Today we come to one of Jesus’ famous parables. Parables aren’t blessings; and they aren’t marching orders for going out in the world. Parables are deceptively simple stories, delivered in plain speech, but often also in code.
This parable obviously was a little difficult, because the writer of Matthew puts in an “explanation” which we didn’t read today. You are welcome to read it, but I found that it only talks about the identification of the participants and not the meaning. Like identifying cartoon characters but not saying anything about the plot—or enjoying a commercial but not remembering the product that is supposed to be linked to the sales pitch.
The parable itself, is based on something people would have known about, farming. And many of us might have a little idea about it as well. My Mother loved to garden; it gave her great joy. But one thing marred her ecstasy—WEEDS. In fact, I remember that Mom used to offer to pay her children for each weed that was dug up properly. And if you have been in a garden, you know digging up a weed properly is not an easy task. Weeds are hearty. Weeds know how to multiply. Weeds sink their roots deep. And weeds (as we hear in the parable of the sower and the seeds) can choke out anything around them.
As a good storyteller Jesus is aware that you can’t make every single point in one story—that’s why the parables of the kingdom are parableS. The kingdom, Jesus muses, is like a multi-faceted jewel—you don’t see its true beauty until you put it in the sunshine, until you rotate it around, and look at it from all angles. And so in this part of Matthew, we have the kingdom pictured as a sower sewing good seed, a mustard seed, a lump of yeast, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, a net thrown into the sea, and as a story of Weeds and Wheat.
As I mused on this parable I began to see three questions in the story. 1) how do weeds get in the field? 2) what do we do about them? and 3) what will happen to the weeds in the end?
Now, as I speak, I want you to think about this story as written in a code—using a specific lens. What if we weren’t talking about weeds like dandelions—what if we were talking about weeds as systemic racism? Surely, this isn’t the only weed sprouting around, but let’s use it this morning since it is the weed we are most dealing with at the moment.
We start with question 1) that Weed—how did it get there? Is it necessarily the sower’s fault? Now, I don’t think Jesus is trying to give the owner a pass, he supposedly sewed good seed, and as we know from the parable of the sower, good seed also needs good soil. So, why are there weeds at all?
With our lens for today, Why is there racism, and larger yet, structural racism? Our parable suggests that weeds are there because evil is sneaky, and will grasp onto every little transgression, every, shall we call it “sin” that we participate in. (I hear the SNL Church lady questioning, “Is it SATAN?). Now evil can come in many forms, personal, corporate, amorphous. Anything that denigrates, crushes, belittles, dims the beautifulness of God’s creation (in this lens US—people of all hues) is evil. It is counter to God’s desire. It is unGod.
How do weeds appear? Because evil stalks creation. Maybe because this is the nature of life outside of Eden. To argue how we got here may make us miss the point—Jesus moves on.
Now I’m going to take a preacher’s license and not go in chronological order. So from questions 1) How did the weeds get here? I’m going to jump to question 3) “What happens to the weeds in the end?” Regardless of how we behave in the growing period—what will be the result when we get to harvest? It’s a very important point. Because if there is no justice, why bother? If those weeds are going to take over the world, and nothing ever happens, why should we even bother having this conversation? There has to be hope that there will be a reckoning in this world. Jesus doesn’t want us to think that God will allow evil to win.
So he paints a picture that at the harvest, at the judgement, at the final moment—there will be a discerning. God knows who or what is weed and who or what is wheat. And the weed is destroyed while the wheat is gathered into God’s house. So fear not, or depending on who or what you have aligned yourself with, WATCH OUT!
Which leads me back to the center part of the parable, and the most difficult to deal with, I think. I hear my Mother saying, “If you let the weeds grow, they can overwhelm the garden.” So the slaves ask, “Should we go gather the weeds?” And the householder says “No, for you might uproot the wheat with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest. Then we’ll deal with them.”
Ok, with our lens, let’s just think about that advice for a second.
Is Jesus saying that we should not try to root out racism in our world, in our very selves? What would it that mean to let the weeds grow with the wheat? Aren’t we seeing exactly what happens to a society when you let
weedy thoughts percolate under the surface
and weedy actions go unchecked
and weedy people get into places of power.
