconciliation with indigenous peoples and their lands, hope in equity and security for those who are poor and homeless, hope in protection and safety for those struggling with addictions and dying in record numbers on our streets, hope in ethical integrity and accountability for our government once again caught in mistrust and scandal, hope in care for those infected and affected by the virus in illness and death, of elders and other loved ones, or communities and nations where the pandemic is raging or raging again, and the fear and uncertainty this holds for so many, for all of us, caught as we are in the weeds of this time… and God’s growing wheat seeds of good news, of patient hope in the midst of suffering, adopted Spirit-children and heirs of God’s promise that God makes us all, as the Psalmist confesses, “God you search me out and know me,” yes, wheat and weeds altogether, not judging or pulling others out, but growing together, in the hope of God’s promise that the Spirit is growing a glorious redemptive harvest of God’s making, and waiting and working for it with holy, gracious, patience and persistence. Is that, Jesus, what you are hoping we might see today in your parable-teaching. Let anyone with ears to hear, listen! And let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.