A Farmer’s Parable: The Wheat and The Weeds

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Proper 11A

TEXT: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“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.” (Matt. 13:24b-26)

In my previous post, we discovered that God has some unusual farming practices; he casts the seed indiscriminately, on poor soil as on good. This week—with the parable of the weeds in the garden—we discover once again God’s method of farming is different than ours; and I, for one, am very glad of it.

Last week’s “parable of the sower and the seed” and today’s “parable of the weeds” are parables about the church—about the field that God plants in the hope of gaining a rich harvest. We are the field of God—we are the ground God works—the plants God nurtures—the people upon whom God’s hope rests. We are the soil in which God plants seed. The farmer’s parables are parables about us—about you and I here in the church—we who are called by the name of Christ.

These days, we hear it said that traditional Christianity is in decline because of its outdated theology—and that the mainstream churches are in decline because their liturgies and structures no longer have any appeal to modern people. At least, that’s what some prominent scholars and theologians are telling us. But I wonder about that. Because what I hear from the folks I know is quite different. I daresay that the two biggest reasons modern people give for not being Christian and for not attending church are the following:

(1) People in the church as just as bad as everyone else in the world! In general they are hypocrites, thieves, liars, gossips, cheats, snobs, and adulterers; and

(2) The whole idea of a good God is clearly ridiculous! If God is so good, why does so much evil exist in the world?

Does either one of those sound familiar to you? It’s true. That’s where people are at. Like the farmer’s servants in today’s parable, they are concerned: concerned that there are weeds among the wheat; concerned that the harvest might not turn out right; concerned that the good purpose of their master might fail. At least, some are. The rest are just plain critical—they do not understand the things of the Spirit (nor do they want to understand the things of the Spirit).

It is easy to be discouraged by what we might call the weeds in the church. It is easy to focus on the weeds that exist here in the church and out there in the world. It is easy—so easy, that we can forget the vast bouquet of flowers that makes up the rest of the church. Flowers. And wheat. And yeast—the leaven that raises the whole loaf!

Still, we wonder: why? Why do the wicked prosper while the innocent suffer?

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant;
    I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
    and their tongues range over the earth.

Therefore the people turn and praise them,
    and find no fault in them.
And they say, ‘How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?’
Such are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain I have kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
    and am punished every morning.

(Psalm 73:2-14, NRSV)

Why does so much evil co-exist with what is good?

It is, alas, a question for which I have no ready answer. I cannot imagine why—to use Jesus’ language—God allows the devil to cast his horrible seed in this garden called Earth.

But consider our gospel text. The Word that God gives his servants is very clear: “Do not disturb the weeds! Do not try to pluck them out—because, if you do, you’re going to wreck the whole place! You’re going to pull up the wheat along with the weeds, no matter how careful you are!

“Leave it to me,” God says. The weeds will be burned at the time of harvest—and all of you will have a hand in it. You will see justice done. The weeds will perish—and the wheat will be stored in the granary of heaven.”

“Leave it to me,” God says. “Wait for the time I have set.”

But it’s hard to wait, isn’t it? Especially when you see such terrible things happening. But when it comes to dealing with other people—both in the church and out of it—God calls us to plant and not to pluck up—at least for a while.

We are called to resist evil, of course—in ourselves and in others—through the power of God. We are called to recognize evil, and to name it, and to ask God to take care of it; but—most of all—we are told to do good instead of doing evil. We are called to bless instead of curse; to praise instead of criticize; to help instead of hinder; to love instead of hate; to forgive instead of resent; to tell truth instead of lies.

It seems that there is a plan—that God does have a higher purpose. But still, when you look at it with only the dim light of human wisdom—or through the closed eyes of human doubt and human pride—there is no explaining why God allows the weeds to grow in his garden.

Still, I want to finish off today by saying that—in this strange system of divine agriculture—I, for one, am very glad that God does not rush to pull up the weeds. You see, every now and then, it occurs to me that perhaps … perhaps I am being a weed right now! And I know for sure that I have been a weed in the past; that too many things I have done—or failed to do—were more of the devil than they were of the Lord.

And knowing that—and knowing what God has done and can do with me and for me, when I let him—I am content to have the weeding put off, for now.

How about you? How often have you been a weed in the Lord’s garden?

I think that perhaps the message of the parable of the weeds is this: through the mercy of God, evil is allowed to exist so that what is good might grow.

Oh, I know that’s not a perfect answer to the question of evil—and it isn’t perfectly satisfying! But I think it is a partial answer that points to a profound truth—a truth which has a substance to it, something tangible that can be touched and experienced, even as the disciples touched the risen body of Christ. And that truth is a saving truth, a healing truth, a truth that can only be found in that crazy, upside-down field in which God plants his seed; and in the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave himself over to death so that we might live—and who lives so that we might never die.

Thanks be to God for the privilege of growing in this field—and in this time. Amen.

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