Parable of the weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field.25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’
28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.
“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’”
Thoughts on the passage:
My grandmother loves to garden. She has a large section of the backyard planted every year and harvests a lot of food that she then cans. Following in her footsteps to some degree, my parents have always had a garden as well as lots of flower beds. While they don’t grow enough to can much these days, they still have lots of fresh flowers and food at different times of the year. Gardening is a part of my DNA.
Despite all the genetic and cultural heritage I have, I am not a gardener. I can successfully keep about two potted plants alive at any one time but usually a third is more than I can handle. When it comes to outside gardens I have never really been inclined to start. Growing things is not in my nature.
As I read the passage for this week I was reminded of a big reason why, I do not like to weed. I think my dislike of weeding has two parts to it. First, it is a never ending task that requires an attention to detail and lots of manual labor. Neither of these is that appealing to me. Second, I am not really good at telling the difference between bad weeds and good plants. My dislike of weeding is a lot of why I do not end up doing much gardening.
I want to unpack that second reason I do not like weeding for a minute. My inability to tell the difference between weeds and flowers is problematic. When you cannot tell the difference it is hard to know what to pull. I much prefer when the weeds and flowers have gotten bigger because then it is really a lot easier to know what to remove and what to leave behind. When the plants are all grown-up then I am much better at telling which ones are good and which ones are bad.
The passage talks about two kinds of seeds being planted, wheat and weeds. It is thought by some scholars that the weeds refer to a wheat-like weed, darnel, or tare. Rather than risk the good plants, the bad plants are allowed to grow along-side them. Once they are fully grown, then it is possible to separate them, with the good wheat being set aside and the bad weeds being burned.
The passage also makes the distinction both here, and later on in the chapter, that the good seeds and the bad weeds are planted by two separate sowers. One is the Son of Man (Jesus) and the other is the enemy (the Devil). This continues a theme in Matthew of two kingdoms, one that is faithful to God and another that is not. In the end, both are separated during the time of judgement.
Where I think the analogy in this parable breaks down is that I do not agree with the idea that some of us are wheat and some are weeds. I think that is a simplistic and un-Biblical understanding of our nature. After all, the larger message of the Gospel is not that some people are good and some are bad by our nature, but that we are all in need of God’s grace for our salvation. What makes us wheat or weeds is not our DNA, but our choices. We can choose to be followers of God or not. We choose to be good or bad.
Here is where we get back to my failure as a gardener. I cannot tell the difference between good plants and bad weeds. It is only once the plant is really done growing that I can know which one is meant to be pulled and which one is meant to remain. I think that this distinction is true when it comes to the nature of each of us as well. We all have in us the potential to be either wheat or weeds. God plants goodness in our hearts and yet the seeds of evil are planted there as well. It is only once we grow and develop that the good and the bad emerges enough for us to begin to separate them. We have to wait long enough for us to be able to tell the difference.
As a society we love to rush to judgment on things. We do it because it is easier to make quick assessments than to do detailed analysis. We do it because it is easier to build from our preconceived notions then to develop new ones. We do it because as a society we have sped everything up and we do not have time to wait for all the facts to be in place before we are ready to form an opinion and move on. We are quick to judge between wheat and weeds and in doing so I believe we do a lot of damage.
The good news is that God is not so quick to judge. God knows that it takes time for what is good in us to grow and develop. God knows that in time our better natures will emerge and God is waiting for those. Unlike so many of us, God does not step in too quickly and take down what is good along with the bad. God’s grace is there for all of us as we continue to grow in our lives.
As we continue to prepare for the Resurrection at Easter, we need to think about the wheat and the weeds growing in our lives. What are the things we want to celebrate, the harvests we are looking for in what we have done? We also need to think about the weeds in our lives. What are the things we hope to burn away as we become gardens of new life? What weeds are we waiting for God to pluck from our lives.
This passage reminds us that there is much good in our lives and much we have to celebrate and give thanks for. It also reminds us that evil is also quick to grow in our hearts, even as God is planting good seeds. While we are not meant to give in to evil we cannot be quick to pull out everything that grows there. Instead we need to wait and trust in God’s judgement and God’s grace.
Questions to Ponder:
The parable looks at people as being good or bad, how does this fit with your views on humanity and the world?
What are the good seeds growing in your life and what seeds have been planted there by the enemy?
Who is someone you turn to for help in telling the good from the bad?
Prayer: Spirit, stir in our hearts this Lenten journey. Help us to till the soil of our lives and plant seeds of faith. Water us with your grace that we might flourish in your name. AMEN