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Weeds and Wheat

SPM Intern Rachel Watson

September 6, 2020
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone 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. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

My mother-in-law is a gifted gardener.

Colorful flower gardens fill every available space all the way around her house, every one carefully tended with love.

And not too far from the house in the herb garden. Three concentric circles of beds with winding paths leading to a gazebo in the middle. And each bed, full of herbs…every kind you can imagine and probably some you can’t.

She knows her seeds and she knows how to tend to soil, yet this doesn’t keep the weeds away, which seem to sprout the second she turns her back. She could use a weed killer, but she won’t because she knows that while that would take care of the weeds, it would destroy the very plants she means to protect. So, if you are lucky enough to be visiting on a morning when she’s planning to pull some weeds (which is most every morning in the spring and summer), you will be invited to join her for weeding and conversation in the garden.

But here’s a thing you should know about me.
I am not a gardener.

I am a grower of beans in Ziploc bags and dixie cups that will be sent home with eager young children well before they see expanses of soil where weeds can take root among them. I know they are beans because I bought them from the grocery store in a bag labeled “beans.” In the wild, I wouldn’t be able to pick out a bean plant unless it literally had beans growing all over it.

Unless they are obvious, in your face, weeds like the dandelions my grandmother battled in her yard, I’m a mess. So, weeding with my mother-in-law builds up my anxiety. I watch her growing pile of green leaves with stems and study the green leaves with stems she leaves in the ground to grow and worry because I can’t tell the difference between them at all.

With practice, I’m confident I could get better, but it’s a slow and intentional process to learn things like this.

And it turns out that even the best gardener can be fooled when presented with certain weeds known as mimic weeds. These weeds have seeds that resemble the good plants so much that they are indistinguishable. They grow among the good plants and escape notice because they look so much alike. They are often only distinguishable when fruit is finally produced.

And this is the problem for the farmer in this parable.

Dzedzania is the Greek word for these weeds, and many scholars believe that it refers to a weed common in that period known as darnel. The seeds of the darnel look exactly the same as the wheat grasses grown for food and farmers were vigilant during harvest to separate the darnel, so the seeds would not be in their supply. The darnel looks so much like the wheat as it begins to grow, that it allows them to blend in and receive the care of the farmer they actually need to survive. Without cultivation, these weeds would die, but the farmer does not know he is growing the weeds until they produce their fruit, a fruit that has to be separated because eating it can lead to death or, at least, madness.

In the parable, it is when the fruit begins to yield that the workers of the field notice the problem and appeal to their boss. “Shall we pull them up?” they ask.

But the farmer says that in pulling up the weeds among the wheat while they are still growing, good wheat would also be uprooted, perhaps confused with the unwelcome darnel or because the roots had become so intertwined. Instead, he says, wait until the end of the growing season and then harvest only the good grains, gathering the fruit of the weeds to be burned.

The thing about parables is that they start with such a simple story, seemingly able to be understood by any ordinary listener. But just underneath this simple exterior, if you are willing to let it grow, is something more. Like a seed, we wonder about the truth inside as we let it grow in us with the help of the Spirit. Parables are an invitation to wonder.

What is the field? What is the good seed? What are the weeds? If the world is the field and we are the plants, then are we the weed or the wheat? Well, now, that’s an uncomfortable idea.

I know I’m not perfect. I know I try to be the wheat, but my weediness becomes apparent from time to time. Whose doesn’t?

The obvious weeds…
the hurtful actions driven by anger,
the drive to hoard more for myself at the expense of others,
the intent to silence or destroy others on purpose…
even I, the unskilled gardener, can recognize them like dandelions, out of place in the front yard, and pick them out before they spread.

But then there’s the weeds that grows undetected…
the biases planted during my childhood…
the thoughts cultivated by social media that becomes a carefully constructed sounding chamber…
the prejudices fertilized by my own experiences that lack another point of view…
even the passions for good that become so rooted that it rots, no longer useful and even hurtful.

These are the mimic weeds,
the ones that look like traditions,
like family,
like passions and past times,
like the familiar routines of everyday life.

And they’ve been there a long time, with roots tangled up with the good things that grow in the well-meaning gardens of life.

I try my best to pluck them out when their true fruit begins to yield.

But surely there are others still growing that I am not yet aware of.

Does that mean I am the weed to burned at the end of the age?

Or is it possible that we, you and me, are neither the weed nor the wheat?

