Sermon for July 17, 2011
Based on Mathew 13:24-30, 36-43

It seemed like a good opportunity this morning to talk about something that many of us gardeners know about first hand-weeds. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows that weeds are what we battle and try to control all summer long. I still have a vision of my grandmother swinging a long hand-held weed cutter whacking away at a mass of thistles, cursing them as she cut them down. At some point the battle is so overwhelming, and the days become so hot and humid that some of us, me included, finally surrender to the weeds.  As a friend of mine once said, “I enjoy the garden until it becomes too overwhelming.” The thing that is so annoying about weeds is how fast they grow even in a draught, and how deeply rooted most of them are.  Did you know that weed seeds can lie dormant in the ground for over thirty years? A cousin of mine doesn’t use the common expression of “pulling weeds.” Her answering machine message says “I cannot come to the phone because I am out in the garden eradicating the weeds.” Of course today many people don’t pull weeds; they simply spray them with a toxic chemical.  The drawback is of course that we ingest those chemicals with our vegetables.

Our gospel lesson this morning is called the Parable of the Weeds, but is also known as the Parable of the Tares.  “Tares” is a word for weeds we don’t hear much today. A tare is any obnoxious weed that grows in a field. It is believed that the weed the parable talks about is called “darnel” a poisonous wheat-like weed that is common throughout the Middle East. The rabbis considered darnel to be a perverted kind of wheat. It was a weed that was hard to distinguish from real wheat until it had matured. As is often the case the bible uses nature, and especially plants, to teach us. It is what most spoke to the people in biblical times who were mostly farmers.  Jesus’s parables were often about plants; mustard seeds, trees, flowers, grass, and weeds. Parables are simple stories that teach a moral or religious lesson. But although parables are simple they are often interpreted in many ways. But that is what a parable is supposed to do.  Each of us is able to see something different in the story; it speaks to us in a different way.  There is no absolute meaning behind parables. Jesus’ parable of the weeds is both simple and yet somewhat strange and confusing. But Jesus’ parables were often meant to be mind-teasers.

Jesus, talking to his disciples and to a crowd of people, said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.” The setting for this story would have been a very large farm with slaves to do the work.  Yet our story says that it was the owner of the farm who planted the wheat, not the slaves. Odd. All the slaves do in the story is ask questions. “Sir did you not sow good seed in your field?” they asked. “How then has it weeds?” Why would the slaves who were familiar with farming be surprised to find weeds in a field of wheat?  There was no Round Up weed killer in those days.

There are two sowings in this story, the first sowing by the farmer and the second sowing by the farmer’s enemies. Now as you and I know weed seeds do not need to be sown by anyone. They plant themselves quite well without anyone’s help. In order to plant weed seeds in someone’s field you would first have to go gather the weed seed, an extremely time consuming process. In biblical times the Roman government even had laws against planting darnel seed in someone’s field. So you can see, even if it doesn’t appear so when you first read the parable, there are a lot of odd situations in this story; strange behaviors, people saying and doing things that was out of character, confusion over things that were obvious. The parable is a good example of how we can see something that is wrong right in front of us and still not see that something is wrong.

This is a story of Mathew’s interpretation of the difference between good and evil, in the world and in the Church. Mathew is telling the story with the expectation that those of us who hear it or read (both in his day or today) will identify with the story in a particular way. The weeds in the wheat field represent Satan, or evil. The wheat in the field represents good, the powerful word of God. As Mathew says right before this passage …the weeds are those people who hear the word of God but still worry about the needs of this life and are fooled by their own desires, they are fooled by their need to get rich. While they are worrying about worldly things God’s word gets choked out of their lives and they never really produce anything that matters because God has become secondary in their lives. So the question for us is “Are we good seeds sown by Jesus, or are we bad seeds sown by Satan? Are we good or evil?

