Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Is this a weed? Or is it wheat?

Text for this week:  Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Today we hear another parable about seeds.  We are in a seed parable mini-series: last week the parable of the sower, this week the parable of the wheat and weeds, and next week several small parables including the one about the mustard seed.  In these parables Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven. 

The Kingdom of heaven is like this: 
It seems The Farmer sowed good seed in his field and when the plants got big, the servants discovered that there are lots of weeds in the wheat. 

Their first thought is, “Didn’t the Farmer use good seed?  How did the Farmer let this happen?”
The Farmer reassured them.  “Of course I used good, clean seed.  But an enemy has sowed weeds in my fields.”

This alarms the servants!  “Oh let us go out and tear up all the weeds!  We’ll get rid of this problem for you!”
But the Farmer says, “No, you can’t do that.  You’ll just pull out some of the wheat when you’re pulling weeds.  We’ll let them grow up together and when the harvesters come to harvest, the problem will be solved.  The weeds will blow right out the back of the combine and the wheat will go safely into the bins.”

It’s not always so easy to tell the weeds from the wheat.  Sometimes even the ones who should be able to tell can’t.

In Fort Wayne, we lived in a townhouse with a patio.  There was a small area to plant flowers at the edge of the patio.  In addition, at the corner of the patio, there was a roughly 5’ x 10’ area where, for some reason, grass wasn’t seeded.  Taking a cue from the nice lady next door who had an amazing patio garden, we planted every inch. We planted marigolds, and impatiens, and zinnias.  We planted tomatoes, and zucchini, and bell peppers and scarlet runner beans.  I even put in a small patch of strawberries at the end of the garden. 
There was a rain spout right at the end of the area.  I saw how nice my neighbor’s clematis looked climbing her rain spouts and decided to plant morning glories there.  There was just one problem.  Apparently, the landscapers couldn’t tell that those were morning glories and not weeds.  Every time they were just about ready to bloom, someone would cut them off.  I marked them “morning glories” and they still were cut off.  I put up a sign, “Morning glories – do not cut or remove.”  Still, they would be killed.

I had the same problem with our small flower plot at the seminary. I had planted dianthus, not realizing they would come back up each year. So I was excited when they came up looking nicer than the year before. The problem was that the landscapers apparently had never seen dianthus. So, when they came to spray for weeds, my flowers would be sprayed too, unless they had actually started flowering. Some years, I was there when the landscapers started spraying, and warned them. This year, I missed them and 12 beautiful plants were sprayed and mulched over.
The people who should have known the difference between wheat and weeds can’t always tell.

Now in defense of the servants in the parable, this particular weed is very tricky.  It is a grassy weed called darnel that grows in the Palestine area.  When it’s growing it looks almost exactly like wheat.  You can’t really tell the difference until the plants start to get seed heads.  The darnel seeds are very light, while wheat seeds are heavy.  So the darnel heads stand straight up while the wheat begins to bend over. 
Of course, by this time the root systems of the wheat and the darnel are intertwined.  So when the servants could finally tell the difference between the wheat and the darnel, there was no way to remove one without damaging the other.

It can be hard to know what’s a weed and what’s a flower.

One of my favorite novelists is Father Andrew Greeley.  In addition to writing books, he is a parish priest.  His homilies are usually stories and they are posted online.  He tells a story about a teen age boy who just wasn’t living up to his potential.[i]  He skated by in school and his teachers called him lazy.  He freely admitted that his teachers were probably right.  He shirked his chores at home and wanted to spend all his time playing video games.  He did just enough to get by at his job.  It looked like he would never amount to much of anything.
Then one day, he announced he was going to South America to volunteer in a small, poor village.  His parents laughed at this idea, saying he would never last the summer.  Everyone at his church said that he had no idea what he was getting into and he wouldn’t like it.  His teachers wondered what on earth he could possibly have to offer to villagers that would be useful to them. 
He didn’t care what people said.  He earned the money for plane fare and went anyway. 

And he loved it!  He loved the hard work.  He loved the primitive village.  He loved the people who lived there.  And they loved him.  They appreciated all he did for the village, how hard he worked for them.  They appreciated how he was never too tired, or too busy, to do whatever was needed.  They appreciated how he played with the young children, and listened to the stories of the elders.  The local pastor wrote to the pastor back home and told her that this young man was one of the finest youths he had ever seen.
 You just can’t always tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds.

And that’s ok, because, in the end it’s not our job.  It’s the job of the Farmer and the job of the harvesters, who Jesus tells us are the angels.  In this parable we are the servants.  We may want to help God out by removing all the weeds from around us.   But that’s not our job! 
It’s not our job, because we are not God.  Hear again the words of God from Isaiah:  I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.  Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.  Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.[ii]

There is only one God – and it’s not you, and it’s sure not me! 

