Jesus put before the crowd another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And 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?' He answered, `An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let 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.'" Then 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." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"
"The Son of Man placed his children in the world; but while everybody was asleep, the devil came and planted his own children there, and then went away. So when God grew the children and they began to take part in the life of the world, their lives were like good wheat; but the evil ones grew as well, and their lives were as invasive weeds.”
“And the angels came and said to the Son of Man, `Master, did you not place good souls in your world? Where, then, did these evil ones come from?' He answered them, `An enemy has done this.'” The angels asked, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the evil ones you would uproot the good along with them. Let both of them grow together until the end of the age, and then I will tell you, Collect the evil ones first and bind them to be burned, but gather the children of God into my Kingdom.”
So reads Jesus’ parable, if we collapse the story with the interpretation given by Jesus. Humanity, it seems, can be sorted into two distinct piles. The first sort of person is wheat, which is useful and good, the intended and desired children of God. The second sort of person, it would seem, are the weeds: unwanted, undesirable, competing with and detrimental to the health of useful plants like wheat.
Sometimes people are certain of knowing exactly who is in which category.
On the news recently, I saw a woman -- she was at a protest for stronger border control, in light of the recent immigration crisis. She was shouting: “Jesus wouldn’t break the law.” She was so certain that those labeled “illegal immigrants” are the weeds.
Across the country, Christians organize outside women’s health centers to pray for life...while holding signs that say “murderer,” certain that the only reason a woman would need contraception or an abortion is because she is a child of the enemy, an invasive plant that chokes out life.
Yes, many people are certain of knowing just who the weeds are. I’m not here to tell you that border-crossing children and pro-choice women are going to burn. Rather, I want to ask: how do you feel about the people who do say such things? Are you certain of their weediness?
Perhaps you work to follow God’s call to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner -- how do you feel about those who, in the name of the same God, oppose such a call? who actively work against caring for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner? Perhaps their behavior seems not dissimilar to the way an invasive species of weeds hinders the goodness and usefulness of wheat.
Jesus’ parable, by sorting humanity into two groups, seems to condone this sort of classification of human souls, yet perhaps the story is not about the fact that humanity could be easily categorized into two groups, but rather the parable might be about the tendency, the desire to place humanity into two groups. Perhaps the issue is not that weeds exist; perhaps the issue is that our desire to name people as weeds does exist, and this breeds the desire to distance, to separate, to grow apart from those people.
As any gardener knows, the presence of weeds may feel like a cause for battle, but weeds are actually a very useful tool in a field. To the farmer who knows how to read the signs, weeds are an indicator of the condition of the soil. If the soil is too wet, it will attract certain weeds; if it’s too compacted, different weeds; if it is too acidic, too alkaline, too full of phosphorous -- each situation will attract its own type of weeds. A wise farmer pays attention to these weeds, digs down into the dirt to discover what the weeds are indicating about the soil, and learns from their presence. What we would like to tear from the field, remove from ourselves, and dismiss as problems are actually very useful tools, when we pay attention. When we want to remove something from the field, perhaps we would be wise to first move closer.
Jesus tells us a crucial step in this work: “Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.” He does not say to let them grow at the same time, in parallel and yet separate from one another, but to let them grow together, their roots intertwined.
If we are wise farmers, we will not ignore those people with behaviors that we might tend to view as weeds. If we are wise farmers, we will pay attention to what those weeds are indicating about the world in which they grow. We will not obliterate them, but will move closer to them to find out what is going on to grow such a plant --- Move so close as to allow our root systems to become entangled and intertwined so thoroughly as to be inseparable. We will allow God to grow us together so intimately that the well-being of one plant is deeply connected with the well-being of the other. When our growth is intimately tied to their growth -- whoever we might understand “them” to be -- When our growth is tied to their growth, the field will be changed; and the flourishing of all people, possible.
The protester mentioned earlier, the woman desiring stronger border control: if she spent time learning from the ones she calls law-breakers, perhaps she might be able to see their illegal weediness not as a core characteristic of their souls, but as a symptom of the soil of our world, a symptom of scarcity and globalization and desperation. The Christians outside women’s health clinics might be surprised to discover that those what seemed to be weediness is the outgrowth of fear in uncertain relationships and insufficient community support -- deeper concerns in the systems of our world.
And if we allow ourselves to grow together with the Christians that make some of us want to say “I’m not that kind of Christian”--perhaps we can see them as symptoms of a struggling church in a broken world, if we can be wise farmers. Perhaps we can recognize that what looks like hatred is the sincere attempt to follow the call of a God who is beyond all understanding in a rapidly shifting culture. Perhaps we can learn that what looks like hatred is fear of a God who is beyond our control; fear of a God who tells us to grow together with those we fear. And just as Jesus was patient with Judas, so we must be patient with those who think we must force the realization of the Kingdom.
Perhaps most trying on our patience is the weed-like behaviors in our own selves. St Paul wrote to the church in Rome that he does not do the good he wants to do, but continues to do the evil he does not want to do. Even a man the church has recognized as a saint is very clear about his tendencies toward sin. He recognizes that he is a child of God, he is like the wheat, and yet weeds grow from him, weeds grow in him, because of the conditions of the soil in his heart, and perhaps, if recognized, those weeds might be an opportunity for God to work on the soil of his heart and lovingly grow something else. St Paul is gentle with himself; he is doing the best he can. Like St Paul, maybe you are sometimes confronted with the weedy parts of yourself: May you have gentleness with yourself as well. We are all are doing the best we can.
We are not alone in this work, for the field belongs to the Son of Man. God is in this field with us, growing all things; God grows the wheat and God grows the weeds and God loves all things that grow... and all things grow with love. God is growing us all closer together. God is growing you. Grow together. Grow.