What To Do With The Weeds?

Matthew 13:24-30

I am well acquainted with the problem of weeds.   You can’t come from the farm without having struggled against their intrusion into your well laid plans for planting and yields.   I remember how my father, and all the farmers would long for an absolutely clean bean field.   The would drive down the road, looking down the rows, checking and looking, watching each other’s fields, and sometimes helpfully pointing out the weeds.  “Hey Ervin, I see you’ve got some sunflowers out there…” 

That was all it would take to make my father head out, grab his trusty “bean hook” and start out down the row to extricate the offenders.  Our solution to the weed problem, get rid of it all right now.

Jesus tells the parable of this parable of the Wheat and the Tares as a way of describing how God is working in God’s creation to bring about the Kingdom.  It is a bit of a frustrating picture, particularly if you, like my father, like to see a nice, clean field. 

The “weeds” that Jesus describes is most likely Darnel, a plant that looks just like wheat when it is young and as it grows, and that only shows its ugly head – literally– when the wheat is already tall and beginning to head out.   Then you can see it for what it truly is. 

But now there is a problem as well.  The Darnel has a gangly root system that intertwines with the surrounding wheat plants.  If you try to take it out now when you can recognize it, you will take out the good with the bad. 

Jesus therefore tries to answer a number of questions with this parable.  The first question that we don’t often even think about, is the question of where evil comes from. 

“Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?”  The servants ask. 

That is a loaded question, one that we find ourselves asking from time to time under our breath.   If God is good, and God creates everything, where does this evil come from?  Where do these “weeds” come from that pop up and that we can seemingly do nothing about?

Well evil, like weeds, is often just a good part of creation misplaced.  “An enemy has done this.”  The Master proclaims.  Someone has put something where it shouldn’t be! 

Take a look at your yard sometime and you will find there what I find in mine, Dandelions.  A perfectly good plant, but not native to the U.S. at all, brought here by our British ancestors because they liked to eat the greens. 

Now of course, there is almost no temperate climate place in the U.S. where you can’t find Dandelion willing to take over.  Is it a bad, an evil plant?  No, it is just misplaced, taken away from the things that kept it in check.

Begin therefore to see God’s frustration, God’s dilemma.  The whole of creation was made good.  Darnel has its place.   But Darnel’s place is not in the middle of a wheat field!

So also, there are things that we have and that we do that sometimes get misplaced. 

It is good to have care and concern for your neighbor, but too much talk about what they do, or don’t do, too many shouts of “I see you’ve got some sunflowers out there.” Becomes gossip and nagging, and gossip breeds resentment and distrust and destroys the very community that it intends to care for.  Is it bad, evil to care about your neighbor?  No, but such care can be misplaced.

In the same way it can be evil not to care, to let your neighbor, your community deteriorate because you don’t want to be seen as a nuisance, a busybody.   Something happens in the house next to you, noise and shouts and sounds of violence.  Do you call the police?   Do you risk your family, your neighborhood, the label it might bring to you?  Which is worse, to be known as someone who does not care, or to be known as someone who is a nosy neighbor.

You see the problem.  How is God to deal with evil?  

Should God come strutting in with machete in hand, hacking out the evil whatever it is, and if some good goes down with it, well, that’s the price you pay for not having the seeds spread?

We might say at first think that is what we want.  We would like a God who takes care of evil wherever it rears its ugly head, right away.  But think about that again.  What if that evil is surrounding you?   What if you find yourself intertwined, for no apparent reason or fault of your own, in schemes and evil plots?   Do you want God to come in hacking?   Would this God be any comfort, any hope at all if evil surrounded you?

It is also no comfort to have a God who just lets evil have its way.  A do nothing God who lets whatever happens, happen.  Who wants an impotent God?

See the dilemma in which God is caught .  Evil must be dealt with, yes, but how to do it without destroying the good as well? 

The answer, Jesus says, lies in this matter of the Kingdom.  God will wait until the time of harvest to distinguish, to judge, and then to separate. 

God could come in hacking, but God chooses rather deal patiently with us, and with creation. 

God cares enough for you that God does not want to accidentally destroy you in any quest to rid the world of evil.  God has faith that you are strong enough to see things through until the time of harvest.   You will live with evil in your midst.  It will intertwine around your very roots from time to time.  But you are stronger than whatever threatens you because of the Gospel, and a harvest is coming. Until that time, God continues to send the gentle rains, on the just and the unjust.   God continues to give the life giving warmth of his Son, to sustain those who find themselves surrounded and intertwined by evil.

What at first does not sound very comforting, is in reality the ultimate in care.  God cares enough for you that God will not allow you to be forgotten, lost in the shuffle, forsaken or accidentally cut down in any vendetta to rid the world of evil.  You will be saved from the evil that you are caught up in, when the time is right and safest for you.  That is God’s promise in this parable.

