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. The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30)
Now, I come from a long line of Illinois farmers and I know the parable of the wheat and tares (or weeds) very well. Often the bags of wheat seed you buy to plant your wheat crop contain seeds from a type of rye grass, which when it sprouts looks exactly like wheat. In the days before weed killer that could target only weeds, we nieces and nephews were ‘hired’ to pull out the weeds in the wheat fields. Unfortunately, unless you waited until the plants were mature, you often also pulled up the wheat instead of the weeds, which, needless to say, did not make my uncles very happy.
This parable of Jesus’ is also about letting things sprout and grow until they show their true nature before you decide what to keep and let grow, and what to remove.
The farmer in this parable planted good seed; that is certainly what he intended when he bought the seed and carefully prepared the field and planted it. But something went wrong. Weeds suddenly appeared among the wheat stalks – robbing the wheat of rain and sun and nourishment. But the farmer was not surprised – anyone who buys and plants seeds knows that there are all kinds of other things in the seed bag. He also knew what to do to ensure that he had a good harvest.
Jesus’ disciples were troubled by the parable, and asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus told them – and us – that He, himself, was the one who was planting the good seed, and that the field where the seed was being planted was the world — the whole world. The wheat is those of us who follow Jesus’ teachings and try to live decent lives of love, services and justice. Jesus told the disciples that an enemy of goodness – or in reality – evil actions and thoughts that occur in our lives separate us from God. These evil things always get mixed in with the good seed. Jesus advised his followers to wait until the harvest to pull the weeds. That then, God would separate the good from the bad – the wheat from weeds – and the good wheat would be saved for the Kingdom.
Today you and I live in a world where good seed and bad seed co-exist. This world of ours is a great field, a field just waiting for good seed. But just as good seed is sown, so is bad.
When we try to eliminate every weed, we forget that we have weeds within us. Not only do the weeds and the wheat grow together in the same field; they grow together in our own lives.
There are no purely good people or totally bad people. As much as we love the old-time westerns where there were good guys and bad guys, and they were easy to tell apart by their black or white hats, the world just isn’t that way. We often judge others and their shortcomings, but we do not see our own quite so clearly.
We often make judgments about our community and those around us
- this person is a liar;
- this person is going to cause trouble;
- that person is manipulative or bossy.
Sadly, it is human nature to judge and compare, but try to remember that the judgment of people should be left to God. This is what the parable is saying.
Don’t judge too hastily, don’t harm others in your zeal to rip out the weeds; wait until the harvest.
So, how does this parable tell us to live now?
The parable says to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest. Let them grow; wait until they mature. With the weeds, if you let them grow long enough, they show themselves for what they are. The early sprouts of a weed can look like the beginning sprouts of a wheat plant. It’s only with time that we are able to distinguish one from the other.
In this parable, weeds and wheat are not plants but people. And the good part of that is that as children of God, the weeds can change their nature. Someone who is viewed as a ‘weed’ can repent of those things that make them a weed to society and become a positive member of the Kingdom. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.
There are times when we are all wheat – and then weeds. We change and grow.
Are you following the good parts of yourself or are you settling for the “weeds’ in you?
Don’t pull out the weeds.
Don’t judge others around you.
Instead, build up the community. Make sure you are not becoming a weed yourself! Be alert.
So, what are you?
Are you a
stalk of wheat. . .
or a weed?
As I look around you all, I see only a beautiful field wheat – you are all beautiful children of God.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 July 2017