July 23, 2017
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev Rod Sprange
Separating the Weeds from the Wheat - Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
This week we continued to listen to chapter 13 of Matthew and another of Jesus’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whenever Jesus was asked to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, he never gave a direct answer, he always answered with an enigmatic story or parable. Probably because there are things that just can’t be described directly - but truths about them can be told through myths and analogies. So he frequently answered by saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a...”. Never “In the Kingdom of heaven you will be doing this or seeing that...”
I think Jesus also used the parable form of teaching to get people curious, to get them to think carefully about its meaning and to discover the truth. Often a parable left the audience with an unanswered question - “...so what will you do?” He often added a challenge too “Let those with ears hear”. Meaning ‘you need to listen carefully to this, and you will be blessed if you can hear and respond to the truth of this story.’
That’s why I am a little cautious when pondering the explanations Matthew adds after the re-telling of the parables. These explanations, according to Matthew, were given just to the disciples not the crowds. I lean towards the theory that these were additions made by the evangelist or his editors for their particular community - maybe decades after the event. So while they are helpful, I think we have to be careful how we use them; recognizing that they were likely intended for a particular community at a specific time in history.
This parable of the wheat and the weeds is certainly challenging. There are two typical responses to this parable, either of which leads to a rather problematic and unhelpful understanding of the nature of God.
If we take the parable and explanation literally it sounds like our God is quite comfortable with bringing awful judgement on sinners and condemning them to a terrible punishment - to suffer in agony for eternity. This doesn’t fit with the healing and forgiving nature of God seen in the life and death of Jesus. If we lean too far the other way we see God as so lenient in forgiveness that there is no judgement and there are no consequences at all, making God seem like an over indulgent grandparent. But this would deny the Bible’s and Jesus’s clear teachings of judgement and consequences for sin. So that view just won’t do. This leaves us somewhere in the middle, or perhaps, with God’s mystery, somewhere else entirely. We often argue as if there are only two sides to things, when there are probably many dimensions to consider.
I think it is clear that Jesus is giving us fair warning that there will be judgement and consequences for all, and he wants us, through faith, and the fruits of faith, to find the godliness that is within us and to reject our evil tendencies and live as God would wish us to. I believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness, but I also believe there are consequences. I can forgive a careless person for denting my car (eventually), but I still want them to pay to have it repaired.
Let’s look at the parable. The landowner has the fields sewn with good seed, but when it starts to grow the workers discover that lots of weeds are also growing amongst the wheat.
The workers ask the landowner why there are weeds - hadn’t he used good seed?
Behind this part of the story is the question of where our sinfulness comes from. If God is the creator of all, then why is there sin? Did God create sin?
We don’t have time this morning to try to get to the bottom of that huge question - but the answer of the landowner is quite clear and should set us in the right direction. He said he had not sewn the seed from which the weeds grew - this seed had been sewn by an enemy in the night.
The workers then ask if they should pull up the weeds. But the landowner tells them to leave it alone, or they will unwittingly uproot the wheat too.
We too often rush to judgement about other people or other people’s lifestyles, not knowing what is going on in their lives or seeing the good in them. I think the instruction of the landowner is offering us clear direction. God is the judge and God is patient. God wants the good seed to grow. It is not for us to think we can weed out the bad. We need to learn patience and tolerance.
We tend to think of the weeds as being those who do evil and the wheat as those who are ‘good’. But we are also taught that none of us is without sin. So where would you draw the line at what designates us as wheat and what designates another as weed? We could probably all agree that we would classify a man like Adolf Hitler as evil and therefore one of the weeds. But be careful, we must have hope that God can find something redeemable in each of us. We all have evil thoughts at times, as well as good and kind thoughts. We all say some destructive things at times, as well as kind and constructive things. We all do some things that we know we shouldn’t or have done things in the past we know we shouldn’t. So should we be classified as weed or wheat. Where is the line to be drawn - below my level of sinfulness I hope.
But let’s take a different approach to hearing this parable.
Remember last week the parable was about good seed landing on different types of soil. The idea being we are the soil, and depending on our nature we will receive the seed, the Good News differently.
Today’s parable follows right after last week’s. So let’s assume that in the parable of the weeds and the wheat we are still the soil onto which the two types of seed are sown.
So here I am, soil made to receive seed. I receive God’s good seed, but I also get some of the enemies bad seed too. How else can we account for the ugly thoughts that come to our minds. I wish I only thought good thoughts, always responded in a loving and forgiving way, was always unselfish and acted with kindness. Unfortunately that’s not my reality.
Both types of seed grow in me and in you - the good and the bad. I hope and pray that more good seed germinates and comes to harvest in me than weeds, but weeds I suspect there are. And I imagine you also have a nice little bunch of weeds trying to grow in you.
The Gospel doesn’t tells us not to be complacent about our spiritual health. If we hear and believe we should be transformed - continuously. But it takes effort.
As Christians we hear the Gospel, attend church, receive communion, perhaps attend Christian education sessions or Bible Studies in the hopes of feeding the good seed, and perhaps we engage in various ministries within and outside the church which are the fruits of the good seed.
But we also succumb to the temptations of the world. We learn to judge others. We learn how to hurt others in various ways. We learn to be envious of others, we learn to crave power and prestige and control. We think nasty thoughts, we neglect our prayer life and forget to thank God for all our blessings. What a lovely bunch of weeds we have been nurturing.
So, let’s suppose that this parable is less about separating the good people from the evil ones, but about separating what is good and healthy in us from what is evil and destructive.
When the time of judgement comes, perhaps it’s not so much about some of us getting into the kingdom while others are destroyed - perhaps it’s more about a time when all that is evil and destructive in us is purged from us - ripped out of us and destroyed - leaving only what is good and healthy in us - the most God-like part of us.
I suspect this would be a spiritually painful and distressing process and the more evil within us the more difficult it would be. I think the problem is we really don’t want to let go of much that is destructive in us. We can learn to enjoy hate or jealousy or envy. They can feel good in a perverse way. If these were easy to be rid of we would do a much better job of that now. This time of judgement would not be an easy process. I think it is possible that for some evil is so much a part of them, they would be unable to bear the thought of accepting the process and may find themselves separated from God for eternity, creating there own hell. But I have to believe that every one of us will be given the choice of accepting or rejecting that final refining fire and the new life in God’s Kingdom. The more diligently we work at developing God’s gifts in us, and seeking to walk in God’s ways now, the easier that choice should be. Have faith, God’s mercy is great.
So what do we do now? We can spend time in self examination - perhaps seek spiritual direction. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much about the weeds but learn to discover and nurture all that comes from God. That’s not too difficult to do. Look for anything in you that is based on love and that will be good - look for that which is destructive or damaging and it is most probably the enemy of God. If we nurture the good it will choke out the bad.
It is important that we persevere in our faith and trust in God. Regular weekly attendance in a church community can help with this. We can come here to get recharged, to find renewed hope, observe faith in others and receive love.
And we can each pray for God’s help in being part of giving that love, letting others see our faith and help in building up the body of Christ.
We don’t need to pull up the weeds, we just have to make sure we are watering and feeding the wheat. If left unattended the weeds should wither and die.
I think it would be helpful to regularly pray:
‘Make our hearts clean O God, and renew a right spirit within us’.
I give thanks for each of you and all that you do to build up the body of Christ in this community and all that you do to bring about God’s Kingdom in the world,