 

“Action without study is fatal. Study without action is futile.”
–Mary Beard, Historian

The Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:1-9


What is your job?   What are you fundamentally called to do as the people of God?    That is a crucial question for us to ask.    For 2000 years we have tried to figure out the Parable of the Sower as Jesus tells it.   Welcome to the great debate.   What is this parable about, seeds or soil?

            If this parable is about the seeds we have a problem, because what the parable seems to describe is that God’s word, the seeds, don’t grow everywhere.  

There are places that God’s word goes, that it is spoken where nothing happens.  It falls as if on rocks, and blows away or gets eaten up by other things. It gets choked out.

So then, is Jesus saying that God’s word isn’t as powerful as we think it is?  Are there places, lives, where God’s word simply can’t reach and grow?  If this parable is about the seed of God’s word not being able to take root, we are tempted to analyze why.  Why doesn’t God’s word take root here?  What happened to that promise in Isaiah that says God’s word does not come back empty?  Could it be that God’s word isn’t as powerful as we thought?

            Scared stiff by that possibility, the other side of the debate is that this parable is not about seeds, it is about soil.

            There are some people for whom it goes deep and abides and they bear much fruit. 

            And then there are other people– people on the busy path of life, who don’t really pay much attention to God’s word, so it disappears from their midst. 

            Rocky ground people who never really give God’s word much of a chance to grow in their lives.   They neglect it, and it dries up.

            Thorny people who let other things grow with God’s word in their lives,and the other things choke out the good seed.

            It’s a parable about soil, some folks say, and surely it is about soil to some degree.   But there is a danger here too.  If we say that this is a parable about soil, then there is a great temptation for us to feel what we are called to do is to become agricultural testing labs. Our chief endeavor becomes doing soil samples.  

            Some are predestined to hear this message about God, others, are poor candidates, and since resources in the church are always limited, we really ought to spend our time sowing in the most fertile areas.  We begin to convince ourselves that God’s word is for a chosen few.  Some folks will get it, some are never meant to, it says so right here in the parable.  Aren’t we glad we’re the ones who are good soil, as opposed to those folks over there.

            You see the danger.  

            For 2000 years we’ve been trying to figure out what this parable is really about – Seeds or Soil?    As we’ve debated that we’ve worked out some really elaborate justifications for what we do based on it.  

We — that is, the church, have talked about predestination and election and sanctification and all sorts of things as if the most important thing in the world was figuring out this problem of seeds or soil.  It creeps into our consciousness.

Some hear this, and then make assumptions about the power of the word.  “I hear Jesus talk about forgiveness, but hey, he really doesn’t know what I’ve done.  It just doesn’t do anything for me…can’t have any power in me.”  The word as seed is impotent.

            Some have decided that in their lives it is a soil problem.  “I really want to believe, I really would like to have a close relationship with God, but you know, it just never seems to take root.  I must just be poor soil.”   

            What’s the parable really about?  As long as we keep ourselves preoccupied with this debate over seeds or soil, we never get it.  We never see the joy of what this parable is really about.  

            The parable is always about — the Sower!  “A Sower went out to sow.”

            And, what does this Sower do?   He scatters God’s word in every corner of the field, and on the road on the way to the field, and in every place whether it looks like it will grow there or not.  The Sower’s chief delight is to scatter out that Word of God, to let it fall wherever it will, and then let that Word do whatever it will do in that place.

            Our great temptations are to either say that God’s word just won’t work there, or isn’t meant for that person, or that place, and this parable of the Sower shatters all those notions with a wave of his hand.

            The parable is about a Sower.  It’s meant to show us where God’s word is meant to go. And, according to this, it is meant to go everywhere.  

It’s meant for everyone, including you, whether you feel like it has any power in you or not. 

It’s meant for you, whether you feel like you’re a good candidate for it or not; good soil or not.

It is God’s good pleasure to let his gracious Word fall upon you, and it will not come away empty.   It will take root in some fashion, touch you in some way, but how it grows,…well that is God’s concern.  

We are not called to be soil analysts….just called to be Sowers, and to trust God to make things happen, to make things grow as they will where they will.

            This is who I am, Jesus says, to those folks from town after town who have come out to him, and who have the ears to hear it.  I am a Sower, a liberal scatterer of the word of God. I gladly shower God’s Word upon you, upon everyone, so that by all means in some way the promises of God may take root and grow and bless you.

            And that, as followers of Jesus, is what you and I are called to be.    We are called to be Sowers. 

            We aren’t called to compare how well God’s word is doing in our lives. 

            We aren’t called to be soil testers, to try to figure out who needs to hear about God and how best to plant.

            We’re called to be sowers, to liberally spread the good news of a loving and gracious God to every corner of our lives so that by all means, some may discover the Word and have it grow in them.