"Don't Pull the Weeds:
Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Those of you who know me well are aware that I am to be counted among that portion of the population which drives the remaining portion of the population crazy. I am a neat freak. The American Psychological Association has a category for people like me: obsessive-compulsive. I prefer to put it this way: I like a place for everything, and everything in its place.
But the fact is, I’m inclined to lose sleep over cobwebs in the corner and dust bunnies under end tables. My wife will tell you that it’s not unusual to hear me running my Black and Decker cordless Dust Buster if there are more crumbs and specks on the floor than I can pick up by hand. It’s been said that a messy desk is a sign of genius. If that is true, one might assume from looking at my desk that my IQ isn’t much higher than that of an earthworm. Everything is stacked in neat piles according to order of importance. I even strive for equidistance between the piles. Curtis, our custodian, tries his best to put everything exactly back into place after he dusts my office. But I still have to move this a millimeter to the right, and that a millimeter to the left. Strange, but true.
Every spring, as certain as the budding of the trees, Vale and I will be looking over the plant life sprouting around our little pond, and end up in a mild argument. The conversation may go some- thing like this: “AV [which is my ‘pet name’ for my wife], all this stuff is really growing. Which ones are flowers?” “Well Larry, I think it’s this row with the jagged leaves, and maybe these ones with the long stems.” “Okay. Let’s start pulling this other stuff which must be weeds.” “Wait. The ones with the round leaves might be the perennials we planted last year.” “But honey, they aren’t in neat rows like all the others. I don’t think they belong at all.” “But dear, the ones you want to pull up now may grow into the prettiest flowers of all.” But sweetheart, they mess up the symmetry of the garden.” “Yes darling, but look how close they’re growing together. We might accidentally pull up the plants we know are flowers, or pull up what we think are weeds, but aren’t.” And on it goes until the true gardener prevails. And it’s not the one with the clean desk.
(Read Matthew 13:24-30)
I suppose any gardener or farmer worth their salt knows that premature weeding is not a good practice. All too often, in the early growth process, it’s hard to tell the difference between flowers and weeds, or between wheat and couch grass. Until the plants mature, there is risk of weeding out the good. Even an expert eye may not recognize a plant’s true identity until its later stages of development. Perhaps the gardener’s greatest virtues are patience and restraint.
In Jesus’ parable of the weeds among the wheat, He introduces us to some impatient and un- restrained farm hands. Their boss had carefully prepared the field and sown good quality seed. But as the wheat sprouted and grew, some late sprouting plants popped up through the soil. The farmhands were quick to identify these as weeds which had no business being there. So they ran to the farm owner and said, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”
At this point, we need to step into the original agricultural context of the parable. In Jesus’ day, Galilean farmland produced not only a good crop of wheat, but also a healthy crop of a weed called “darnel.” In the early days of growth, even the best-trained eye has trouble distinguishing between wheat and the counterfeit darnel. So as the story goes, the farmhands see something coming up which may look exactly like sprouting wheat. But it’s late, and doesn’t seem to belong. Assuming it to be an undesirable weed, they are ready to root up this new growth, so they go to their employer for permission. His first thought and reply is, “An enemy has done this.” In the middle east in the time of Jesus, and even to this day, enemies played and play tricks on each other by tossing darnel seed around their neighbor’s wheat field. Commentator Archibald Hunter claims that in modern-day Eastern Mediterranean farming areas, a frequent threat is: “I will sow bad seed in your field.”
The farmer concedes, “Yes, we may indeed have a problem here.” Nevertheless, he denies the farmhands’ permission to gather the alleged weeds. His advice: “In pulling up what you believe are weeds, you may be unknowingly uprooting good grain. Instead, chill out. Let both grow, and time will tell which is harvest to be gathered and stored, and which is waste to be pulled up and burned.” That’s where Jesus’ parable ends. But later, His disciples ask for clarification. Let’s read about that now.
(Read Matthew 13:36-43)
Jesus breaks it down. The sower – the farm owner – is Jesus Himself. The field is the world in which we live, and the church is a part of that field. The good seed are those who are genuine believers in and followers of Jesus. The weeds are those who practice evil, even though they may at first appear to be Christ followers. The enemy who carries out the threat to “sow bad seed in your field” is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age marked by Jesus’ second coming. And finally, the reapers are the angels; those whom God has specifically chosen, and assigned, and equipped for the task of calling genuine believers from the world, while leaving those who chase after evil.
