Wheat and Weeds
Wheat and Weeds
I titled this sermon in a rush and with an utter lack of creativity borrowed from the parable that is the subject matter. Given more time, which I seemingly have gained, I would title this sermon ‘What to do with the Dandelions?’
It’s a good question isn’t it? Do you pluck them up the moment they appear or allow them to spread, possibily annoying your neighbours in the process. A member of the church once told me that her husband liked the lawn to be green and verdant. Not a dandelion in sight! Until as a practical joke their son plucked one from a neighbours yard and placed it in the middle of the yard, just to annoy dad!
What to do with the dandelions indeed!
Every spring as I prepare to go out and get some gardening done I hear the same refrain. Stop. Wait. Don’t rake up the leaves yet. Don’t pull those dandelions yet.
The reason? The blanket of dead foliage is protecting the plants that are about to emerge, protecting them from a sudden cold snap that might still occur. If we remove the dead leftover foliage we may inadvertently cause harm to the garden we are hoping to enjoy.
If we remove the dandelions, we are removing the first food that the bees need to stay healthy. This is the bee’s and other helpful insects first source of food in the Spring and we need these insects to remain healthy so that our ecosystem is healthy.
There is a story that goes as such, a woman who took great pride in her lawn found herself with a large crop of dandelions. She tried every method she knew to get rid of them. Still they plagued her.
Finally, she wrote to the Department of Agriculture. She enumerated all the things she had tried and closed her letter with the question: “What shall I do now?”
In due course, the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”
All of this brings us to the parable that Jesus has for us today: The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat. This parable, like the parable of the seeds last week, Matthew’s gospel finds Jesus talking about the kingdom of heaven. However, these aren’t reflections on what heaven is like, but rather how we create that space in the here and now. I fully believe that heaven is less a place we go and more a place that we work in partnership with God to create.
The parable is simple, a farmer plants the wheat. However, during the night the enemy comes and plants weeds among the wheat. What is the farmer to do? The servant says lets gather the weeds before they grow too much, but the farmer says no because you might damage the wheat as well. Let them both grow and at harvest we will separate them. Now, I don’t know if this is what a farmer would actually do or not, whether today or during Jesus’ time. But it tells us a story about how God operates in the world. It tells us that God prefers subtlety over direct, dramatic action.
Scott Hoezee writes, “Apparently God would rather work behind the scenes. Apparently changing people’s hearts is a quiet and gracious business more than a noisy and forceful affair. What’s more, the growth and spread of this kingdom is going to extend throughout the world but it may never exist in a pure state.”
He continues, “The weeds do not threaten the wheat but instead the threat comes from how we react to the weeds. The danger is not being in the presence of sin but trying to root out all the sin we see. But that means that the real challenge presented to the church by Matthew 13 is finding the strength to resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands and start yanking up every sinful thing we see every time we see it. As Robert Farrar Capon points out, when in verse 30 the master tells the servants just to “let” things be, the Greek word used there is the same word used in the Lord’s Prayer and elsewhere for “forgiveness.” (Scott Hoezee)
“The real challenge presented to the church by Matthew 13 is finding the strength to resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands and start yanking up every sinful thing we see every time we see it.”
When we correct instead of listening;
When we condemn instead of offering grace;
When we judge instead of looking in the mirror;
When we exclude instead of offering love.
Prof. Holly Hearon puts it this way, “At first read, the parable of the weeds appears to describe a “them vs. us” situation, tempting us to fill in who are the evildoers and who the children of the kingdom (an easy trap in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic). A closer read, however, reveals that it is a cautionary tale, as well as one intended to offer encouragement. (Holly Hearon)
The work that befalls us is to continue to plant good seeds in the soil, recognizing that bad ones will creep up. Out job isn’t too judge, God will handle that aptly. Our job is to offer grace, to ensure the soil is good for planting and to self-examine to ensure that we ourselves haven’t turned into a weed. In the context of the kingdom of heaven, this parable gives us much to reflect upon.
Are you the good seeds or are you the weeds who try to choke out life?
Does the judgement offered in this parable make us uncomfortable, fill us with hope or a little bit of both?
For me it is a little bit of both, for I know that I have corrected, condemned, judged and excluded and I fear I may do so again perhaps intentionally perhaps accidentally, but I fear I will do so again and I tremble at that thought. I know I have also listened, offered grace, self-reflected and offered love and will again and this fills me with joy and with hope. The reality is that we are often the weeds, just as we are often the wheat. To say that we should pluck out the weeds assumes that we are always behaving as God would have us and I think we all know that this isn’t true.
Dorothy Soelle (1929-2003) was a German theologian and mystic, she became interested in questions of religion and politics at an early age. She grew up under the Nazi regime and, like many Germans of her generation, never got over the shame of belonging to a nation that willingly collaborated with mass murderers. She was especially worried by the acquiescence of so many people who claimed to be Christian, and eventually concluded that part of the explanation was that they had compartmentalized their faith, transforming it into a private and “otherworldly” thing. Convinced that such privatization is a perversion of faith, Soelle worked as a theologian to demonstrate the social responsibility of religion and as an activist to put her theology into practice. (Center for Action and Contemplation Devotional)
This is where I believe this parable needs to call us, into action. It’s far to easy to be complacent and allow the weeds and wheat to grow together. However, there are good, innocent people who suffer because of the weeds in the present time. To say to them, wait until the final harvest and it will get sorted out isn’t right. It further victimizes them, causing further harm. It turns us into a weed as we fail to live our God’s justice. In the Beatitudes Jesus preached for radical change, in his healing and teaching ministry Jesus demonstrated a radical faith that wasn’t content to wait for the final harvest. Rather, Jesus was interested in creating good soil for God’s seeds to fall on and work in.
As I quoted at the beginning from Scott Hoezee, “the growth and spread of this kingdom is going to extend throughout the world but it may never exist in a pure state.” There will always be wheat, there will always be weeds. How we manage the two matters. We need to recognize the grace that allows the two to exist and intermingle. This grace allows for the opportunity for redemption.
We are all keen to uproot and remove the dandelions which so easily spread and infest our lawns. But they are the first fruits of a host of beneficial insects which keep our ecosystem working in balance. Also, the dandelion is part of the daisy family. Perhaps we simply need eyes to see and ears to listen. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.