Proper 11 -Matthew 13:24-43
"Jesus put before the crowd another parable ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.” ’
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.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"
The first thing this parable teaches us, is that good and evil will always be found together in the world and in the professing Church, until the end of time. The Church is a mixed bunch, a vast "field" in which "wheat and weeds" grow side by side. It has been like this for as long as the church has existed. It was the experience of the early church Fathers. It was the experience of the Reformers. It is the experience of the best ministers at this moment in time. There has never been a Church where there is all "wheat." Today’s parable like last week is about sower and seeds, but the focus is not about the crop but about an evil one who slipped into a farmer’s field under the cover of darkness and sowed weeds among the wheat. As the wheat began to grow, weeds grew with it. When the farmhands saw the weeds they were puzzled, so they said to the farmer, “Master, didn’t you sow good seed in this field? Where did these weeds come from?” The farmer said “an enemy has done this.” The farmhands quickly volunteer to come to the rescue. “We will straighten things out, come on chaps let’s pull out those weeds!” “Hang on” said the farmer. “That won’t work. If you pull out the weeds, you will pull up the wheat along with it. Let them grow together until harvest. Then, I’ll send out the reapers with the instructions to bind the weeds in bundles to be burned and to gather the wheat for the barn.”
This parable comes with an attached interpretation. Jesus explains that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The good seed represents the children of the kingdom and the weeds are the children of the Devil. At the end of the age, the angels will collect all causes of sin and evildoers and toss them into the fire, then the righteous will shine like the sun in God’s kingdom. Well that sounds OK doesn’t it? It is very clear cut. There is good and there is evil. There is the good young man, Harry Potter and there is the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. There is Luke Skywalker and there is Darth Vader, Batman and the Joker, Cowboys in white hats and Gunslingers in black hats. We know this story. It is obvious who is wheat and who is weed, or is it? As I stated in the beginning we are a mixed bunch, and it is not up to any of us to decide who is wheat and who is weed.
From our perspective, who are the weeds growing like crazy in the wheat field of the world? These are the plants we want to yank out by the roots. These are the people we want to lock up and then throw away the key. There are times when many of us, at least momentarily, see this as the obvious solution. We want the wheat field of the world to flourish with wheat, and not to be scarred by weeds. Or we may sublimate our rage, and our despair into a question about God. Why doesn’t God do something about those people? Where is God when they commit their horrible crimes?
The parable does not deny that there are weeds in the wheat. It does not suggest for a moment that the world is free from evil. Instead, the weeds are all too visible.
It helps to look at the original Greek word ‘Let.’ It has a wide range of meanings. One major meaning appears in our parable “let,” in the sense of allow or permit. Another major meaning is “pardon” or “forgive.” It is with this meaning that the word appears in the Lord’s Prayer in that line where we say, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Using the second translation this parable invites us to costly discipleship. The very real evil that others do is not to be answered by pulling out the weeds, by attacking and destroying the people responsible. Doing so only adds to the harm. Instead, our response is to be forgiveness, and a willingness to trust in the purposes of God.
In this view, God the landowner practices forgiveness and patience. And by his example the same approach is recommended to us. Certainly this patience and forgiveness appears to be how God functions in the world. Look around you, and see everywhere in the world the weeds and the wheat growing together.
St. Augustine, reminds ‘in the Lord’s field, which is the church, sometimes we are wheat and sometimes we are weeds.’ God gives us all amazing latitude to make choices, to do right, and even to do wrong. God does not pull people out of the mire of their mistakes by condemning them, but by forgiving them. It’s a strange way to run the world, sometimes it seems scandalous to us. Often we would like God to hurl thunderbolts at the evil doers. But we know God’s ways are higher than our ways.
Jesus ministry was always about forgiveness, both in his teaching and in his actions. . When his enemies nail him to the cross, he forgives them. Risen from the dead, he forgives those disciples who abandoned him in his hour of need.
The Russian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was arrested, sent to a forced labour camp in Siberia and eventually exiled from the Soviet Union. He witnessed cruel acts and experienced harsh punishment. He could have written about clear distinctions between people who were good and people who were evil, but instead he wrote these words. “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil does not pass through social class or political parties but through the human heart.” There are weeds lurking in the best of us, someone said they would not come to church because it is full of hypocrites, that is true but there is always room for one more!
It is easy to get preoccupied with the weeds but there is a wonderful wondrous conclusion in this parable: The harvest of wheat is gathered in, enough to make landowner and farm hands rejoice together. The weeds in the field have no power to stop the good seed growing, so the parable ends on a note of triumph. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”
Evil is real, but it is not ultimate. It never has the last word. Greater by far are those who shine in their Father’s kingdom, those who carry the Christ Light, and mirror the compassion and love of God. Such was the person who, amid the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, found faith and hope enough to write a prayer. This prayer points us past the enemy’s evil action to the wonder of the harvest.
May God give us the grace to dare to pray this prayer.
“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will,
but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted;
remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering —
our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity,
the greatness of heart which has grown out of all of this,
and when they come to judgment,
let all the fruits which we have born be their forgiveness. Amen."