In the eaves over our back porch is a bird’s nest that’s been there for at least a decade. Multiple times a year, the mourning doves hatch new little baby birds. One year, a swarm of wasps built their nest just a few inches away from the hatchlings; too close to spray insecticide or remove the wasps without endangering the birds.
So, I let it be until it was safe to do something. And guess what? Nothing happened. The birds grew up and the wasps eventually moved on. If these two seemingly opposing creatures can live side-by-side in perfect harmony, then so can we.
Like we will see from today’s reading, we are all called to live in this world together - friends and enemies alike - enduring all the good and bad that we bring with us. Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but while everybody 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... 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.’ ” Matthew 13:24-30
Immediately following last week’s parable of the farmer who recklessly throws seeds everywhere to see what would grow, Jesus gives us another parable about another farmer, one who’s more intentional with his seeds.
Like he does every year, the farmer carefully sows wheat in his field hoping to reap a bounty come harvest time. While the seed is germinating, an enemy of the farmer sneaks in and sows weeds into his crop. Unbeknownst to the farmer, the two plants grow together.
When the field-hands discover this, they rush to act. And rightfully so. Weeds not only choke out the good plants, but they also reproduce unwanted seedlings that can plague future crops.
A smart gardener would take immediate action to remove the weeds like the field-hands suggest. But the farmer seems to have a different strategy in mind: don’t worry about the weeds, tend to them both and we’ll sort it out later. This puzzles the workers, just as it probably did to those who were listening firsthand.
Last week I confessed that my obsession to have the perfect yard often sent me into war against the dandelions. But to be fair, it’s not just those pillowy puffs that get my ire up. There’s a vast assortment of evil weeds that snake around my yard strangling the life out of my good grass.
When we moved into this house, the previous owners had put down new sod. It was a spongy, luscious, dark green carpet of paradise that tickled my bare feet. But by spring, some crabgrass appeared.
I should have known by the puzzled look on his face that it was a bad idea to ask the gardener to pull up any crabgrass he spotted. Which he did, diligently. When I returned home, 50% of my beautiful yard was gone. Although he put down new seed in the barren areas, it was too late. The spotted spurge, the chickweed and Bermuda grass had already joined the party.
It’s easy to think this parable is about separating ourselves from bad people and their evil ways. Jesus clearly puts the onus on the evil one for spreading the weeds.
While it’s easy for us to make the devil our scapegoat, let us not forget that just as the wheat and the weeds grow together in the same field, so too does good and evil grow in the same persons.
Which means, the only way to get rid of evil altogether would be to get rid of literally everyone. But according to Jesus, that’s not how it works in God’s kingdom.
Jesus knows evil exists in the world. He, like most of us, suffered dearly because of it. He also knows suffering is inevitable, especially when we love as he taught. And when bad things happen we’re all affected by it either directly or indirectly.
This raises the age-old question “Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?” I don’t know the answer. But I suspect God could ask us the same thing. Why do we let it happen?
Unlike crabgrass, evil isn’t easily rooted out with human hands. Especially when it’s our own deep seeded sin we’re trying to remove.
So, what do we do? In this parable Jesus tells not to worry about it. Those weeds that grow in and around us will be dealt with later. He said at the end of the age, the angelic reapers will collect and separate the good from the bad.
So perhaps, instead of focusing on the evil weeds, we’d be better off putting our attention on producing good wheat. As Robert Capon points out, “The wheat is in the field, the Kingdom is in the world, and there is not a thing the enemy can do about any of it.”
Just as God knows good from bad, God also knows the heart. The place where God’s divine images has been stamped into everyone - whether we know it or not.
Just as a weed seed produces weeds, a good and godly heart produces good and godly things.
The world would be a better place if we all just put our attention on that inner goodness - in ourselves and in others. This doesn’t mean evil will no longer exist, but it’s a good way to strip it of its power.
So, where should we begin to make that change in our seeing and understanding?
Capon points our attention to a particular Greek word in this passage: the verb, aphiémi (ἀφίημι), which has two distinct meanings in the New Testament. The first is “to let go, leave, permit” like we read in most modern bible translations. The farmer told his workers to, “Let both grow together until the harvest.”
But Capon argues that’s not how the early followers of Jesus would have heard aphiémi. They would have understood the verb by its other meaning, “to forgive,” like it’s translated in the Lord’s Prayer with the forgiving of debts (or sins or trespasses). “Don’t fight the weeds,” the farmer instructed his workers. “Instead, forgive them. Otherwise you risk your own wellbeing.”
God’s kingdom is not a system of revenge and retribution, but forgiveness and grace.
This is hard for the world to understand. It’s not how power operates. The world isn’t about giving grace, it’s about getting what you deserve. Unless you have received the unconditional love, and unmerited mercy of God’s grace, then it will be hard to understand this parable - muchless what Jesus is all about.
The wheat is already in the ground. The kingdom of heaven has already been ushered in. There’s nothing evil can do to stop what God has already set in motion.
“The malice, the evil, the badness that has manifested in the real world and in the lives of real people, is not to be dealt with by attacking or abolishing the things or persons in whom it dwells; rather, it is to be dealt with only by forgiving, letting go.” (Capon)
It’s not our job to attack the weeds and risk destroying everything. That’s what evil wants us to do – to use our good to produce bad.
Our job is to let go of our judgements and grudges and the need to always be right, and enter this kingdom with a heart of loving compassion.
Jesus knows an unforgiving heart is a byproduct of evil that holds onto anger and rage which produces hatred, violence, destruction, and division.
Jesus says let that stuff go. It has no place in the kingdom of heaven. We would do better focusing on our own goodness, standing in our Christlikeness, trusting God’s faithfulness and love.
James Finley writes, “In light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time. Our sole purpose is to learn how to love because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny.”
There is evil out there, and it will try to stop us from loving as God loves us. But we are Easter people. At the resurrection of Christ Jesus, God made it very clear evil will never prevail. But love will. Jesus is our proof.
In his letter to the Roman churches, where infighting and persecutions were threatening the church’s existence, Paul reminds us that there is nothing in this world (good or bad) that is able to separate us from the love of God that has been given to us through Christ Jesus.(Rom. 8:39)
All the weeds, and sins, and evil in the world can’t stop what God has already set in motion through Christ. Not a cross. Not a grave. Not anyone of us.
Although we cannot destroy evil, we can face it like Jesus did – by loving God, loving others, and serving both.
To think it was only a couple of years ago we were wearing masks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus. In the same way, if we live into our Christlikeness, sowing the seeds of love as wildly and liberally as he did, then perhaps we can slow the spread of evil from doing any more damage to ourselves and to our communities.
Love is the way into the kingdom of heaven. A kingdom, that Jesus ushered in not “up there” somewhere. But here.
Jesus has entrusted us, to make this kingdom come alive everywhere and anywhere we intermingle with one another; sowing mercy, grace, and love among the good and bad alike, until the Son of Man comes and sorts it all out at the end.
Adapted from Growing Together on July 17, 2020.
Capon, Robert Farrar. The Parables of the Kingdom. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.)
Finley, James. “Practice That Grounds Us in the Sustaining Love of God,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 26, 2020). (accessed on 07-16-2020)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”