I LEARNED THE HARD WAY: If you don’t go after the weeds by early April, you will have literally millions of weeds to contend with all summer long. A single weed can spew up to 50,000 seeds into the air, and each tiny seed is on a personal mission to sprout and spread. So you must get serious … declare all-out war … eradicate!
So what was Jesus thinking?
In his parable about the wheat and the weeds growing together, Jesus says don’t pull the weeds. Seriously?
Of course, Jesus is not giving a little agricultural lecture here. Jesus himself is planting the good seed, sowing the good news of his life-transforming gospel, and nurturing this fragile sign of God’s kingdom called the church. When an enemy sows weeds in the field, Jesus says, let them both grow together until the harvest. Wheat and weeds; good and evil — which does not mean evil must not be resisted. But evidently resisting evil and uprooting it are two different things. Jesus assures us God will get everything sorted out someday. But until then the kingdom of heaven on earth is a bit of a messy operation, a mixture.
In other words, things are not so cut and dried.
Although it’s clear that in Matthew 18 Jesus spells out a plan for church discipline, to help people who have gone astray get back in line, apparently when it comes to church discipline the church can go overboard. So the counterbalance to Matthew 18 is this parable in Matthew 13. Because it’s not so cut and dried.
In fact, the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart. I know from personal experience. I’m a mix. We all are.
What Jesus is doing here, then, writes evangelical scholar Dale Bruner, is cautioning us against being overly discouraged when opposition to the gospel comes even from within. Jesus is cautioning against having too great expectations for a totally purist church, or promoting a too-exclusivist denomination. Because Jesus says, “Let them both grow together until the harvest.”
Robert Capon notes the root of the Greek word for “let” (or “permit”) is often translated into English as “forgive.” Capon goes on to suggest that “The evil, the badness that is manifest 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, what comes into play here is a kind of letting be; a divine permitting and forgiveness, all rolled into one. Indeed, Capon asks, isn’t that what happened on the cross? At the cross Jesus didn’t threaten his enemies, didn’t cut them down, didn’t write them off. He said, “Father forgive them.”
Jesus patiently forgave and he calls us to do the same.
So Jesus’ parable is an invitation to be patient; to not be so intent on being right that we end up being wrong. In the words of the ancient teacher, Gregory the Great, the good we do has no value if we fail to be patient with the evildoing of another.
Jason Byassee tells the story of two women in a congregation — both committed volunteers, faithfully serving the church. The only problem was they couldn’t get along together.
Then one day one of the women said something quite wonderful about her difficult sister in Christ. After reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer (“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive others … ”), it hit her like a ton of bricks: “You know what?” she said: “That woman is going to make a Christian out of me yet!”
Whatever we believe, if it drives out forgiveness and patience and love, or it leads us to start the sorting, we risk betraying the kingdom Jesus invites us to enter.
HEIDI HUSTED ARMSTRONG is pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle.