Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] 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!” – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Just in time for this parable, the weekly e-news from my local farm share was all about weed management. It said this: “Rather than focus on hand weeding every time we see a weed, we try to keep our priorities straight. Harvesting and planting are maybe the most important jobs, field preparation and fertilizing are not far behind. It’s only the beginning of summer but we’ve already begun prepping our fields for next year. The better we are able to prep our fields for the following year, the fewer weeds we’ll have to contend with this time next summer…If we were to attempt to pull out every weed on the farm by hand, addressing the symptoms of the problem, rather than the root cause, we’d have weeds three times as big in the first bed we weeded by the time we finish weeding the last bed.”
Just like in the parable, dealing with the weeds is a matter of priority. The workers want nothing more than to go in and rip up those annoying, offending plants. They want to be able to do something about this mess. They want to be able to take action and solve the problem. But suppose they even can identify the weeds from wheat. They’d still spend the whole growing season hunting down every last weed, uproot some good wheat in the process, and miss all the other important things that need to be done to help the wheat grow and thrive.
As hopeless as their plan is to weed the field and rid it of the invading plants, wouldn’t it be nice if solving the problems of our lives and our world were even that simple? We are fully aware of the existence of evil in our world and in ourselves, and this parable, rather than explaining the presence of bad things, simply invites us to accept their existence as part of life – that the weeds grow right along with the wheat. War, violence, hunger, cancer, dementia, depression, fear, anxiety, it all grows in and around us.
There are other parables that invite us into action, stories and teaching that invite us to respond with love and care to our neighbors. That means actively working for peace, transforming food systems to enable all people access to healthy food, developing new ways to treat and cure cancer, accompanying those in distress and supporting stigma-free environments for them to seek help and treatment. But this parable seems to be about simply understanding that the world is not as we always want it to be, that this world isn’t always as God wants it to be, and that, in some form or another God is still tending to us all with great care with a plan for a kingdom where all is made new.
This seems to me to be an invitation to make peace with the existence of evil and all that threatens our life and livelihoods. It’s not meant to invite us to complacency or inaction. It’s not meant to say that the bad stuff in and around us doesn’t matter. But it is to say that we are not always so good at labeling what is good and what is bad. As soon as we label one thing or one person as the problem to be removed, we start down a road where eventually we have to point the finger back at ourselves. And when we start trying to excise the weeds, we end up ripping up perfectly good plants, too. And I daresay we sometimes intentionally and unintentionally water and fertilize the weeds in our lives.
But if this parable is about what we shouldn’t do and cannot know – the solution to evil, the labeling and sorting of good from bad, what the somewhat frightening sounding talk of end times really means – then we need to also consider what it is we can do and what it is we certainly know.
What we can do is to seek ways to tend well that which we want to see flourish. It’s human nature to dwell on the things that we regret, the things we wish had never happened or to dwell on the times we have been hurt or excluded – the times we have experienced pain and suffering. But we might instead train ourselves to focus on celebrating that which is growing and flourishing in us and around us. We might train ourselves to pause to give thanks that God has planted us where we are and that we have been given life and breath, roots to nourish and support us, and the opportunity to bear fruit for the sake of the world. We can turn that invitation to our communities and to our congregation, too, where we tend to spend a lot of time and energy both in our thinking and our acting on the areas where we see challenges and problems, things that genuinely do need attention. Yet we sometimes fail to spend as much time celebrating and nourishing that which is growing well and bearing fruit. That kind of tending our own gardens, nourishing the healthy, life-giving plants, as advocated by Jesus and your local neighborhood CSA, might guide us into a new way of looking at our lives and it might help us grow more aware of the one who plants us, the one who waters us, the one who enables us to live.
But even more important than what we can do is what we know. Even in the face of the existence of evil and suffering, in the face of pain and hardship, in the face of fear about the future and regrets about the past, we have God’s sure and certain promises. We have the promise of baptism in which God waters us into life and shares the light of Christ to allow us to grow. When evil sprouts up in us and around us, that promise is not revoked. It is renewed every time we hear God’s words of forgiveness spoken to us, words which are without a doubt the proclamation of the already enacted forgiveness of God. Though evil continues to grow, God’s forgiveness never waivers. And with that forgiveness we are invited to the table where we have the assurance of Christ’s presence with us in bread and wine and in the gathered community. Christ is here today in us, around us, with us.
We do not have a full explanation for the presence of evil and suffering. We do not have an easy answer for how to deal with its presence. But we do have the assurance of a God whose love for us is beyond measure, who tends us with care and grace, focusing on ways to raise us up to flourish and bear fruit for the world, and a plan to one day refine us and all the world into the kingdom of God.
-Pastor Steven Wilco