Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Ordinary 16A; Proper 11
God does the sorting.
I am rather disappointed by this truth. I feel as if I could do a pretty good job separating out the weeds from the wheat. How hard can it be to tell them apart? Weeding, while hard work, is satisfying. While I do not enjoy the bending and the heat, I do like surveying the patch of garden cleared of those life-sucking weeds. I have been known to use a chemical to eradicate weeds from between the cracks in the walkway up to my front door. Less labor, fairly effective, but an effort that must be repeated if the path is to be pristine. I have friends who host an annual bonfire where they burn the branches and debris collected from around their farm throughout the year and it is a fun occasion of food and drinks and s’mores. No weeping and gnashing of teeth, only laughter and a feeling of mission accomplished when the large pile has been reduced to ash.
Taking out the old, clearing the way for growth, pruning, weeding, sorting, burning — are not all these things good housekeeping both literally and metaphorically? It seems counter to common sense to let the weeds and the wheat grow up together until the time of the harvest. Should we nip those weeds in the bud, so to speak? Obliterate anything that might thwart the growth of the crop we hope to cultivate? Why does Jesus tell this parable of the weeds detailing both the evil intent of the one who sowed the weeds and the ultimate worth of that which the enemy has sown?
God does the sorting. God sends the angels to do the delineating between weed and wheat. God deems when the timing is right to harvest the wheat and bundle up the weeds. In a culture in which we constantly sort and label, value or discard, this message is radical and frustrating. Even today when I ventured out to the grocery store and sorted through the avocados for the ones of the right ripeness, I also looked around at my fellow shoppers and made note of the few not wearing a mask. I did not make a neutral note either; I made a judgmental one. I assumed much about my non-mask-wearing neighbors. I did not consider if they had a medical condition that would preclude them wearing a mask. I did not give them the benefit of the doubt — perhaps they inadvertently left the mask in the car or maybe they were having a particularly challenging day and made a quick run to the store to get needed supplies. I glanced around the aisles and sorted the weeds from the wheat, confident in my assessments and justified in my judgment. And we do this all the time.
What is that person wearing? What accent do they have? What is the color of their skin? What kind of car are they driving? What bumper sticker is on the back of that car they are driving? What church do they attend or not? What news network do they watch?
We come to God and not so much ask as tell God, “I’m going to pull up the weeds, you are welcome.”
But God does the sorting. Jesus in this parable makes clear that indeed there are weeds and there is wheat. There is in fact a sinister force at work in the world sowing that which is intent on destroying God’s life-giving harvest. Ultimately, God will sort it all out and evil will be definitively judged and addressed. However, such separating will be done by God, not us.
We tend the field, do our best to plant seeds that will grow and nurture others. We sleep. We rest. We allow everything to grow no matter if we did not plant all of it, no matter if some of what comes up is weeds, because God will do the sorting. And when we attempt to separate the plants we often end of destroying everything, the unintended consequence of wielding that powerful chemical all around our house.
The truth is we are not as good as we think we are at telling the difference between wheat and weed. Our assessments and assumptions are often completely wrong and when we act on them, they are often utterly destructive to the entire ecosystem. Our assumptions about what is wheat and what is weed at best alienate us from one another and at worst kill each other. Jesus tells us to let everything grow until God sorts us out.
And God’s sorting is often very different than ours. Don’t forget that other parable of the fig tree that didn’t bear fruit. When it made sense to most to cut it down so it would stop wasting the soil, the gardener said instead: Let me tend to it, nurture it, be patient and see if it might not yet bear fruit. It could be that God has other ideas about the worth of what we deem weeds. It could be that those very weeds might yet be used for good. It might yet be that we really have no idea what is truly of value to God in others or even in ourselves.
Garret Keizer tells a story in his memoir, “A Dresser of Sycamore Trees: The Finding of a Ministry,” in which he is at the grocery store buying bananas to take to an older man he visits regularly. In front of him as he checks out is a woman with multiple orders and multiple forms of payment. Keizer feels smug about his good deed while he judged a lady buying what he deemed to be “trivial” odds and ends — and doing so slowly. He writes, “I watched her walk to her vehicle — feeling that same uncharitable impulse that makes us glace at the driver of the car we’re passing just to ‘get a look at the jerk.’ She got into the driver’s seat of a van marked with the name of a local nursing home and filled to capacity with elderly men and women who had no doubt handed her their wish lists and checkbooks as soon as she’d cut the ignition.”
It is best for us to plant good seed, tend it, get some rest, let whatever comes up grow and, ultimately, let God do the sorting and the judging.
- When have you metaphorically wanted to pull up weeds and make sure nothing you didn’t plant grew in your surroundings? Did you act on that urge? If so, what happened?
- When do you find yourself judging others? Why? On what basis?
- Have you ever felt judged by someone? Did you think their judgment fair? Accurate?
- Take the test on Harvard’s “Project Implicit” website. Do the results surprise you?
- Read again verses 36-43. How does Jesus’ explanation of the parable deepen your understanding of the parable? If you didn’t have this explanation, how would you interpret the parable?
- What are you called to plant and tend in this season of life?
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