Ancient Farming

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; wheattares125but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Ancient Farming

We pray,

Lord let our hearts be good soil.

Lord let our hearts be good soil.

Lord let our hearts be good soil today.

This week I was pointed to an article on social media by Humans of New York that interviewed a drug dealer who spoke about his life. It’s a simple story. He got into selling drugs because everyone else around him was doing it, no one around him was interested in hiring him, and it was easy.

With his drug money he bought food for his children. With his drug money he’d give out loans to some of the older ladies in his neighborhood who had trouble making their rent and mortgage payments. He bought school supplies for the local elementary school.

So, good people of Luther Memorial, is this man an example of a weed or wheat in light of today’s Gospel reading?

This week I was walking down Michigan Avenue, and I saw a man sitting with his young son, probably about 3 or 4 years old, asking for pocket change. On the one hand we look at that and think, “How dare he bring his son out here and display him like that?! Shameful.”

On the other hand, the reality of childcare when you are penniless, let alone hungry…well…

So, good people of Luther Memorial, is this man an example of a weed or wheat in light of today’s Gospel reading?

This week we see Hamas in Palestine and the government of Israel lob bombs back and forth. 1 dead in Israel. Over 200 in Palestine, many of them babies. On the one hand, no nation should have to endure rockets being shot into their homes. On the other hand, no nation should have to endure seizure of land and indiscriminate killing of innocents.

Tell me, good people of Luther Memorial, who is the wheat and who is the weed?

The disturbing thing about this parable, a parable only found in the book of Matthew, is that even with the explanation Jesus offers, and I wonder if it’s reluctantly offered…Jesus didn’t often explain parables, but even with the explanation, the meaning remains murky.

Jesus’ explanation is really tough news for “those who have ears to hear.”

One of the interesting things about this parable is that Jesus never uses the word “weed” in it, at least not in the generic way we use that word. That’s the English translation. Actually Jesus talks here about a very specific kind of weed. The word in Greek is zizania, a particular weed, the darnel.

Now the darnel has this amazing thing about it: it looks a lot like wheat.

So if you see a field of wheat with darnel interspersed, sometimes it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a wheat stalk and a weed stalk.

Oh sneaky Jesus…you love to make your stories complicated.

In this parable where the evil one plants the darnel and the Son of Man plants the wheat, Jesus points out that it’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two. And all we want are answers, right? All we want is some clarity. And even when Jesus offers it, he doesn’t offer it.

But that’s the way it is with parables. As the brooding Irish theologian and metaphysicist Peter Rollins notes, parables don’t offer water to the thirsty soul. Parables give salt to the thirsty soul…making you more thirsty.

Because we hear Jesus’ example of wheat and darnel looking alike and think that Jesus is really just going back to that old cliché that we all know too well, “You can’t judge a book by its cover…” but that’s a shallow interpretation. Look closer. Get thirsty.

Jesus is saying something much more difficult and challenging as an ancient farmer.

Because it’s not just that you can’t tell a book by its cover, that you can’t tell the weed from the wheat, but that when you try to do so in other people, you actually usually become the thing that you hate. You actually become a weed yourself.

We can see this principle played out in Jesus’ other parables. Think of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee goes up to the temple, lifts his arms and says, “Thank you, God, that I am not like that tax collector…”

The tax collector goes into the temple, bows his head and says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner…”

And then Jesus says, “Which one of these two knows the ways of God?”

It is, of course, the Tax Collector whose humility lifts him closer to the Divine, meanwhile the Pharisee’s pride descends him into the hells of self-righteousness.

The one who tries to distinguish between wheat and weed in a way that passes the judgment of God on others becomes the weed he or she is trying to pluck out…

And this same thought process works throughout the whole of the Gospels. Jesus is constantly turning the tables on our ability to judge rightly. Look at the way he treats people.

He eats with sinners and tax collectors, he chats it up with strange women at wells, he heals lepers who have been plucked out of society and thrown into the trash heaps of leper colonies by the religious righteous, he demands mercy for the woman caught in adultery and condemns the piety of the Pharisees who have broken no laws. By all outside looks, it appears that Jesus has poor judgment, hanging out with the weeds…

In the world of Jesus, the people that we would imagine are weeds are actually the wheat.