As we get to the later verses of this chapter the disciples ask Jesus to explain his parable about the weeds. As was often the case, they didn’t get it. They are no longer in the place where Jesus told the parable.  Jesus has taken the disciples away from the crowds to a house. You and I who are hearing this story or reading it alone are invited to join them. As we read it or hear it today we are given the opportunity to understand two things; that many things about God and this world are a mystery to us, and that God, not us, will take care of the future of the world. These two things are revealed and understood only to those who are followers of Jesus our teacher. The story treats us the readers as if we are part of the community of Jesus, because as Christians we are. We are part of the same church of Mathew’s day, the Christian church that still exists today.

Jesus in this parable is the sower of the wheat seed. Jesus is the sower of that which is good. We as his followers are the wheat that has grown into people of faith, or Christians. We are the result of the sowing of the Son of Man.  Those who do not believe, those who are against that which is good are the result of evil. They are the weeds that have come out of the seeds planted by evil. But you and I are a blend of both good and evil, planted in the same field, the field of the world. None of us live completely weed free lives. None of us are completely good all the time.  We have all been a weed now and then. And so therefore we need to be careful about who we are calling a weed. It is really not our responsibility to be calling anyone a weed. It is not our responsibility to say who is evil and who is not. That is up to God. There is a saying that goes, “A weed is only a plant whose purpose has not yet been determined.” We need to trust that God knows best who is good and who is evil. Who is truly good and who is truly evil is no mystery to God. When we start weeding people out of our lives, out of our communities, out of our churches because we think they are evil we do nothing more than alienate people. And we often find that there are more weeds than wheat around us. We find that the roots of both the wheat and the weeds are entangled.  If you have ever weeded a garden then you know that sometimes no matter how careful you are, no matter how good your intentions, you inevitably pull out a plant you didn’t want pulled out in your attempt to pull out a weed that was growing beside it.

All of us know of some situation where someone has been “weeded” out of a family, “weeded” out of a church, “weeded” out of a club, “weeded” out of an organization, “weeded” out of a job because someone thought they were no longer worthy for something they had done. Families frequently weed out members who do things that are considered unacceptable.  Church members are sometimes weeded out for committing a sin that the members of the church find unforgivable. Some religious groups shun people who they no longer find acceptable.  But when we “weed” out people from our lives, when we alienate them from our lives we no longer have the opportunity to help them. We have denied ourselves the opportunity to help them become good life nourishing wheat. 

I don’t think it would come to a shock to any of us here this morning to find out that our families and even our churches are not entirely trustworthy. They are not weed free. They are not all filled with good people. The world is full of good and wonderful people but it is also full of evil. Our families can be places of great joy and support, but they can also cause us great pain.  Our churches can be places of good, of inspiration, and support but they can also let us down with their pettiness and lack of faith at times.  Good and evil live beside one another in every aspect of this life in the field of this world.

But the good news that Jesus has given us is this. The evil that exists in this world is only temporary.  In the end, only good will endure. We live in a broken, imperfect, unfair, weed infested world and neither you nor I can completely change that. We need to accept that it is not humanly possible for us to completely fix the world by ourselves. That is not to say that we are to do nothing to make the world a better place.  We are to live our lives as if we were living in God’s kingdom right now. We are to live as people of faith, obedient to God, living the kind of lives that Jesus taught us to live. That means not passing judgment on who is good and bad, who is deserving and who is not, who is worthy and who is unworthy.  Only God in God’s wisdom knows people’s hearts. And only God is to pass judgment on his people.

Life is never what we think it is. There is often much more to people’s lives than we know. Like the parable of the weeds that seemed like a simple, ordinary story when we first heard it, life even when it seems simple and ordinary is much more complicated than it appears.  Perhaps that is the reason Jesus told a parable that at first reading seems like a normal story.  But upon looking at it more closely it turns out to be a confusing story and odd in many ways. Jesus told the parable to make us see that things aren’t always how they first appear to us. To remind us to not make judgments about people and situations.  We are to let it up to God to do that.  Because only God knows the whole story, and only God knows what is in our heart.  All God asks us to do is to live lives of faith, do the best we can, live the kind of life Jesus taught us to live and let the rest up to God. By doing so we will live lives that are less anxious, are much more joyful and full of hope for the future.