July 20, 2014 - Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

“Leave the Weeds Alone”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 20, 2014

 

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!

 

One reason why we tell stories is that people ask us questions and the only way to answer their questions is to tell them a story. One of our youth recently asked me "How did you decide to become a pastor?"

 

"Well, funny you should ask. I don't know if I really ever decided to become a pastor or if God just kept putting it in front of me. It was more like I was drafted, sort of.  It took eight years…" and that was the beginning of a really long story.

 

They must have asked Jesus lots of questions, for he told lots of stories. Trouble is, for most of Jesus' stories he is depicted as just telling a string of stories, like today's Gospel. But the Gospel writers don't give you the argument or the question that provoked the story, like today's Gospel.

 

Jesus says that in God's reign there is a lot of sloppy farming. Oops, that's my interpretation.

 

This farmer sows good seed in his field, and then an enemy comes and sows weeds in with his good grain.  Now how probable is that?  But then, when the wheat and weeds grow, only then do the farm hands see what has been done.  There is a weed called darnel that is supposed to look just like wheat, except when harvest time comes.  So, the farm hands ask the logical question: “You want us to go and rip out all the weeds?”

 

The first response of the farmer is, "An enemy has done this!" Some enemy has come and sown the seeds for weeks amid the good wheat.

 

That's a rather improbable explanation, it seems to me. That's a risky, troublesome way for somebody to get back at the farmer. Ever heard of anybody trying to get back at his enemy by sowing crabgrass in a neighbor's lawn? Those of you who are fighting crabgrass in your lawns may want to believe that the weeds are there, not because of you, but because of your mean next door neighbor sneaking around at night sowing weeds. But really now, isn't it more likely that weeds just happen? Throw some seeds out in a field, the seeds may germinate, but so do the weeds, their seeds secretly lying next to the wheat.

 

What's this story about? What was the question that provoked it? Don't you think it might have been a question like, "Lord, we've got so many good people in our congregation, why do we also have those who spread dissension, who criticize, and complain?"

 

Well first of all, the wheat and weeds are a metaphor for us in this world.  So yes, it would be crazy for an enemy to mix weeds with wheat, but it is the Evil One’s Modus Operandi to sow dissension, conflict and other spiritual destruction among God’s children. 

 

Not only is this a metaphor for our world, it is also a metaphor for the church today.  I remember the time a woman come forward during the invitation to join the church.  She had been visiting that church for a few months.  She was joyful about it.  Then, her sister came down out of the choir loft to the pastor.  The pastor, in his naïveté assumed that her sister was going to be rejoicing with her sister’s decision.  When her sister leaned in to the pastor she whispered in his ear, “Preacher, we can’t let a woman like that join this church.  Call it to a vote and vote her down.”  True story.

 

I also remember the time that a man who had been a church leader for over 40 years came into the pastor’s office after discovering that the church was being rented out to a couple for their wedding in 2 weeks, and he didn’t like it one bit.  He wasn’t going to allow that couple to get married in his church – because the couple was African-American.  Another true story.

 

Yep.  Seems like there are always some weeds mixed up in the wheat.

 

Now we all understand that Jesus’ parables are really about us, right?  He says this is about the Kingdom of God, so that means this is about us since we are all about the Kingdom of God.  OK, we understand the seed on different soil thing – some people here and don’t get it, some people hear and refuse to let go of the world, and some people hear and take it to heart.  We are arrogant enough to think that means us, but we’ll go with that for the time being.  But then Jesus talks about the weeds in the wheat and we get confused.  Certainly we all weed our gardens, don’t we?  Certainly we would all want to pull out the round up and kill all the unsightly things that do not belong.  But Jesus is not us and God is in charge.

 

Jesus says something very profound here.  “Leave the weeds alone.”  If you rip up the weeds, the wheat will be destroyed with it.  Leave the weeds alone.  Quit trying to rid yourselves of all the imperfections among you – let God sort them out at harvest time.

 

The church has been guilty of all sorts of evil – especially when talking about how the church treats its own.  Christians have been killed by other Christians, all in the name of purity.  Denominations have split and split again.  Churches have split.  There are entire generations of people that will not DARE enter the door of a church because they feel that someone inside will tell them they aren’t good enough to be here.  The church, the body of Christ on this earth, has become a place where we celebrate the perfect and kill our own wounded.  We forget our place.  We forget who is in charge.  We forget that we are just farm hands and the Boss said to “leave the weeds alone.”  It is not our job to decide who is a saint and who is a sinner.

