There is a line in today’s Gospel story that has caught my attention. Jesus is telling a parable about how someone has polluted a wheat field with weeds. In the story, the farmer’s servants ask if they should go and weed the field. And then the farmer says this interesting thing: “No,” he says, “for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
When I was in 8th grade, my family lived on Oakland Avenue in south Minneapolis. I worked for Freddie Glasoe. Freddie was a master gardener, a horticulturalist at the University of Minnesota and was the host of a weekly Saturday morning radio show called the “Lawn and Garden Show.” Freddie was a character. His family lived about a half-block away from us.
Freddie was a short man, who had this powerful, nasaly voice. And in 8th grade, when I put flyers out around the neighborhood, looking for lawns to mow, Freddie replied. And when when I say “replied,” I mean that he stepped out onto his front yard and would yell down the block towards our house, “Bueeeeggglllller! Todd Bueeeeeeeggggllller!” That’s how he would call me. And the weird thing was…wherever I was in the neighborhood, even if I was down in our basement, I could hear him! I still wonder how he did that.
So I worked for Freddie. And I was kind of in over my head. I could mow. But he wanted me to do things like transplant, and use this giant, scary machine to make compost, and he wanted me to weed. When he pointed to one of his beautiful, elaborate, amazing flower beds and said “I want you to weed this,” I said “ok.” And then stood there. It took me a moment to realize that he wasn’t going to tell me which ones were the weeds. So embarrassed, I had to ask. “Which ones are the weeds?” He reached down and grabbed something green out of the garden and handed it to me and said “these ones.”
So, I’ve never loved weeding. And still, to this day, I am a little uncertain and have to ask Lori, “these ones are the weeds, right?” I guess I’m still suffering from “Post-Freddie Stress Syndrome.”
But it can be confusing. According to the US Department of Agriculture, over 50% of our flora is made up of species that are considered weeds. They define “Noxious weeds” simply as plants growing where they are not wanted. Well, that’s a little vague.
So what’s a weed, and what’s not? Apparently, it’s complicated. And it is the metaphor Jesus is using in our Gospel today to think about good and evil.
He’s talking about wheat and weeds, growing together. Historians suspect that the weed that Jess was talking about was probably one called the “bearded darnel.” The bearded darnel’s roots surround the roots of good plants, intertwining with them and then stealing the water and nutrients in the soil from them and making it impossible to root them out without damaging the crop.
And the bearded darnel is almost identical to wheat. In fact, it’s only when it bears seed that you can tell which one is bearded darnel and which one is real wheat.
“Should we pull them out?” the servants ask. “No. At this stage, you’ll only kill the wheat. We’ll separate them when we harvest.”
Now Jesus told parables as way of teaching lessons that would catch people just a little bit by surprise.
So, what is Jesus trying to teach the disciples…trying to teach us, in this parable? The primary audience of the Gospel of Matthew were Jewish people who had converted to Christianity. They were very legalistic. They saw themselves as good…they were the wheat. And that those around them…those who had not converted…those who were different from them, they had to be wrong…maybe even evil. And the legalistic, law-oriented thing to do would be to separate and punish the evildoers.
And this parable was Jesus’ way of re-directing these new believers away from legalism and judgmentalism, and back to the path of love and grace. “No. At this stage, you’ll only kill the wheat. We’ll separate them when we harvest.”
Jesus is saying that when you judge another, you simply harm yourself. You damage your spirit, and your relationship with God. No, instead, just be who God created you to be. Judgment is God’s job, and it will sort itself out later.
Judgment and legalism is a problem in our culture. I think we all can agree that the world feels more and more polarized:
- Conservative vs. liberal
- Rich vs. poor
- Urban vs. rural
- North vs. south
- White collar vs. blue collar, and the list goes on.
And we judge, don’t we? We become legalistic about what we think and believe. And in doing so, we separate ourselves, to the point that if we disagree about one thing…say a political issue…then it’s like we cannot agree on anything else. In our world it feels like “if I disagree with you about X, Y or Z…then we cannot be friends.” Our Gospel reminds us today that this is not the way of Jesus.
I remember years ago when there were a group of churches in the town where we lived that were going to create a community youth center. It sounded like a cool project. I called the person leading it and asked if I could help. He said “Great! Can I come by and we can talk about it?” “Sure!” I’d never met him before, so when he stopped by, we just got acquainted for a while. And he started asking me questions.
He asked me about my congregation. And he asked me about our worship. Normal stuff. But then he started asking me about how we baptize…and what communion means. And then he wanted to know how I felt about social issues, and then about politics. After he started asking me about my perspectives on human sexuality, I said “you know, this sounds more like some kind of an interview than a conversation about a youth center.” And he got a little embarrassed, and then said “well, when we partner with someone, we just want to make sure that we are in agreement.”
Agreement? We have to be in agreement about everything? All I wanted to do was put in some time at a youth center, help some at-risk young people and do whatever you needed. I’d mop if that would help. This conversation wasn’t about ministry, it was about legalism. And it was about judgment.
St. Augustine spoke of the church as the corpus permixtum; that is, a “mixed body of believers.” In other words, we’ve got all sorts of people in the church. I recently read an article by a Pastor named Courtney Crump. She writes: “…here in the mixed body of the church and in our world, where wheat and weeds grow together in the same field, it is tempting to spend our time identifying and removing the weeds. But the trouble with this is that we risk harming the good things growing in our midst… And we risk becoming so distracted by the weeds that we forget to live out God’s goodness, right here and right now.”
I think Jesus’ intent in sharing this parable was to move us away from trying to decide what around us is “good” and what is “evil,” and instead focus our energy on the crucial work of love.
Some wise soul has said that the only thing that we have much control over is where we focus our attention. Rather than putting on gardening gloves and working to pluck out what we believe is questionable…questionable theology, or faith, or politics, or social issues, or whatever…Jesus calls us to just be wheat; to do good, to produce good seed, to seek justice, to love…even in a field where weeds abound.
You may have heard the phrase “bloom where you are planted.” Another version of this old axiom is “be where your feet are.” In other words, wherever you are planted…wherever you stand…wherever you are in life, be fully in that place and in that moment. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here. Don’t worry about evil or misdeeds that might surround you.
In fact, to do so might harm your own heart. Let God be God and tend to those things…those things will be separated out later. Instead, be who God has called you to be right now.
Courtney Crump goes on to write that “Our lives as followers of Jesus must be focused on our steady, enduring, active and resilient witness to God’s radical and enduring love…(we) invest our energy in embodying this radical love of God…(we) love deeply even when love is hard; (we) dream with God about what is possible, even in the face of the impossible; (and we) open wide our hearts.”
My friends, be who God called you to be. Simply be wheat. Turn your face to Christ and focus on the love he has for you. And then let that love reflect to those around you. In the midst of that love, the things that surround you…distract you…or even seek to destroy you…will drop away…they are not important…God promises to tend to them. Let God be God…and be where your feet are.