July 23, 2023
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is patient enough to sort us out. Amen
Jesus takes us back to the fields
with another wheat parable this week,
and at first glance
it seems like another fairly straight forward parable,
weeds are planted in a wheat field by a malicious actor,
when they discover this
the servants want to rip out the weeds right away,
the farmer says wait,
let them grow together,
I’ll have the harvesters sort them out at the harvest time,
leading to the explanation
that at the end of the age that’s what God will do,
instruct the angels to collect all causes of sin and all evildoers
and throw them into the furnace of fire
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
while the righteous are shining like the sun.
Actually the parable itself
makes the point that life isn’t that simple,
the end with God might be,
but life in the meantime isn’t.
In the meantime
everything is mixed together,
and it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the evil,
and even when we can tell the difference
sometimes our first instinct
to get rid of the evil
might do more harm than good.
Much more complex.
Some of this complexity comes from knowing
a bit more about growing wheat,
I study the scripture for preaching with a group of Pastors each week,
one of the Pastors who I study with is Pastor Carla over at American Lutheran,
she grew upon on a farm in Minnesota,
where one of the things they grew was wheat
So we all got a little lesson on wheat growing from her this week
and it really added depth to this parable.
She pointed out to us that corn and soybeans,
the crops we’re used to around here,
are planted with some space between them,
but wheat, she told us,
is sown thick,
because individual stalks of wheat are brittle and easily break,
but if they are close together
the stalks support one another
making them more resilient against wind and hail
but even close together the stalks are still at risk of breaking
if outside pressure is applied.
Because of this she told us,
if you have weeds in your wheat field
really the only thing you can do is spray for them,
and spray with an airplane
because taking equipment into the field
would damage the wheat along the way.
Obviously they didn’t have crop dusters in Jesus’ time
and so the answer to weeds
would be to pull them out by hand
but that would mean knocking down wheat
to get to the weeds
and once there
uprooting the weeds would also uproot the wheat.
But even if you were to take that risk of pulling the weeds,
there would be no guarantee
that what you’d be pulling up were even weeds.
Pastor Carla said that for most of their growing time,
grains like wheat and barley look the same,
she said even after growing up around it
she can’t tell a field of wheat from a field of barley at a distance,
her dad after a lifetime of farming can but she can’t,
and this is relevant because the weeds in the parable
are generally believed to be darnel,
which is a weed that is in that same grass family
that is almost impossible to distinguish from wheat
until the seeds mature.
So it makes sense for the farmer
to wait to sort them out at the end.
But even this too is an extraordinary decision
because it will make the harvest painstakingly labor intensive
because the harvesters will have to be so careful
to make sure none of the darnel seed
gets mixed in with the wheat,
you see darnel seed is poisonous to humans
and if eaten will cause nausea and dizzines.
Given these labor intensive high stakes
it would have been reasonable for the farmer
just to write off the whole field,
to abandon whatever wheat was left
and spend his time and resources on other fields without weeds,
but he doesn’t,
he commits to the labor intensive sorting
to separate out and preserve the good seed.
It’s tempting when reading this parable
to follow Matthew’s simple dualism in the explanation,
that some people are good
and some people are evil,
and say God will sort them out in the end.
But we know life is more complex than that.
We know that we are not the weeds or the wheat in the parable,
but the field
which contains both weeds and wheat.
We contain both,
good and evil that sometimes look so similar
that we cannot tell the difference,
so tangled together
that if we were to uproot one
we’d hurt the other
and our God loves us so much
that God has promised not to condemn us
for the weeds in us,
but in the end
to take the time to sort through and preserve the good,
to preserve us.
No matter how many weeds are in the fields of our lives
for God we are not lost causes
but beloved children of God
and this is a promise for us to hold onto
when we look at the world, at ourselves and despair.
And yet even as we hold onto this promise
we still wonder:
What do we do in the present, before the end?
do we just let the evil in ourselves, in our world, run rampant?
By no means,
As children of God
we are not called to passivity in the face of evil,
but to work as best we are able for justice and peace in the world
but as much as we work against the evil in the world and in our lives,
it is impossible for us on our own rid the world of it,
that is God’s job,
God who reassures us that evil is temporary,
only good endures,
and God is the one to sort it out,
in fact God has already started,
and invited us to participate
but like the harvesters sorting out the darnel from the wheat
it is a labor intensive process that will take time,
patience, endurance, and hope.
As Paul, writing about just this in our reading from Romans, says:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
No matter how many weeds are in the field of our lives
God has promised to sort them out
To preserves the good
This process is neither simple nor easy,
and yet God has promised that the work is under way
and will be completed
and so rather than despair