Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev. Denise Vaughn
Our Very Patient God
The parable in today’s Gospel reading follows directly after the parable of the seed and the soils we head last Sunday where Jesus addresses the question of why responses to his message vary so greatly and so often seem unproductive. Jesus called his followers to understand the soil, to sow the seed, and to persevere despite the response, then give thanks to God in faith for the abundant harvest. Today’s story the parable of the Weeds, like last week, is another parable drawn from the farming, the agriculture of Jesus’ day but today instead of different kind of soils, we encounter two kinds of seed sown by polar-opposite sowers, good and evil, with the focus being on the end of the age or the final judgment.
We live in an age in which farmers handle the problem of weeds among the wheat with herbicides, pesticides that raise serious concerns on the part environmentalists and many others, including myself. Environmentalist Jonathan Weiner, reminds us in his book The Next Hundred Years that our planet has no life insurance policy. Infants born today, he asserts, may experience more changes in their lifetime than the planet Earth has seen since the birth of civilization. Much has to be done if we are to preserve the creation as we know it. Jesus made it clear that people will be held accountable for the way they respond, or fail to respond, to the revelation of God’s loving concern for the creatures of the creation. This concern for creation and for the creatures, God’s people, speaks to us today as we wrestle with the forces at work in our world.
Therefore, hopefully we hear this parable as an insight into the life of the church. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Yet, even when the good seed is planted by the good sower, the realities of world allow the weeds also to be planted and to grow and thrive. The weeds can choke the wheat and stop its growth because the roots of the weed surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and water, making it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop. Even so the wheat can grow also within the weeds to its maturity waiting for the promised harvest. To those insiders of Matthew’s day when he wrote his gospel years after the resurrection, the message is clear: Never mind that there seems to be a lot of weeds in the world. Hang in there, wheat, be patient church. When the last day comes the wheat will be vindicated, while the weeds will go up in smoke.
This may have been a very comforting message in Matthew’s day because they believed that the Lord’s return to earth was eminent, but in these latter days, it can almost have the opposite effect. Matthew may have been clear there are only two kinds of people in the world-the wheat and the weeds-but for those of us today who have encountered both wheat and weeds in our selves, in others and in the world, this black and white view isn’t realistic. Like that field in which both healthy wheat and destructive weeds grow, the church is a mixed-bag reality. Sometimes our lives resemble the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and wheat intertwined in our hearts, minds and souls. So this business of gathering and burning the weeds can make us kind of nervous. And may even leave us asking which am I? Wheat or weed? Blessed or cursed?
We hear Jesus clearly acknowledge the reality of evil; the reality of evil’s destructive nature and the need to get rid of it and the difficulty of doing so. Still, the servants are confident that, without further delay, they can bring in the harvest, burn the weed, and settle the problem. However, the master in this parable has greater wisdom. No, let both grow together until the harvest, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat and you can’t always tell about these plants. We can’t always tell what is a good plant sometimes and what is not. We want to bring matters to a head but the God we see in this parable models for us an infinite patience; a patience that frees us to go about the business of sowing the seed and lovingly living with our neighbor despite the weeds and wheat in their lives and ours.
Jesus tells this parable with a group of disciples who reflect characteristics of both wheat and weeds themselves and during a time when he is moving toward his own time of trial and death. In their concern to sort out the evil from the good, they have only to be reminded of their own betrayal. They only have to be reminded of their own sinfulness to be aware of how easy it is to rush to judgment. Thus the master tells his servants to be patient and wait until the harvest, when they can see the difference by the fruit that is borne. Jesus presents us with a picture of what the church must be, what kind of faith community we must be to survive and produce the desired outcome or kingdom for God. A God who not only tolerates endlessly a world that is a mixture of good and evil, faith and faithlessness, and who at some point in God’s time acts to judge and to redeem the world.
As Christians, we believe and profess that through Jesus Christ, that this hurting and impatient world will one day in God’s time be completed and redeemed. This time until the harvest is a time for us to come to the knowledge and love of God who has abundant love and grace for all. We may not be aware of those who respond to God’s love and in fact, we may be troubled at times because we see the sinfulness in the church. We may even believe evil is winning out in the world. But, that is not the way it is. We are reminded again in this story that God works in hidden and surprising ways, ultimately overcoming the forces of evil. In the meantime, God it seems is very patient with us, with our good and evil nature, willing to wait for those who will repent. Just waiting for the good seeds to be sown, waiting for the good crop to flourish, to produce the desired fruit in the kingdom.
“Let anyone with ears listen Jesus says!” The secret of the kingdom of God is hearts that have not grown dull, eyes that see and ears that hear. We are to have a patience that is not satisfied with the present, but strives toward a future promised by God. Always seeking to grow into the grace and love of God; a grace that sends us out to do the sowing God has called us to do. For in hope we were saved to be an example of a redeemed people, forgiven by God, sent out by God’s Holy Spirit, to sow the message of God’s love. Leaving the sorting up to God to do, giving thanks always for the abundant, fruitful harvest because the weeds cannot stop us.