What are you talking about Jesus? We have to weed, and weed, and weed, and weed.
Ok, back to our ideas about parables. Maybe, since you can’t deal with everything in every story, this parable is trying to teach us to “continue to love and serve all” “don’t pull up the wheat with the weeds” (that’s what the Matthew 25 bible study suggests from PCUSA suggests). That just doesn’t feel right? But what if I look at this parable as a story in code? What if I looked at it from a different point of view? And I have to say, in what felt like Spirit intervention, the entire drift of this sermon changed.
I noticed that it was the person of privilege, the householder, who said, “let it go, I don’t want to mess up the good by trying to pull up the weeds.” But if I looked at this story from the perspective of the person under oppression, I thought “This is horsehockey.”
And now I had a problem. Did Jesus want us to side with the person of privilege? Would his followers have done that? Or would they have thought, hmmmm, that householder, that slave owner, that rich person, that white person (in our context) doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, and he or she is just trying to exert their influence (and stupidity) on us. Do we stop doing the necessary weeding just because it might uproot some “tender,” “fragile,” “profitable,” stuff?
Remember—in our story universe, the person of privilege didn’t necessarily plant the weeds. And in the end, the weeds are going to get destroyed. It’s what happens in the middle that is the crux. And this is why I think Jesus’ “explanation” of who the characters of the story are is unhelpful. Parables are meant to make you think. Parables are meant to jolt you. Make you cock your head. Make you turn around. So I decided to look at the parable again.
Question 1) How do the weeds get in the field? It’s very convenient that the person of privilege gets off scottfree about those weeds showing up. I think our oppressed people have something to say here as well. They ask, “didn’t you sew good seed?” And the master is the one who foists it all on the evil one. Hmmm. Seen from the point of view of those who Jesus was talking to—this was a lame excuse. “It’s not my fault” says the person of privilege as he walks with the devil, and talks with the devil, and makes deals with the devil, and stands by as the devil makes huge troughs in the soil, and sprinkles a word here and a barrier there and gets down on a knee for 8minutes and 46 seconds, and pulls a gun to protect his beautiful weed (I mean seed).
And when the oppressed people say, OK, we’ll “believe” that you had nothing to do with it, do you want us to go clean up after you? The householder says, “No, don’t want to make the wheat uncomfortable, I don’t want to displace the wheat, I don’t want to shake up it’s world, I don’t want to do anything so drastic as to do the hard work of removing weeds, of digging deep and knowing that even when you weed, you need to keep weeding. No need to do any of that. Just let the weeds and wheat grow together. We’ll take care of it later.”
But the kicker is that the householder isn’t the one who has the final say. That would be God. And in the end, the weeds will be gathered together and burned—made as nothing, consigned to the ashheap, turned into the building blocks for something that is helpful for God’s world.
If parables are supposed to turn us around, maybe we have to read the parable backwards—from the end to the beginning. So, the most important thing is that weeds are not of God, weeds will not be taken into the house of God, weeds are not good.
If that, then… we should we like the slaves and not the master and start weeding our gardens. Because we know that weeds can choke wheat. And anyway, if the wheat is so delicate that it can’t survive some weeding, then maybe we should be planting a different type of wheat or maybe even a different crop.
If that, then… we should be like the slaves and start looking at how those weeds got there in the first place. If we didn’t plant them with our own hands, if they were blown in by the wind, or someone else snuck in and planted them, then how do we tend our garden to try to prevent that? What do we have to do, if we are people of privilege, so that evil one doesn’t get our permission to walk among the fields? What do we have to do, if we are people who are underappreciated, to make our voices not only heard, but listened to, and valued and acted upon?
If that, then… what does that say about a world where there are people of privilege and people not of privilege? What happens to that world in the end?
This is what Jesus was looking for, in a parable of the kingdom. Not a story of Standard Operating Procedure, but an opportunity to examine our world through the prism of Weeds and Wheat, through the prism of God’s kingdom.
May it stir us to deeper thinking, and more faithful living, with God’s help. Alleluia, Amen.