Wheat and Weeds
A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Jesus tells a parable, a story, in our gospel reading this morning. It is about a farmer, who planted good seed in his field, but when the plants began to sprout his field hands discovered weeds—a particularly noxious kind of weed called ‘darnel.’ Darnel looks the same as wheat until it bears seed, but the darnel seed is poisonous. The field hands came to the farmer and said, “We know you planted good seed in your field, but we have found weeds. Do you want us to pull them out? The farmer said, “No, because if you try to pull up the weeds you will also pull out some of the good grain. Leave everything until the harvest.”
In this story Jesus affirms the reality of evil. If we look at the evening news the evil and violence and suffering are almost overwhelming. Even in nature there is suffering. The wild animals suffer from disease, from predation, and from loss of habitat. Our reading from Romans tells us that the whole creation groans (Romans 8:22). There is evil in the world, among the nations, even in our community, and, perhaps most distressing, in ourselves. “Sometimes our own lives resemble the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and wheat intertwined. . . “(1) As great an apostle as St. Paul laments, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”(Romans 7:15) Nobody is all wheat or all weeds. Not one of us!
We aren’t very good at weeding—especially we are not good at weeding our neighbors. So much good grain has been destroyed by our attempts to pull out the weeds in another person’s life! Jesus has told us not to try. Judge not, says Jesus, and with wonderful hyperbole, he counsels us to use our energy to get the log out of our own eye so we can see better to get the speck out of our neighbor’s eye.
Brother Curtis Almquist of the SSJE has put it this way: “Underneath the most amazing or appalling behavior of another person is a child of God. . . . That’s especially important to remember for those whom we could easily judge as among the least or last or lost. God has plans for them, and we’re to co-operate with those plans.” (2) In the book of Romans St. Paul tells us: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” (Romans 14:13)
Harry Adams, in a sermon on this parable, said: “We do not have to take upon ourselves the judgments that belong to God. We must make our judgments about good and evil, about right and wrong, as clearly as possible. But the ultimate judgment upon others and upon ourselves is not ours to make. Because we don’t have to sort out who is and who is not in the kingdom of heaven, we can live with openness and freedom toward others.”(3) Thanks be to God!
Should we then be passive or apathetic in the face of evil? Certainly not! There are so many opportunities to relieve suffering, to press for justice and peace, to spread the good news of the mercy of God. This is the Lord’s work, and God will enable and equip us to participate in it. Ultimately, the most effective way to defeat evil is, by the grace of God, to bear the fruits of the Spirit, that is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness. (Gal. 5:22,23)
Martha Sherman, in an essay that appeared on the Shalem web site, tells of commuting to work one morning, crossing the Metro platform, heading to the escalator, when she noticed a man on his knees on the ground holding a bloody tissue to his nose. She knelt beside him, offering him some fresh tissues. A few others gathered around—a man in a Metro uniform calling for help on his cell phone and a mother with a little girl about 4 years old who seemed very agitated as she looked from the man to the blood. Someone helped the man off his knees and into a seated position against the wall.
As the man regained some composure Martha asked him what had happened. “I was crossing the platform to the escalator and I tripped over a kid,” he spit out—as if the child had no right to be there, as if the child were at fault for being only 3 feet tall and below his line of sight as he rushed for the escalator, as if the child were responsible for his fall. He was clearly angry, and he blamed the little girl. Martha then realized that the little girl standing with her mother, and looking so distressed was the child in question. Martha went to the girl, and asked if she was hurt when the man tripped over her. She said, “no.” Martha then asked if it was scary. The child said, “yes.” Martha then asked if she would like to say something to the man, and the little girl bravely said “yes.” With no hesitation, and still holding her mother’s hand she approached the man. With the man seated on the ground the two were at eye level. Looking straight at him the little girl said gently, “I’m sorry.” Equally gently, the man replied, “I’m sorry, too.” And then the child put her hands on his shoulders and leaning in, she kissed him on the forehead. His anger was gone, the unfair blaming was gone, and all because one little girl showed the fruits of the Spirit of God. “ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:21)
What should be our stance towards sin and suffering, towards evil? Not surprise. We have been warned. Not discouragement nor loss of faith; not apathy towards evil, but hope. Hope is the key. Hope does not breed apathy; lack of hope causes apathy.
What sustains us when we fail? When we try to do good, but our efforts go wrong, or when we struggle with sin in our own lives without success. What sustains us is hope, and the basis of that hope is the promise that, in the end, God will do what we have been unable to do.
Several years ago the late English Bishop, John Robinson, wrote a small book entitled, In the End, God. That phrase has been echoing in my mind the past few days as I thought about this parable.
In the end, God will eradicate all evil, all suffering, all causes of sin, in our world, and in ourselves.
In the end, God will heal the whole creation. “The cow and the bear shall feed, their young shall lie down together. . . . they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isa. 11:7-9)
In the end, God will wipe away every tear, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.(Rev. 21:3,4)
In the end, God will make all things new.
In the end, God.
(1)Feasting On the Word, year A, v.3, p.262.
(2)Almquist, Curtis, Brother, Give us a Word, July 7, 2014, SSJE.
(3)Adams, Harry B., Best Sermons, v.5, p.148 (San Francisco, Harper Collins,1992.)
July 20, 2014