The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 11A (7/20/2008)
Weeds, Wheat, and the Kingdom of God
Lessons: Isaiah 44:6-8 (or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19) Psalm 86:11-17 Romans 8:12-25 St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm Genesis 28:10-19a Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
Prayer of the Day: Faithful God, most merciful judge, you care for your children with firmness and compassion. By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom, that we may be rooted in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
13.24 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And 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?' 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let 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.'"
36 Then 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." 37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"
St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
This weekend we turn our attention back to the words of Jesus, and the world of planting, nurturing, and harvesting wheat. Jesus offers us an image that stands clear in the minds of any who have grown up on the farm -- or, for that matter, any who have spent time out back in the garden. It is the image of a field of wheat being overtaken by weeds.
I once converted a portion of our back yard into a garden. We enjoyed the sight of sweet corn, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, strawberries and the rest of our crop. But that is not all we saw back there. We also saw an incredibly persistent and resistant collection of weeds. We had decided to make ours an organic garden, so the only option left to us was pulling those weeds. There were days when it seemed that you'd pull a weed, turn your back, and another one had taken its place. Those garden weeds were a tremendous nuisance. Not only because they looked bad, but also because they robbed the soil of nutrients we intended would benefit our vegetables. And so we tried to get out there every other day or so to pull the weeds and clean the paths and nurture the plants.
The weeds that Jesus describes in this week's Gospel lesson are not the innocuous pieces of grass and clover that creep their way into our backyard gardens. These weeds are Bearded Darnell. They are vicious and aggressive weeds, planted by the farmer's enemies, and designed to destroy the crop. It is a weed that looks remarkably similar to wheat, a weed that spreads and grows quickly. As Jesus' disciples indicate, the temptation is to head out into the field with a hoe, and dig them up. But Jesus, reflecting the common wisdom of the day, cautions them against such a reaction. To take after those weeds with a vengeance would mean destroying wheat in the process, and it wouldn't be worth it. Wait, Jesus says, until harvest time. Once the grain appears, it is easy to tell them apart. At that time, the weeds can be destroyed and the wheat can be gathered and stored.
It is a powerful yet frightening image for the life of faith, isn't it? Our God, the Lord of the Harvest, is busy sowing seeds of faith among us. These seeds prosper and grow, and issue a harvest of hope and joy and peace. There are times in our lives when God's harvest is quite evident: and not just in good times. When we face adversity or fortune with peace and contentment, because of our faith; when we are grateful for life, and willing to offer back a portion of ourselves in thanksgiving; when we find ourselves so touched by the promise of the Gospel that we look for ways to share it with others - then we can know the seeds God has sown among us are having their intended effect.
Yet God's enemy is also at work, sowing seeds of discontent. In the book of Colossians, Paul writes from prison, encouraging the people of Colossae to resist the kind of living that displeases God. In his words:
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. [Colossians 3:5]
Paul here refers to the seeds of disobedience and destruction that are sown in our lives by God's opponent. We are tempted to lash out at these intruders, as if our words and efforts could hold at bay the evil that runs rampant in this world. If we could weed this kind of sin out of the garden of God's creation, or at least if we could weed out the most evil souls among us, then the harvest of faith and hope and joy would have a better chance of prevailing.
Yet the responsibility of judging and separating and destroying is not given for us to exercise. We are instructed, instead, to stay with our original commission: that of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all corners of the earth. In word and action, being the presence of Christ in this world. Advocating for love and kindness and justice and righteousness. Bearing the fruit of the Spirit, so that as others see what God has accomplished in our lives, they too might be drawn to the God who makes it all possible.
There is much that needs to be weeded out of our lives. And the evil of our world needs to be named and opposed by God's faithful people. But we don't do so under the illusion that our efforts will eradicate the presence of evil. The enemy continues to sow seeds of discontent, and the best of God's harvest continues to be surrounded by weeds. But let us not lose courage, and let us take strength from these words of our Lord. As we stay true to our calling; as we concentrate on being a healing and renewing presence in our community; as we stay focused on strengthening people's faith; God will bring in the harvest. In our lives, and in the lives of those who come into contact with us.
Let us continue to plant, and water, and pray for the harvest, trusting that God will use our efforts to bring the gifts of faith and hope and joy to all the world.
David J. Risendal
Exploring This Week's Text:
- How does Jesus' parable shed light on the battle between good and evil in this world?
- What is an example of bad seeds threatening the produce of good seeds?
- Does the destruction of the weeds seem to be a word of hope or a word of despair?
Connecting with This Week's Text:
- What good is God producing in my life?
- What weeds threaten me?
- How can I stay faithful in worship, prayer, study, and service - so that God is able to nurture the good that has been accomplished in my life?