Who Weeds the Garden?

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
July 3, 2016

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 (CEB)
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27“The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’
28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.
“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
29“But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’”
36Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. 38The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. 39The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. 40Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. 41The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. 42He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.”

For the first time since Ken and I got married, we are now (and have been for the last year) living in a house that we own. Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever lived in a house that I owned. As many of you probably know, the thing about living in a house that you own is that you tend to take better care of it, and you might even try and work to improve the home if you are able. So one of the things Ken and I have been trying to improve at our house over the last year is the lawn, which means I’ve learned a lot about lawn care in the last several months. For example, there is a specific, ordered, scheduled regimen for what you put on your lawn in order to get healthier grass. So, as many of you probably know, starting around April, you put down crab grass preventer, which may or may not also take care of some other unwanted growth in your lawn. Then, the next step, once there is a string of days where the high hits at least 70, you put down weed and feed. The final step is to put down grass seed, but you have to wait until the low won’t drop below 50 or 60, and it also can’t be too close to the time you put down the weed and feed because the weed part of the weed and feed will keep the new grass seed from sprouting and growing.

Did you get all that? So Ken and I were closely following these steps this Spring, and somewhere in the process, soon after Ken had laid out the weed and feed, we had to dig some new drainage ditches through the yard. Afterwards, we spread grass seed where we had turned the earth so new grass would grow, and as I was throwing out the grass seed, I decided I was also going to fill in the patches around the yard where the weed and feed and killed some weeds. But Ken stopped me because, he said, the weed and feed would keep the grass from growing and it would just be a waste of seed. As it turns out, the lack of rain has kept anything from growing anyway, so it seems this year at least that all our efforts were for naught. Maybe next year….

Now, I tell you that because when we think about weed and feed or round-up, and the ways that weed killer can also kill off the “good plants”, we can see why there might be times when it’s just better to let the weeds grow alongside the healthy plants. But, as we continue our “Gardening with God” series this morning, I also want to give you a picture of exactly what Jesus had in mind when he told this parable so that we can hear it and understand it as Jesus’ first listeners would have.

There’s this plant called darnel. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. I had not heard of it before this week. Darnel looks exactly like wheat, but it is what we would consider a weed because its grains (which are actually green) often carry a poisonous fungus. Now, aside from the poisonous fungus bit, the other problem with darnel is the fact that it grows right alongside wheat, and it can even get its roots tangled up and entwined with the wheat. Darnel is the weed Jesus has in mind when he tells this parable of the weeds. So the servants are out in the fields checking on the status of the wheat as it grows. And they must’ve noticed that some of the grains were green, so they knew what they were seeing, and they go to the Master with the question, “Didn’t you plant good seed…?” Knowing that this could ruin the crop, the servants then offer to go and pull the weeds, but the Master tells them no, explaining, “if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, ‘First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.’”

So, a little later on, Jesus explains this parable of the weeds to the disciples. And as you can probably discern, basically what it comes down to is that Christ is the Master who plants good seeds. The bad seeds are planted by the devil, and when the seeds sprout and grow together, the wheat represents the righteous, and the weeds the unrighteous. At the final judgment, the righteous and unrighteous will be separated and dealt with accordingly.

Now, there’s a lot happening in this parable. When we think about gardening, we have the planting, the growing, and the harvesting. But in this story, all of those things are out of humanity’s control. So what I want to focus in on this morning is the Master’s instructions to the servants to not pull the weeds, but to instead let them grow alongside the good grain, because as this parable goes, that’s the only place where we have any control. And we need to understand why the Master gives these instructions and what it means to follow them.

Remember again that darnel growing among the wheat; roots entangled, green grain scattered here and there and everywhere among the good wheat; almost impossible to distinguish except by close examination. It would take meticulous work to separate and pull out all the darnel in an infested field, and with the roots entwined, it would be a near impossibility without also pulling up good wheat. The primary problem here, is that the weeds and the wheat coexist too closely to be dealt with separately. And the same is true of good and evil in our world today. We think about us vs. them, but we are talking about our own lives here too, the ambiguity of good and evil. Seemingly good acts that are done in an evil spirit, or that have unrighteous consequences. A missile is launched against the enemy, but when it detonates, it also kills five innocent civilians, so called collateral damage. Or a check dropped in the offering plate not cheerfully, or in an attitude of gratitude, but for a bigger tax write-off. Do you see the dilemma, the complexity of evil?

The simplest, most obvious interpretation of this parable is that we are not to judge who is righteous and who is unrighteous, but to allow God in Christ Jesus to do the judging in the final days. But when we think about all the evil in this world, that answer is not very easy to swallow, is it? We want evil to be stopped now, don’t we? We see all the bad things going on around us, and we wonder (sometimes often) why God doesn’t do something in the face of tragedy. Why didn’t God cause those three suicide bombers in Turkey to be in a crash in that cab on the way to the airport? Why didn’t God make the gunman in Orlando listen to his wife as she reasoned with him not to carry out this attack he was planning? But then we turn around pass judgment on someone else, or we gossip about the crazy nextdoor neighbor. We might be sitting here in church this morning, but we do evil and unrighteous things, too. We’ve talked about the fact that one of the causes of evil in this world is because God has given humanity free will, and sometimes we make terrible choices that hurt other people. And it’s not just other people that do that, we do it too. So imagine for a minute God trying to undo every evil choice we make. Evil is pervasive, and it’s not just in “the other,” it’s in us.

Would we really like it if God’s rule of the world was so direct and immediate that our every thought and action was immediately weighed, instantly judged, and if necessary punished in the scales of absolute holiness? If the price of God stepping in and stopping a genocide were that he would also have to rebuke and restrain every other evil impulse, including all those we still know and cherish within ourselves, would we be prepared to pay that price? Are we willing to burn with the weeds? If we ask God to act on special occasions, do we really suppose that he could do that simply when we want him to, and then back off again for the rest of the time? Life is not that simple, and quite frankly if it were, we’d all (every single one of us) be burning in hell right now. We might as well wrap up and go get some lunch! But that’s not the message of this parable either—behind this whole story is an appeal to be patient; wait, give the grain (and the weeds, too) a chance!

We are, all of us, God’s plants, a complicated mixture of good and evil that cannot be fully pulled apart in human history. It’s tempting to think ourselves wholly righteous and to judge the evil acts of others, but that accomplishes nothing. It makes us weeds. It stifles the growth of others. Wheat is pulled out along with the weeds, wasted. Ultimately, all any of us really are is wholly reliant on God’s grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve that grace. God does not rely on our actions; we rely on God’s merciful, steadfast patience, and that means leaving us in the field, intertwined until harvest time. Our task in the meantime is to persevere in the hope of God’s ultimate justice, and to be a patient witness to God’s amazing grace.

I want to leave you with this quote from a woman whose children were violently abused by her boyfriend. When asked how she would ever explain this abuse to her kids, she said this: “Tell them that our lives can change with each breath we take…Tell them to let go of what’s gone because men like [that boyfriend] never win. And tell them to hold on like hell to what they’ve got—each other, and a mother who would die for them…Tell them we’ve all got meanness in us…but tell them that we have some good in us, too. And the only thing worth living for is the good. That’s why we’ve got to make sure we pass it on.”

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