But we want to be like God.  We want to be good servants of God.  We want to do God’s work.  Sometimes in our eagerness to be good children of our Father, to be the good seed, we get so excited that we overstep our job.  We try to be the Parent, instead of the child.  We try to be the Farmer instead of the servant.  We try to be the Sower instead of the seed. 
We too easily deal out judgment of who is the wheat and who is the weed. And that’s not our job.  We think we know what God thinks.  We forget that we are not God and we don’t know the mind of God.  We forget that, like a small child, we need to be taught.  The Psalm today remembers this.  The psalmist asks God, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”[iii] to teach him God’s ways. 

The Farmer is patient, unwilling to sacrifice even one wheat seedling from maturing into the harvest.  God desires for all creation to be renewed and God patiently delays judgment, in order that all might be saved.

This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to sin.  Later in Matthew,[iv]  Jesus teaches the disciples how to correct each other when one sins – going privately, then taking 2-3 others if the one in error does not listen, then bringing that one before the leadership of the church, and finally removing them from the congregation until he or she repents.  But I think it is important to notice that this procedure is sandwiched between Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the lost one and Jesus telling Peter to forgive 70 times 7, to forgive as the Father has forgiven. We do need to hold each other accountable, but we also need to remember that as children of God we need to imitate God’s mercy, grace and steadfast love.
But it’s a lot easier to judge than to forgive, to punish than to show mercy.  I am reminded of a scene from The Fellowship of the Rings:

Frodo the Hobbit is bitter that Gollum has caused additional trouble for him and the ones seeking to destroy the Ring of (evil) Power.  He wishes that when the side of Good had the chance, Gollum had been killed.  Gandalf cautions Frodo, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.[v] 
It’s not always easy to tell the wheat from the weeds.  And even when it seems obvious, in the kingdom of heaven where “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,”[vi] what looks to us like weeds just might be growing into a new strain of wheat under the skilled Master Farmer’s hand.

I wonder how hard it is for the wheat to tell if the other plants around it are weeds or wheat?
Because, in this parable, we are also the wheat.  The harvesters will know that we are wheat because we produce good fruit.  We may worry about the weeds choking us out, like in the parable of the Sower, but the Farmer does not seem to be too worried about that.  Like last week, the Farmer knows that the seed he sows will produce an abundant harvest and nothing – hard dirt, rocky soil…or weeds - can keep that from happening.  

Jesus says that the wheat will bear fruit – that the children of the kingdom with shine like the sun.  That’s us.  We will reflect the glory of the Father.  We will be known because we produce the fruit of the Spirit –love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control[vii] - an abundant harvest.

I started out by saying that in this parable Jesus was teaching about the kingdom of heaven.  If you’ve ever watched a VeggieTales video, at the end of each one Bob the Tomato asks what we learned today.  So I ask, what have we learned from Jesus today? 

·         We learned that in the kingdom of God which has drawn near right now, good and evil live side by side. 

·         We learned that in the end time, God is going to make it right, that evil will be destroyed. 

·         We learned that, as God’s servants, we are not the ones to make the decisions on what is weed and what is wheat. 

·         We learned that as the good seed, the wheat, God’s children and heirs, God will make us prosper in this evil, weed infested world, and we will bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.
As wheat, our only job is to grow.  In working on my sermon this week, I ran across this quote one of my colleagues posted on facebook:

It is not for us to determine who the weeds and wheat are. However, we must ask ourselves, "How should we live our lives amongst the other plants in the field?"
God of Life, we ask you this day to be a compassionate and forgiving harvester. May we be nourished in good soil, and raised to be gathered in your harvest. Amen.[viii]

[i] Paraphrased from Father Greeley’s homily from
[ii] Isaiah 55: 6b-8
[iii] Psalm 86:15
[iv] Matthew 18:15-19
[v] Lord of the Rings, Gandalf in the Mines of Moria.
[vi] Romans 8:28
[vii] Galatians 5:22-23  
[viii] Quote gleaned from Rhonda Gallagher’s FaceBook status, attributed to Craig Wexler

[i] Paraphrased from Father Greeley’s homily from
[ii] Isaiah 55: 6b-8
[iii] Psalm 86:15
[iv] Matthew 18:15-19
[v] Lord of the Rings, Gandalf in the Mines of Moria.
[vi] Romans 8:28
[vii] Galatians 5:22-23  
[viii] Quote gleaned from Rhonda Gallagher’s FaceBook status, attributed to Craig Wexler


  1. I really liked all the stories you tell as you lead us to becoming the wheat. Thanks so much!

  2. I'm with Sharon as well, the illustrations in Indiana, seminary, and South Africa illuminate the parable very well.

  3. "As wheat, our only job is to grow." Love that.