Then Jesus takes the parallel to the storyline. Just as the good grain is gathered into the barn at harvest time, so will those who are faithful and productive in their Christian lives be gathered into the Kingdom of God. Likewise, just as the weeds are burned in the field, so will those who devise and follow evil ways; those whose only faith is in the ways of the world. They are left to be consumed by the world.
Now for the twist in this parable and its interpretation. Many readers see this as a parable of judgment; kind of a story of affirmation for an “I’m in and you’re out” mindset so many Christians subscribe to. Some point to this parable as justification for their judgmentalism; a basis on which to identify that some will be in the Kingdom, and some will not. Too many of us are quick to point to some person or some group of persons and say, “There is wheat!” ; and to point to some other person or group of persons and declare: “There is a weed!”
The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were the religious elite; devout; law-abiding; self-assured in their religion and dead certain of their own righteousness. They were also the separatists, priding themselves on their supposed keen ability to discern who were the insiders – those who belonged to their God-squad, and the outsiders – those they presumed God wanted no part of. I’m afraid there is still a lot of that Pharisaic mindset living and thriving in our 21st century church. Too often, we Christian folk are quick to identify insiders from outsiders; quick to condemn; quick to judge; quick to start weeding out the flowerbed.
Well, the point of this parable is the polar opposite of that type of Pharisaic thinking. We are absolutely not in a position to judge those who are insiders in the Kingdom of God from those who are outsiders. We are not placed in a position by God to condemn. We are not hands hired to start weeding out the flowerbed. In Jesus’ parable, the householder said, “Do not begin gathering up the weeds because, first of all, it’s not the time. The season is early, and there are a lot of growing days left. And second, it’s not your job. You are the farm hands, not the harvesters. As the householder, I have not placed you in position to judge which are darnel and which are wheat.”
The bottom line is we are not the judge; none of us. Yet how tempting it is – and I myself am certainly not exempt from this – to look at someone’s life today, and perceive a lack of faith or belief, and deem them unfit. We find ourselves too often quick to judge others’ fitness for the Kingdom, or for the church. We become impatient with what appears to us to be a lack of growth and progress in their spiritual journey. We may be quick to weed that person out and reject them. And Christians have ways – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – of excluding others. I should know, because I have been judged in the past as belonging on the outside.
But the fact is, we don’t and can’t know what God is doing in a person’s life. Over the years, a popular inspirational slogan has been: “Don’t give up. God’s not done with me yet.” At the age of twenty, I can assure you no one would have predicted that I’d ever be a church-goer, let alone a preacher. But God had only begun working with me. I just thank the Lord every day for those who didn’t pull me up by the roots before I had the opportunity to grow into what God wanted me to be. And I believe God still isn’t done with me yet. So point one: let us not assume that we can know what God is going to do in the life of any one of God’s beloved children.
Point number two -- although maybe first in importance – it’s not our job to make the judgement call anyway. It’s simply not in the job description of any human to play the role of God. God alone knows the past and present, future and potential of any seed God has sown. Our job description is not that of harvester. Instead, we who believe in and love the Lord are privileged to be counted by God among the good seed. We represent the wheat. And our job description is this: to grow in the rich soil of God’s love; to patiently show others that love in action through acceptance, encouragement, mercy, forgiveness, and service. And it is ours to remember the deeper meaning of this parable, and to remember Paul’s words when he asks: “Who is in a position to judge or condemn? Only Jesus Christ. And he did not come to condemn, but to save. So let’s resolve to resist what’s such a temptation for so many well-meaning Christians. Don’t pull the weeds.
God our Father, You who alone know the hearts of men and women, forgive us when we try to assume YOUR role as Lord and judge. We are called to make judgments in our daily lives, and to discern good from evil. That is true. But rather than judge the hearts and intents of others, let us look into our own, and see if our hearts reflect the grace and love of Jesus. For when they do, we will suspend our judgment, and love others as Jesus loves us; all of us, works in progress. Thank You for hearing this, our prayer, in the name of Christ, Redeemer of all. Amen.