And the people we imagine to be wheat? Dare we look in the mirror?

In this parable the weeds of the world are planted by “the evil one.” We might imagine that to mean that there are evil people in this world, evil to the core, and there are good people, and we must know the difference.

But think about this. In a couple chapters after Jesus tells this parable in Matthew, he has this encounter with Simon Peter where Peter tries to tell Jesus that he shouldn’t go to Jerusalem because they’ll certainly kill him there.

And what does Jesus say to Peter? “Get behind me Satan…” (Matthew chapter 16)

Peter is a weed in that moment. His motivations aren’t coming from the Divine promise, but from fear.

So does that mean that we should pluck Peter up and throw him into the fires of our judgment?

Well, no. Of course not. Because Peter is both weed and wheat. Or, as Dr. Martin Luther said it, Peter is both “sinner and saint.”

As are we all. See, this parable is trickier than you might think. We all have weeds amongst the wheat of our souls. If you think you’re totally one or the other, or your neighbor is, think again. Those who have ears to hear, listen!

And the grace of God which works over us takes all the weeds in our being and graciously plucks them from us through Divine love and forgiveness, throwing them away, until all that is left is the wheat of righteousness. The wheat that God first planted in the Garden of Eden saying, “this is good…”

And at the end of his story, the religious followers and the imperial rulers take Jesus, label him a weed, and hang him up to dry next to two others identified as the weeds of society, and then throw them into the garbage pit of the tomb.

At which point God starts the work of replanting, and from that empty tomb sprung the wheat of Christ again, not full of judgment, not full of pointing at those that killed him with vengeance, but continuing to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near, that God is still harvesting in this world despite our penchant for wanting to pluck up one another and throw each other away into the hells of judgment where we gnash our teeth at one another in angry vitriol and wail at one another because we’re so certain that we’re wheat and the other one is weed…

When Jesus rises from the grave he proclaims God’s love and grace, even on those who put him in the grave. And after having a radical encounter with this grace a well-known supposed weed by the name of Saul suddenly becomes the most well-known supposed stalk of wheat, called the Apostle Paul.

It seems that the weeds inside of us always have a chance to fall away so that our wheat grows forth…

So, here’s an interesting last tidbit. The sower of the seed in this story stops his servants from plucking up the weeds because he claims that it will also uproot the wheat. He encourages the servants to “permit them to abide together” or “grow alongside one another.

This ancient farming technique was used to save the crops. If you just start throwing away all the weeds you eventually also kill all the wheat.

For a real-life example of this, we don’t have to look too far as our bombs meant for strategic targets hit schools, playgrounds, apartments of the innocents. We could use a lesson in ancient farming.

Do you know what the Greek phrase used to describe allowing the weeds and wheat abide together is? The Greek word used for “permit” there is aphete. Aphete literally means something like, “let it be,” or in other places a full on “forgive.”

How are the wheat to respond to the weeds? With forgiveness.

Not by plucking them up and throwing them away. As Jesus says at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Instead we are to respond by forgiving them. And later on in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 18) Jesus claims that what we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven, encouraging them to forgive as God forgives.

So it makes you wonder that, if the wheat become really good at forgiving the weeds, perhaps then the weeds themselves become wheat for the world in the transforming love of God… and then, at the end of all things, there is just harvest. A just harvest.

If you have ears to hear, listen. And then you might begin to understand why following Jesus was so difficult for those in ancient Palestine. You might begin to understand that following Jesus today is still difficult.

It’s difficult because we must understand the ways of ancient farming, the way of radical forgiveness like this, the way of giving up radical judgment in deference for God’s grace.

And at the end of the age, when the wheat have been so active and adept at channeling the grace of Christ in this world as Christ offers us forgiveness, weeding out our inner-selves, perhaps there won’t be any weeds left…

So, tell me good people, who is the weed and who is the wheat?



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