I was relieved to read that Origen and St. Gregory, influential theologians of the very early church, also wondered like me.

Perhaps we are the field in a world of fields.
In us is sown the good seed, the good Word and the good things that come from God.
But the weeds of sin are planted in us as well,
when we are not watching,
when we are not vigilant,

And some of them, the sneaky weeds that even the best of farmers fail to recognize until they begin to bloom.

And if God is the one creator of all and we are all, every single one of us, is beloved child of God, who are these children of the evil one among us?

Perhaps the children are the fruits of the seeds that are cultivated in us.

The good seed produces the fruit of kingdom — gentleness, love, compassion, joy, radical hospitality…you know…the things that Jesus did.

The fruit of evil one is sin. From the fruit of the seeds, the temptations, that take root in us, some so sneaky we don’t notice them until they flower.

Of course, we try, with all that we are, to grow the good seeds, to yield only the fruits of the kingdom. But like the weeds in my mother-in-law’s garden, the darnel of the world is relentless. And we cultivate them without noticing
in ourselves,
in our communities,
in our children,
even in our churches.

With practice, we do get better at recognizing the weeds. We start to become a more gifted gardener, skillfully pulling up not only the dandelions, but also those other green leaves with stems that aren’t actually so much the same.

But still the weeds grow.

Sown in secret, when we weren’t paying attention, and escaping notice. It is, for example, the racism and unconscious bias that we were taught as children.

Not racism that leads to lynchings or the killing of children who play innocently in their yards.

But the subtle racism that pushes us to group together by color in the lunchroom unnoticed. That causes us to be almost too friendly, assuming permission to touch or speak to one another in a way that hints to a layer of disrespect we don’t even know is there.

Jesus tells the disciples that at the end of the age, angels will be sent to collect the causes of sin and all evildoers and throw them into the fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If we acknowledge our own weediness, this is not good news, is it?

But let’s return, for just a minute, to the story at the surface of this parable. The darnel, the dzidzania, has another interesting characteristic that appears at harvest time.

Wheat gets heavy and its head bends, bowing almost as if in prayer. And the more fruit it carries, the deeper it bows. But darnel does not. It stands tall until the very end.

Prayer. Humility. A willingness to bend to God’s will.
A willingness to admit when we haven’t gotten it right.
That’s it, isn’t it?

For when the angels will come at the end of the age.
Bowing, bending, the wheat is recognized, and the weeds are pulled away to be burned.

Bowing in prayer, and humble in spirit, the good we want to be is recognized and our sins are gathered and we are made right, even as we weep in contemplation of our sins.

In confession, we come just as we are, weeds and wheat.

When what has grown is evil, is sin, is that which refuses to serve the kingdom,
we call upon our savior in prayer to be cleansed by the Spirit.
We call upon our savior in prayer to make us able to bear good fruit.

And, friends, surely there will be, surely there is, gnashing of teeth and weeping. We cry and gnash our teeth because admitting to the weeds we have allowed to grow even if we haven’t noticed up until now brings guilt. And recognizing the places where we need to grow and change, even for the better, is hard.

In confession, we come just as we are, weeds and wheat, over and over.

And then we prepare ourselves for a new growing season.

The King James Version, in verse 40, speaks of the harvest that happens that the end of the world. The NRSV translates it as the end of the age. But the Greek word refers simply to the end of cycle, a season. It isn’t necessarily the end of the world or even the end of a life. For the farmers who heard this story, it may have been the end of growing season that will surely repeat again and again.

And this is good news.

We keep trying to be the wheat, just the wheat, season after season. We keep crying out to made clean. To be renewed, to be reformed, to try again.
And with God’s grace, we get more than one chance at this.
Thanks be to God.

For almost twenty years now, I’ve been invited, over and over, to the garden to help rid my mother-in-law’s garden of those pesky weeds. They keep coming back. And we keep going back. And even after a morning of work, only a portion of the garden is clear. But in that corner, you see the beauty that was intended, that was hoped for, that could, and will, one day, be. In that corner, the fruit of the kingdom shines through like the sun.

It is never ending task. But we don’t do it alone.

Like my mother-in-law, we invite others, ones more experienced and ones who thirst to understand. We find the weeds we know. We discover ones we didn’t see when others teach us to spot them. We help others spot ones they hadn’t yet discovered. We join in conversation. We share our pain and labor together. We strain to be better.

One season at a time.

Until, one day, the whole garden will be as it is intended to be.


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