In an essay published in April, Brian McLaren realized how, “We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals. But now we realize we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness.”
Doctors, ministers, teachers, nurses, parents, kids, we’re all affected by this we’re all susceptible to burnt out and to the bad things that cause it to happen. In his parables, Jesus reminds us that, for better or worse, we all share this world. At the end of the day, it’s how we live together that is going to make the real difference.
Read Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Jesus’ “great sermon on the parables,” as Stanley Hauerwas likes to call this section of Matthew’s gospel, is filled a bunch of lessons about the kingdom of heaven. This particular parable of the Wheat and Weeds is a continuation of last week’s parable of the Seeds and Soil. Only instead of good seed planted by a good sower, here we encounter two kinds of seeds sown by polar-opposite sowers. One good. One bad.
Jesus teaches us that the seeds in this parable are not so much about faith like last’s week lesson, but about two different kinds of discipleship.The kind that is the life-giving seed of Christ. The other being a weed producer that has no use in the kingdom of heaven.
This opens the door to all sorts of questions about good and evil, or why God allows evil to persist, and so on. Truth be told, I don’t know why a God who makes all things good allows bad things to happen. Unless of course evil is part of a greater plan that has yet to be revealed. But again, I don’t have a sufficient answer for that.
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Today, I want to point your attention to the bearded darnel. In writing on this passage, Talitha Arnold addresses this particular weed, which in biblical terms is often referred to as ‘tares’ or ‘thistles’. Arnold says, “The bearded darnel defies Emerson’s poetic notion that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” She goes on to call it “the devil of all weeds” because its insidious roots surround and strangle the roots of good plants.
As Jesus pointed out, it’s impossible to uproot darnel without causing more damage to the good crop. To make matters worse, this sinister plant looks identical to wheat; yet unlike wheat, the seeds of the bearded darnel can be fatal if ingested.
Because it lacks any good qualities, Arnold points to darnel as “the perfect illustration of the pernicious nature of evil, underscoring both the necessity of eradicating it and the difficulty of doing so.”
In the eves of our home is a birds nest that’s been there for at least 8 years. Multiple times a year, the mourning doves come and hatch new babies there. This year, a swarm of wasps have decided to build their nest right next door. It’s too close to the baby birds to spray it or knock it down. I wouldn’t be able to get rid of one without getting harming or damaging the other. So, I let them live together until the time comes when it will be safe to do so.
This is similar to the parable Jesus tells. And it’s a great reminder that while we like to see ourselves as good people, doing our best to live as faithfully and kindly we can, given the circumstances we face, there’s always a little bearded darnel lurking around us intertwining itself - in our souls, our hearts, and our minds.
Think about all that’s been going on recently, all that has come to light as we’ve seen “the social and spiritual viruses spreading among us from individual to individual; causing all kinds of sickness [and death].” Evil viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, the kind of evil that is spread through prejudice and fear mongering. (McLaren)
This evil is real. It’s not a hoax or fake news. And we all are affected by it. Not even the church is immune. As you’ve heard me say before, the church is not a building, it’s people people who are susceptible and vulnerable to the world around us.
Thus, this parable is perfect teaching tool for today - reminding us to remain present and fully engaged in God’s righteousness even as evil encroaches on us. We are all in this together. And we need lean into God’s righteousness if we are going to grow through this.
When the servants want to rip up the weeds, what does the landowner tell them to do? “Let them grow together until the harvest.”
Now, you don’t have to be a farmer to understand what darnel can do to a crop, or what evil can do to your faith and the greater community. So why would Jesus want us to let them grow together? What would be the purpose for the two to intermingle?
It’s not like Jesus didn’t understand the power of evil. He had his own darnel to deal with in those pesky Pharisees who would eventually grow to killed him. Jesus saw evil reveal itself in the most unassuming places and in the most brutal of ways. Yet, it did not cause him to give up doing what God called him to do.
