Weeds and Wheat – A Sermon for Proper 11 (A)

Preached at St.John’s (Port Rowan) and St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point)

When I was growing up, the May long weekend meant one thing: gardening.

Every year my parents, siblings and I would spend the entire weekend in the dirt, preparing and planting our garden.

While planting the garden was truly a family affair, tending the garden was not.

Although the children were allowed to water the garden as we grew older, we were not allowed to weed the garden.

Weeding the garden was my mother’s responsibility.

Mom knew that if she let us weed the garden, we would have pulled the garden bare.

You see, as children, we didn’t know the difference between weeds and garden plants.

In order to protect her garden from her overzealous and uninformed children, mom reserved the title “Executive Weeder of the Postma Family Garden” for herself alone.

In our gospel reading for today, we see that God bears the sole responsibility for taking care of the weeds in the world.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up and take a closer look at this parable.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus does the majority of his preaching through parables, stories that use everyday imagery to convey a deeper spiritual meaning. However, Jesus use of parables is strange: in spite of the large audiences he attracted, very rarely did Jesus explain the meaning of his parables to the crowds.

Moreover, it is only when Jesus’ disciples ask him to explain the meaning of the parables, that he does so, although always privately.

The parables are, in Jesus’ words, for those with ears to hear (cf. 13:43); the parables can only be understood by those who grasp the deeper reality about which the parables are about.

The parables are about one thing: the kingdom of God.

Therefore, the parables are not solely addressed for the crowds and disciples gathered around Jesus then, they are also addressed to us today.

The parables are not meant to entertain us or to offer us advice.

The parables are windows into the kingdom of God through which we are invited to imaginatively see what the kingdom is like.

However, we must remember that the parables are windows. We cannot piece them together in order to get the whole picture and we cannot assume that a single parable fully represents the whole of the kingdom. The parables offer us the briefest glimpses into the kingdom.

Because the parables describe what cannot be fully described by human language, we must be careful that we do not interpret them literally or read our own assumptions into them. If the disciples had to have things spelled out for them, we should not be too hasty in jumping to our own conclusions about the meaning of the parables.

Moreover, even when Jesus does explain the meaning of the parables, one question still remains: so what? If the parables describe what the kingdom looks like, what difference does this picture make to how we live?

This question is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is a question that we are to continually ask as we engage with Scripture.

Through the parables, Jesus describes the world through the lens of the kingdom; he expects that his followers will learn to see the world through this same lens. It is in learning to see the world through kingdom eyes that we learn to live under the reign of Christ.

Jesus is the kingdom of God in the flesh; he is the key to understanding the meaning of the parables in terms of how we are called to live a kingdom way of life.

Therefore, the cross and the empty tomb stand at the centre of our kingdom vision and way of life.

The parable about the wheat and the weeds has less to do with the future and more to do with the current state of affairs in the world as they exist in the light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The fact of the matter is that evil is real. We need only turn on the news to confirm this reality.

Not only is evil real, it seems that evil is the dominant force in the world.

The powers that perpetuate evil know how to justify their actions to make them seem anything but evil.

However, in this parable, Jesus is cutting through the lies and calling out evil for what it is: a malignant and parasitic force that preys on life.

You see, the weed that Jesus refers to is darnel. Darnel grows all over the world; it is a universal weed. If it is ingested, it is toxic and sometimes fatal. It is easily infected by a certain kind of fungus that quickly spreads, destroying an entire wheat field.

Another thing about darnel is that until the ear appears, it looks exactly like wheat, which is why the farmer and the workers had no idea that the field was contaminated until the ears started to appear.

Jesus’ point is direct: inasmuch as evil is real, no one should ever self-righteously assume that they are the wheat because in so doing, they’ve actually identified themselves as weeds.

The implication is that although the wheat and the darnel weed look nearly identical, the difference is that weeds will always justify their actions, whereas wheat will always recognize its need for grace.

Wheat is wheat not because of its own moral superiority; wheat is wheat because it is the good seed planted by the farmer, because it recognizes that its very existence is due to the farmer, the same farmer who patiently waits until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds, lest he lose his entire crop.

