The Wheat and the Weeds

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we are confronted with several uncomfortable realities.

First, good and evil exist in the world side by side.

Second, even though we may be uneasy with the whole concept, evil clearly exists and is both complex and powerful.

Third, the good often get damaged when someone tries to root out the bad.

These are realities we have seen with our own eyes or at least in the news this very week.  They point to the most basic "Why" questions we and all generations before us have asked.  Why is there evil in the world?  If God's reign is near, and the world is already being made new, then why are there tanks rolling and planes being shot down and rockets and rocks and bloody bodies laid out?

Why are there people being bombed out of their homes and dying on the streets? Why are there so many children traveling thousands of miles alone?

We have seen it; the kingdom is not completely come.  

And yet, today in the Gospel, Jesus calls us to trust that in the end, evil will be defeated and the good will remain. He warns that in trying to root out evil, the good will likely be damaged.

And we have seen that, too, the streams of women and children, displaced, and so many refugees not only here but all over the world, their homes destroyed or their lives in danger. We’ve seen the heartbreaking and graphic pictures of the dead and their loved ones almost out of their minds with grief. We’ve been reminded again that innocents were abused by those who were supposed to honor them.
And Jesus asks us to trust that all will be well, that God is going to make things right in the end? It sticks like a craw in my throat. Is he asking me to sit idly by? To say, these are not my problems?

It is helpful at this point to identify the lens through which Matthew and the people who would have heard this parable were looking. Matthew’s community was in conflict with the established synagogue and may have been a displaced group of people themselves who suffered from being marginalized if not outright kicked out. 

This parable is unique to Matthew, and I think that understanding that community’s experience helps us see why this one was so important to them. Those who have been uprooted by others (in their passion to be right and to exclude or punish those with whom they set themselves against) suffer. 

And the community believed its response was not to fight back, not to repay evil for evil, but to persevere, to hold on, until the end, when God would make things right. That was what Jesus did, after all. And God raised him and made things right.

Further, this is not all Jesus has to say about God making things right, not only in the end but in the present. During the next weeks we will hear and see more from Jesus about how God cares for us now, giving us blessed and necessary sanctuary and providing for us lavishly, feeding us from his own hand, more than we can even imagine. 

So you will want to stay tuned for that and remember that no one story paints the whole picture.

It also is helpful to look back to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. The very first words he spoke to all the people in his ministry was what we call the Beatitudes. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Blessed are the peacemakers.

And so I simply don’t believe that Jesus asks us to do nothing in the face of evil. I believe he calls us to be peacemakers. To be merciful to those who are suffering. I believe he calls us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Those things are not “doing nothing” but in fact call for daily and difficult action - not just feeling merciful but acting in the world in ways that extend God’s mercy to those who suffer. Not just being in favor of peace but taking actions that broker peace, which by definition must be actions that do not mix us up in evildoing. Not just pitying the meek but standing up for them because we hunger and thirst for righteousness. 
Yesterday, we baptized five beautiful babies in this building, and I was struck by how much we actually talk about evil in the promises the parents and godparents made on behalf of those babies. I asked them to renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. I asked them to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. I asked them to renounce sinful desires that draw them from the love of God.

And then I asked them to affirm that they accept Jesus as their savior and put their whole trust in his grace and love and promise to follow and obey him.

That’s pretty heavy stuff to say while you’re standing up in front of God and everybody holding a squirmy baby all dressed up in baptismal finery and about to have your picture taken.

And not only that, but the rest of us stood up, too, and affirmed that we would persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin would repent and return to the Lord.

And if we can actually do that, not just say that, well, that’s certainly not “doing nothing.” And I highly recommend it.

But first things first. We cannot persevere in resisting evil, we cannot comfort those who mourn, we cannot be true peacemakers if we do not trust that in the end, it is not us but God who brings salvation and it is God who makes things right. We are no match for that complex power which corrupts and destroys and we cannot save ourselves. 

The world is so very broken.

Our hope is in God and our strength comes from our mighty and gracious Lord who not only will wipe away every tear but also burn away every sin, the sins that live within us (the sins that live within me) and the sins of the world. 

We cannot hold up the hope the world so desperately needs if we do not believe it ourselves.

And so, the lesson from today is aimed first and foremost at encouraging us to trust that God will sort things out, to remember that God is always working to bring good out of evil, to know that we risk getting hopelessly entangled with evil ourselves when we take it upon ourselves to uproot what we think are the weeds. (See, for example: the Crusades, the Inquisition, Japanese internment camps, kicking people out of the family for so-called purity reasons)

And so we affirm that God is love, and hope for what we do not yet see, and wait for it with eager longing, because this is what God has promised and what only God can do.


stpatti said…
Amen, Penny! We(I) must strive for peace, to notice those who suffer & treat them with mercy. I must resist evil(temptation to mistreat others, & love & honor God & his creation! Thank you!
steve said…
Amen, thanks Penny.
Mary said…
Superb. Thank you. xo
Thanks, Patti, Steve & Mary! (Hey, y'all could be a singing group.) Appreciate your chiming in.