Jesus knew a thing or two about the goodness of God, who often used evil to reveal the greatest of God’s glory to the world. When I read this parable, I couldn’t help but see it as a call for us to be patient so God can do what God does best. Jesus knows we have to live side-by-side with others who don’t think like we do, or share the same faith.
It’s like he’s telling us that it’s in our being, in our struggle to stand in the world as people of God’s righteousness, that we can shine the light of God’s glory upon the bad things that lurk around us. That’s our job, to be the salt and light of the world.
I think Jesus is also warning us to be patient because he knows our impatience can lead us to separate from one another - using fear, anger, and violence to do so. As we draw lines between us and them, remember Jesus told us not to be so quick to judge others. Instead be patient, don’t worry about what going on worry about what you’re doing to others. Trust me, God knows which plant is good and which one is not.
I think this parable is also a model of God’s infinite patience that frees us to live with one another with peaceful intentions in this age, right now, which of course prepares us for the age to come.
Like James Finley once stated, “In light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time. We’re here for one thing, ultimately: to learn how to love, because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny.”
So why does landlord tell his workers to be patient and wait until the harvest? Because that’s when the true fruit of the plant is revealed. Love will always rise to the surface and make itself known.
Eventually a politician’s lies will be exposed, a criminal’s past will catch up, corporate greed will run its course but the good fruit of God’s righteousness will always reveal the glory of God’s love in you and me. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus names the very things we will be judge by. Our only litmus test, Jesus tells us, will be based on how we produce good fruit in the ways we care for one another. In the ways we love others as God loves us.
You see, this parable is about us, the church and it’s about us, the state. It’s about individuals and families and communities and a global interconnectedness. It’s about us being in the world, while not being of the world.
In his first epistle, Peter reminds us that we are only temporary residents here. He warns us to live properly among our neighbors who see the good things we do in Christ name, and when their day of judgment comes they will be able to glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Jesus knows the evil that runs amuck in our world. He knows that failure to deal with it will allow it to spread like a virus, or seeds of noxious darnel. Just as we all should wear a mask during a pandemic to slow or stop the virus from multiplying, by imitating Jesus in the way we live we can slow down or maybe even stop the spread of evil from contaminating God’s creation even further.
Love is the way Jesus invite us to usher in the kingdom of heaven. Love is the way we carry on his ministry throughout the ages. In the sermon on the parables, we can see that kingdom isn’t just “up there” somewhere, but everywhere we intermingle and grow together.
It’s here, in this time and space, that we join Jesus in sowing good seeds – in the way we love, forgive, care for and tend to the needs of others, in the way we serve even our enemies instead of demanding to be served ourselves.
Jesus invites us into this holy space, even if it looks like the weeds have taken over. For it’s here we lean into the power and glory of God, whose angels will come and reap the fields – separating the good from the bad. Just as God’s love is more powerful than any virus or politic, it’s most certainly stronger than any weed-sowing enemy.
In a world where the seeds of hatred, injustice, and division are sown daily,God is still in charge; working through us and in to bring us all back together. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort to know God doesn’t just mixed and mingle with good and evil. Through Christ, God also acts to judge and redeem as well.
While I burnout on all the bad news out there, I hold tight to the good news of the grace and love God gives us through Jesus Christ. If you are suffering from exhaustion or worried about what’s going on in the world, I hope that you will remember that “God doesn’t get burned out.”
As Henri Nouwen told us, “God is gentle and loving. He desires to give you a deep sense of safety in His love. Once you’ve allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern (who you are and) who you are being sent to in God’s name.”
Jesus is calling you to follow him on this journey. He is inviting you to open your heart to embrace the fullness of God’s glory; to shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven; to accept your calling as a beloved child of God, today until the end of the age when we will be gathered together ... as one people... in one glory... in God’s one and only eternal love.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
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)
McLaren, Brian. “We Are All Connected,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 20, 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.”