Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
July 19, 2020
“We Need Each Other”
Matthew 13: 24-30 – New Revised Standard Version
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’
28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.
“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.”
Never read the comments, right? Never read a news story and then say, “I wonder what people are saying about this.” Not unless you’re prepared to be severely disappointed by the utter lack of impulse control and civility by our neighbors. On Thursday, I read an article about the Colorado governor mandating the wearing of face coverings in public, joined that day by the governor of Arkansas and the day before by the governor of Alabama. Twenty plus states and growing. Among the comments, the majority agreed. Combined with social distancing, wearing a mask in public is the best way to slow the spread of Covid 19.
There was a cartoon this week depicting God speaking to a human from the clouds. “I have something for you that will greatly prevent Covid 19.” The human looks up excitedly. “What is it? A vaccine? A miracle cure? A gift from heaven?” In the next panel, you can see God’s hand reaching through the clouds holding a mask.
So, again, most comments expressed appreciation for the governor’s order. There was a smattering of objections to personal liberty, which, I’ll be honest with you, I just don’t understand. And to be even more honest with you, I don’t want to understand. Just wear the damn mask.
But there was one comment that really stuck out. “Let the anti-maskers get Covid and die.” Wow. Someone actually wrote that in a public forum. That’s how far civil discourse has fallen, that someone would feel it acceptable to say such a thing in public. Someone who advocates the wearing of masks to save lives, someone on “my side,” just suggested letting people die so they can learn a lesson.
But I don’t think he or she is alone, not literally wishing death, but kind of like a parable. Which made the parable of the wheat and the weeds a little more relevant for today.
Jesus told a parable to the crowds who gathered around:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who planted good seed in their field.” Last week he told a parable about a farmer who just threw seed everywhere, carelessly letting some fall on the road, some on rocky ground, some that got choked out by weeds, and some on good soil. Today’s parable sounds more reasonable, like someone who carefully prepared the ground and chose just the right seed to plant a beautiful crop. Except it had become spoiled by weeds.
The 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is full of stories about farming and fishing. Jesus takes parables right out of the personal experiences of the crowds. For example, everyone could visualize a beautiful field of wheat with a bunch of weeds mixed in. Or, in our own experience, we might think of weeds in a carefully kept garden, or weeds that spring up in the middle of a perfectly manicured lawn. What should you do? Perhaps you know from personal experience that if you pull out the weeds, you might also pull out the very thing you’re trying to grow. It’s a dilemma understood by many of us. What should you do?
Jesus said, let them all grow together. And then, when you go to harvest, collect the weeds into bundles to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn. The image of burning here is not necessarily judgment. People did in fact gather bundles of weeds to build fires to keep themselves warm at night.
But imagine the headline the next day. “Preacher advocates growing weeds.” And imagine the comments. Some might say, “He’s just one of those itinerant nut-balls.” Others might say, “That’s a prudent idea.” And one might add, “Let the preacher’s family starve to death while they try to eat weeds for dinner.”
What should we do? Jesus said, don’t pull out the weeds because you will pull out the wheat too. Be patient and let it be sorted out in the end. But lest we begin to analyze the literal wisdom of letting wheat and weeds grow together, we have to remember that this is a parable. And parables are supposed to make us think, not tell us what to do. And as soon as we are certain what a parable means, we’ve likely lost the meaning. But if we’re made uncomfortable by the challenge of the parable, we’re probably getting closer to the heart of its meanings.
There’s a detail I don’t like to mention in this parable. Jesus didn’t just describe a field of wheat mixed with weeds. He said, “an enemy deliberately planted the weeds.” So, clearly this isn’t just a literal story. And the parable just got uncomfortable. “An enemy did this to you.”
We’re not comfortable with talk of enemies in polite civil circles. Or people who do. But in the later explanation of the parable it gets worse. “The good seeds are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” And with the end of the harvest comes “weeping and gnashing of teeth in the furnace of fire. While the righteous will shine like the sun.” Uncomfortable yet?
Notably, no other gospel includes this parable. And let me add that, like last week, scholars’ debate whether Jesus said that last part. It’s likely that this “explanation” was added later when Matthew was written, around 50 years after the death of Jesus. The early church was not quite as harmonious anymore. They were divided and struggling, feeling like some in their community were like weeds – we should get rid of them. With division often comes comparisons of us and them, pure and impure, good and evil. Note, this isn’t a conversation about the Roman Empire and Israel. This is about people sitting in the next pew.
Whether Jesus said it or not, we can relate. People just down the street, or the next town over. People with whom we have kids in the same school. We're living in a world of us/them. Public health vs. personal liberty. A partisan pandemic. We live in a world where the president labels people good and evil. And he won’t even pretend that he wants to bring people together. And therefore, a lot of “us” can’t wait for “them” to be out of power. And face some harsh consequences. And vice versa. There’s little love lost on either side – and I hate to even talk about being on sides. What is a community that’s supposed to be built on love supposed to do?
Well, Jesus said, “Let the wheat and weeds grow together.” That’s good news. That’s really good news because it is just as likely that I am a noxious, invasive weed as it is a beautiful blade of wheat. And we are all a mixture of weed and wheat. Of light and shadow. The truth is we are all weed and wheat. Good and evil coexist, though it’s almost always easier for us to recognize the evil in others than it is to see it in ourselves. Even Paul agonized, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I don’t want is what I do.” No one is all good and no one is all bad. Bryan Stevenson said of men and women on death row, “We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a beautiful recreation of this parable: “One afternoon in the middle of the growing season, a bunch of farmhands decided to surprise their boss and weed one of her fields. No sooner had they begun, however, than they began to argue about which of the wheat-looking things were weeds. And what real threat could Queen Anne’s lace pose to wheat. Can’t it stay as decoration? And the honeysuckle smelled so sweet, it would be a shame to pull it out. And the blackberries. They’ll be ripe in a few weeks. Can’t we let them stay? But in a field of wheat, they might as well be weeds.
Just then the owner showed up and ordered them out of the field. It looked like a mess, a discredit to them and their profession. She took away their machetes and told them to sit down and watch the sun’s light pass over the field. They marveled at the profusion of colors. The brown-eyed Susans mixed in with milkweed and Cherokee roses and tall goldenrod. All mixed in with the amber waves of grain.
At the end of the summer, the reapers came and carefully, expertly, gathered the wheat and turned the rest of the “harvest” into bricks to build an oven and kindling for fire to bake that wheat into bread. At the end of the harvest, the neighbors were all invited for a banquet. As the farmer broke bread with them, that gathering became the final distillation of that whole messy, gorgeous field of wheat and weeds. Everyone agreed, nothing had ever tasted so good before.” Isn’t that a great story!?
The kingdom of heaven is like a field of wheat and weeds. What should we do? Let them grow together because somehow God is able to miraculously take this mess we have made of things and bring forth from it both excellent flour and excellent fire to produce life-giving bread. Let them grow together because in Ephesians we are told, “God’s power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Let them be and let God sort it out.
I’ll admit, however, that today’s parable leaves me with lots of unanswered questions, like shouldn’t we be ripping out white supremacy from the root? Racism is a toxic weed that if not removed will choke the life of everything else out. Shouldn’t we be uprooting the fear of immigrants and instead be planting a garden of welcome and love? And Jesus, what do you mean about an enemy planting the weeds deliberately?
But, for today anyway, the parable makes me think that every time I’m tempted to say, “I hope they get what they deserve,” I should remember: we need each other, because to remove others is to remove ourselves.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew
 Image from Jan Van Pelt
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