Reap

Matthew 13:24-30

Adapted from The Message

Jesus told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.

27 “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’

28 “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’

“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’

29-30 “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’”

Reap

This passage has a special place in my heart – as it was the very first text that I EVER preached on – eighteen years ago.  I remember writing that sermon – furiously scribbling on a piece of paper in the back corner of the reception of my best friends’ wedding.  A wedding reception is the ideal place to figure out how to preach upon the weeds and wheat (or the thistles and the wheat as described by Peggy’s reading).  There’s nothing like a large family gathering with all the people that you’re glad are there, and all those that you’re forced to invite, to realize

“There are a lot of weeds in the garden called our life.  And we all have (people) willing to point them out for us.  We get a lot of judgment and it lasts our whole life.  We’re judged by our parents and by our children, by our friends and our spouses, by the people who love us and the people who do not…by our colleagues, our teachers, doctors, and certainly by the church.  And very often the judgment is not good.  ‘Too many weeds.’ These are the reviews that we still have memorized.  But the greatest critic of all is the person who keeps showing up in the mirror.  Too many weeds.

[We can all think of the weeds in our own garden:]

The terrible temper that has the capacity to take off other people’s heads…we hate that about ourselves.  The things that we’ve done and left undone.  The guilt that persists.  Or the resentment at what others have done…it just eats away at our soul.  Or the ever present anxiety that mars every day of our lives. “[1]

It’s even easier to point out the weeds in someone else’s garden.  We point them out so freely and easily and don’t realize that the minute we point out those weeds, we completely pull up any wheat that was growing.  Any sense of self-worth or self-esteem go with it as we point out the COVID 5 or 10lbs that we’ve all put on – or the way someone’s nose whistles – or the stuff that we’re all painfully aware of and unsure how to tackle it.

It’s a product of our culture – as we’ve long chosen judgment of one another rather than offering forgiveness and grace as the judged person learns to live with the wheat and weeds that are planted in their garden.  And it’s grown beyond our personal relationships into our world.  #Cancelculture[2] is all around us as recent protests have raised awareness of the praising of people whose weeds in their garden over took any good that had grown.  Statues have been pulled down,[3] schools will be renamed,[4] in a hope not to praise the actions of those who are complicit in bringing evil and sewing weeds in the garden of life.  But I really think that Jesus in this passage is warning us about giving into to judgement all the time.  Sometimes it’s necessary to move us forward as a society[5] – to point out the sins of the past in order that we might learn, in order that our society might grow in more healthy directions. 

But Jesus told this story because there’s a danger in focussing only on the weeds we’d rather remove from our world.[6]  When we focus on the over-weeding of our society, who can stand before that?[7]  None of us are perfect, and none of our art is perfect[8] and none of our churches are perfect and society as a whole has both good and bad in it – in the same proportions that are in us.

It begs the question – why are things this way?  This is one of those texts that people turn to to undermine belief in God, because if God is real, then it seems awful that God created us to bear both wheat and weeds.  Why is there evil in our world when we claim and cling to God’s presence?  And why does this text seemingly give permission for us to sit back and let evil thrive?  (These questions are enough for us to stop and take a deep breath before moving on because it makes more sense for others to say evil exists because there is no God.) 

As an aside – we deliberately didn’t look at the “explanation” of the text, which you’re welcome to read (verses 37-43), but we didn’t for the same reasons described in last week’s sermon – that “Jesus’” explanation seems tacked onto the original story by well-meaning disciples looking to provide a simple answer to a complex problem. Listening only to Jesus’ words allows us instead to sit in the tension of this text. 

Why are there weeds among the wheat?  Why is there evil mixed in with the good?  Why are we drawn to judgement when grace and forgiveness would make our world so much easier?  There’s power in the absence of reasons given, as it leads us to believe that

Jesus… did not come to do gardening in our lives…to get rid of the weeds…Jesus came to give us God, so that nothing can separate us from God again…to respond to this love of God is to respond with all of us…you have to give your whole life, not just the wheaty part, not just the part you’re proud of, not just the righteous parts, you have to give God the things you’re most ashamed of giving, that’s why we call him saviour.  You’ve gotta give God the weeds.  This will not free from the presence of weeds, it will free [us] from preoccupation with them, so you get back to being useful…

We hope that a day will come when the good is no longer entwined with evil in us or in the world…[but for the time being] we seem stuck with ourselves[9]

The tension of the text reminds us that we don’t have to have all the answers – we don’t have to be perfect – however the lives we are called to lead include giving God everything – the wheat and the weeds – the knowing and the unknowing – the faith and the facts.  We give God everything without needing to sort things out first…which frees us from the distraction the weeds offer and the obsession the wheat promises.

For it’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming judgement and praise cycle that the wheat and weeds offer.  Living somewhere in the middle allows us to accept what is, because differentiating between the two is maddening.  It’s actually why Jesus told this story, for those who heard this first would know that growing wheat looks awful lot like darnel – a weed that mimics wheat until it goes to seed.  And so we look at our own lives – and wonder – what is growing which might be life-giving to others, and what isn’t? For even the weeds are burned in a fire – giving heat and warmth and the tool to cook one’s food.

Living in the tension of this text enables us to realize that it is the “growth [which] interests [God] more than perfection …and [God] is willing to risk fat weeds for fat wheat.”[10]  God is willing to risk the evil done, in order than goodness might grow in tandem.  As we learned from both this week and last week’s texts that our patterns are not God’s. God scatters seeds upon all soil, hoping they will take root.  God allows both wheat and weeds in the garden, in the hopes that both may bring blessing to the earth. 

And so as the church, we learn to work for justice which doesn’t uproot the good growing around us.  We’re to spend time in deep discernment when we rush to judgement, rush to pull up those weeds as we risk doing more harm than good.  And we are to learn patience, and forgiveness, and love – with ourselves and with others – striving to love everyone, and let God sort it out. 

It’s not perfect…but it’s ours…


[1] From an amazing sermon by Craig Barnes:  https://www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-spsjp-7f38406?utm_campaign=w_share_ep&utm_medium=dlink&utm_source=w_share

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/10/politics/cancel-culture-power/index.html

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/07/photos-statues-removed-george-floyd-protests-began/613774/

[4] https://www.wellandtribune.ca/news/niagara-region/2020/07/10/name-of-sexual-predator-jean-vanier-to-be-stripped-from-welland-school.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/13/cancel-culture-elites-power-social-media-age-online-mobs

[6] https://www.mykawartha.com/opinion-story/10070566-being-afraid-of-the-growing-cancel-culture-/

[7] https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2020/07/11/comment-has-cancel-culture-gone-too-far.cnn

[8] https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/writers-free-speech-1.5641645

[9] From the same sermon by Craig Barnes:  https://www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-spsjp-7f38406?utm_campaign=w_share_ep&utm_medium=dlink&utm_source=w_share

[10] Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Seeds of Heaven, p37

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