God is the Divine Farmer; he is the one who bears sole responsibility for weeding the field. The good news is that this God promises to deal with evil once and for all.

But that is in future. What about now? So what? If this parables describes what the kingdom looks like, what difference does this picture make to how we live our lives? How do we live in the midst of evil?

We must recognize that pulling up the weeds – attempting to eradicate evil – is not an option because the result is that the entire field will be uprooted. It is not our responsibility to liberate creation.

Rather, we are called to follow the example of the farmer whose response to the weeds is to forgive them. You see, when the farmer says “Let both of them grow together until the harvest”, in the original Greek, the word translated as ‘let’ is the exact same word translated as ‘forgive’ in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”; forgive the weeds who sin against us. The farmer is forgiving because he is patient; he is patient because he has things under control.

Because the Farmer has things under patient control, we are called to be patient. In Romans 8:25, Paul says that those who live by the Spirit are called to “wait with patience” (8:25). They wait with patience because they have hope that the whole of creation “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

This liberation is achieved through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; Christ alone is the means by which the farmer will deal with the weeds.

The wheat does not get to dictate to the farmer how to till or plant. The wheat is not responsible for the care of the soil. The wheat does not tell the farmer when and how to harvest or how to deal with the weeds.

Wheat exists in the midst of weeds; it cannot uproot itself and seek to move to a different part of the field and it cannot seek to destroy the weeds.

This means wheat lives at the mercy of the farmer, trusting that the farmer will deal with the weeds and will harvest his crop.

As those who are called to be wheat in the world, we need to recognize our own propensity to be weeds; it is the recognition of and acceptance of God’s forgiveness that the divine farmer can turn weeds into wheat. It is a sheer act of grace that this miraculous transformation is possible.

Therefore, it is not ours to worry about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the kingdom. We need not worry about the weeds; our responsibility is to be wheat, to grow in Jesus Christ and to bear seed where we are planted, even if this means living next to weeds.

We do this by focusing on the patience of the farmer, by seeking first his kingdom, by learning to see through kingdom eyes.

However, in a world where evil wrecks havoc in the world, it is easy to get impatient and seek to take matters into our own hands. It is easy to place our trust in shallow optimism that through sheer effort of human will-power that the world will get better if only we try to be better people.

Patience is an important virtue. However, it is also more than a virtue; it is the kingdom way of being in the world; it is the modus operandi of the Church.

We do not threaten evil people with eternal damnation or attempt to enact God’s justice on our terms. Rather, we seek to overcome evil by doing good (cf. Rom. 12:21). The weeds are enemies; but they are also neighbors. Christ calls us to love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves.

We refuse to give up ground to the weeds. Rather, we patiently resist the weeds because we, as wheat, exist in and through the one who will set the world to rights. We refuse to succumb to the weeds, yet we forgive the weeds as well, reminded of our own similarity to the weeds.

We patiently endure because the world is not ours to save; the world, including the weeds, exists under the stewardship of the divine farmer.

We patiently resist and endure because we have hope that Christ, not evil, gets the final word. It is through his power, not ours, that the world will be liberated from bondage to evil.

We learn the way of patient love and forgiveness in the world where weeds grow by ordering our lives according to the kingdom.

We cannot learn kingdom patience flying solo, but alongside other stalks of wheat who are learning to see the world through kingdom eyes.

We learn kingdom patience through regularly participating in the communal practices of the Christian community – baptism, prayer, reading Scripture, worship, Communion.

It is through the patient repetition of these practices – over and over and over again – that we grow and begin to bear seed where we are planted.
It is through the patient repetition of these practices – over and over and over again – that we are slowly shaped into the likeness of the divine farmer.

Let us pray.

God you are the Patient Farmer who cares for his crop. May we be the wheat you plant in the world. Help us to grow in Christ so that we may bear seeds of the kingdom. Help us to put our trust in you so that we may patiently resist and endure the evil of the world, responding to it with the same love and grace that you extend to us through your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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