 

What makes a Saint?  It is not a matter of what a person does, especially the people in the Bible, but rather what God does through a person.  A person is called a saint in the Bible because God wants that person to do something holy, not because that person is holy.  No one is holy but God.  Saints are people that are called by God to do God’s work.[1]

 

What looks like seediness to you or me more often looks like potential saintliness to God.  Maybe God passes over the nice, pure, beautiful people, the ones we regard as saintly, because nice, pure, sweet people can’t always get the job done.  God takes on tough jobs and therefore needs tough people to pull them off.[2]

 

Now I imagine you have several people that come to mind when you think of the word “saint.”  So do I.  You might be thinking of your mother, or perhaps your old Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Brown, who taught you how to memorize scripture in the third grade.  We would never put ladies like Mama or Mrs. Brown in the same category with Rahab, a prostitute, would we? But Rahab was called a saint – in scripture.  I submit to you that any woman that is able to raise you or me, or is able to run a third grade Sunday School class, without either receiving or inflicting some amount of bodily harm has got more going for her than just her sweet smile and never ending patience.  A woman that can take 8 year old pagans and make good Christian children out of them is made of sterner stuff than we give her credit for.[3]

 

This text challenges us on several points. 

 

1) Here we are – we think we’re God’s wheat – and we have weeds all around us, weeds that choke out the life in good plants.  But we have no way of telling the good from the bad, not really.  Only God gets to do that at judgment.  One of the most disappointing moments of my ministry was when I heard a member of my church (not this one) once say to someone “We don’t let just anybody in our church.” 

 

2) Here’s the other point.  I automatically assumed that I am among the wheat – the good ones.  But what if…>gasp< …could I be?...Am I a weed?  >gasp<!!  Could I possibly be an obstacle?  Upon further reflection, I have to admit that I could be. Just like the woman that didn’t want certain kinds of people in our church, I was sure ready to boot her to the curb and delete her name from our members if I could have.

 

I'll admit it. There are times when I wish that God had given me the ability to judge and to punish others for their unrighteousness. I see so clearly what is wrong with them. Alas, nothing in scripture suggests that these matters are my concern.

 

And then I think about all those moments in scripture when it's as if Jesus wants to make clear that I wouldn't know just what good and bad looked like and I couldn't draw a line between righteousness and unrighteousness if I had to. Remember his parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25? The goats didn't know that they were goats and the sheep didn't know that they were sheep until the Lord told them so. And recall all those stories of Pharisees who thought they were so very good and publicans who thought that they were so very bad, all being shocked and surprised that God looked at things differently than they looked at things.

Isn't it rather ironic that in this Sunday's parable of the weeds and the wheat that the servants (you and I say that we are servants of Jesus) consider the weeds to be the big problem. "What do you want us to do with all these worthless weeds?" they ask.

 

Yet when you read the Gospels, it doesn't seem like it's the bad "weeds" that bring Jesus to such grief but rather the oh-so-righteous "wheat"! His choicest words of criticism and judgment were for the self-confidently, self-evidently "good," not the notoriously "bad."

 

So perhaps one of the meanings of this parable is that Jesus is saying, "I wouldn't trust you people to root out the evil and to establish the good. Only I know for sure the final valuation of anything that's in my garden."

 

How quickly we forget that we are all so much alike.  If it were not for the grace of God, you would be very weedy.  We are all weeds – weeds that have the chance to be transformed by the power of God’s grace into wheat – Out of which comes the bread that can feed the world.  We are wheat because we have been made so, not because of anything we did.

 

I hear Jesus saying to me, “Leave the weeds alone.  Just do your job, farm hand.  Follow orders.  Love God and love others.  Do your job and leave the weeds alone.”  Let God worry about the weeds; let us worry about working for God. 

 

When we get so worked up about this or that, which has nothing to do with the gospel or God, we forget our place.  We forget what we are here for.  We forget that God is the only one that can tell weeds from wheat.  Find there is something you don’t like about your church or someone in your church?  Leave the weeds alone!  Do your job.  Love God and love others.  We forget that we were all weeds once. 

 

It is through the wheat that weeds become wheat.  It is through the wheat of this table that we are all fed. This wheat is the body of Christ.  Through his sacrifice, we all have life, and are able to give life to others. 

 

[1] Willimon, Pulpit Resource, p. 14.

[2] Ibid, p. 15.

[3] Ibid.

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