As I was reading the parable for today I found myself thinking of times when I was little and would help my parents in pulling out weeds in the yard. The funny thing is that it was something that was usually quite closely supervised. I think this was because little kids, in an effort to please, in an effort to be helpful, can sometimes get a bit carried away when weeding, and inadvertently excavate half the yard, plants, flowers, grass, along with it, all for the sake of making sure we got every weed as well as anything that looked remotely like one. If in doubt, rip it out… Parents would relate.
We have all weeded our gardens and it seems pretty simple to identify the plants we want verses those we want to remove. The thing is that Jesus isn’t talking about something as obvious as weeding your flower garden. The weed Jesus is almost certainly referring to a plant called “Darnel” that looks very much like wheat during its growth.
… and while the two plants may look alike, this “fake wheat” is poisonous and if milled together with wheat, will ruin the entire batch.
An imperfect community of grace
For Jesus to say that this mix of wheat and weeds should help us to understand the Kingdom of God, God’s community would have been a difficult concept for those folks who heard him teaching.
We need to remember that Jesus was a Jew, speaking to other Jewish people. This matters because Judaism was all about seeking purity, seeking holiness through separation… This wasn’t just about believing, behaving and worshiping in a certain way, but also limiting interactions with those outside of God’s people, or even those within who would threaten the purity of the nation. If we are honest, this shouldn’t really be that surprising in that it seems to me that as people, as communities, this is often our default setting. We can be really quick to work out who should be in and who is out. In our workplaces, in our local community, even as a nation is almost always easier to simply distance ourselves from those who we don’t think really belong, those who we don’t think are on board with what God is doing in the world. Reducing things into an us vs them mentality seems to be one of the most natural things we do.
Throughout his ministry Jesus shows us where that logic leads… He shows that in a pursuit of purity, God’s people had inadvertently excluded, devalued and ignored those who Jesus wanted to remind us, are still God’s children.
In both the church and the world there are and always will be weeds amongst the wheat… And it isn’t our job to purge them, if it were even possible… In the parable the wheat doesn’t really have any role beyond its interactions with the plants around it and the separating of the wheat from the weeds is something which will occur at the harvest, in God’s time, not before. This passage gives us insight as to how we interact with the world around us… We aren’t the police… It isn’t our job to expend resources both identifying and separating God’s people from not… We are called to co-exist… And this is hard work… You only have to look at the impacts that weeds can have on the plants around them to see this…
The thing is that it makes me wonder sometime whether as a church we too can sometimes fall in to the trap of pursuing purity and redemption in our world at any cost. You see the catch here is that in real life, like in this parable, it isn’t always easy to walk around judge good from bad, it isn’t easy to judge God’s people from not. That sometimes our perspective, our bias, etc, our own brokenness, can cloud our judgement. Simply put it seems to me that this parable is a reminder that it isn’t our job to purify and purge the church of all people we see as ungodly…
Not only can it be hard to pick the difference but it also seems to me that like the wheat and the weeds, as we live in this world, we are intertwined with all of it, the good and the bad, and cannot be easily removed. Any attempt to do so will be self-destructive… Any attempts to remove ourselves from the world, to create a community which is totally perfect, completely pure and separate will ultimately end up being self-destructive.
As uncomfortable as it can be, it seems to me that our calling to be salt and light in the world cannot involve our separation from it. Instead, the healing, hope, light and life that we share must come from our deep entanglement with it. It seems to me that even as we look at Jesus and his disciples, we see a mixed group of faithfulness, failure and betrayal, sometimes even within the same person… Yet Jesus doesn’t see this as detracting from the truth of the Kingdom of God, nor does he tell his disciples to start a crusade to cleans all the world, but rather challenges them to tell, show and invite others into the reality of what God is doing and to place their hope and trust in God’s grace and faithfulness.
There will be times and ways that our own brokenness, and that of others, will be sources of pain, hurt and disappointment within the community. A continues posture of grace is an important way that we can make this a place to grow together, to learn what it means to live and act as disciples and to receive forgiveness when we make mistakes. To always feel like we are one mistake away from being cast out, cut off, is no way to live. To present the image that the church is only for perfect people (even when we know it isn’t) is to turn away those who need God’s love the most.
Matthew 13:24–30 (The Message)
24–26 Jesus told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed weeds all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the weeds showed up, too.
27 “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these weeds come from?’
28 “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’
“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’
29–30 “He said, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’ ”
- This passage gives us insight as to the nature of our own community…
- As followers of Jesus, we are called to embody, share and invite others into life renewed through the grace and love of Jesus.
- While we might seek to embody the Kingdom of God here within this community, we need to understand that will never be perfect
- So if you have ever wondered why we practice an open-table for communion…
- If you have ever wondered why we don’t make people sit an exam for baptism …
- If you have ever wondered why we don’t have a team to an interview to screen potential new members…
- If you have ever wondered why we focus more on forgiveness and grace than on sin and punishment…
As God’s people in this place, we shouldn’t to be those who expend our time and effort trying to identify who is in and who is out of God’s Kingdom. As God’s people, we are to be those who see the possibility of grace, renewal and life in all people. We are to patiently trust in God. We are to be those who commit to becoming more like Jesus… Every day.