July 23, 2017
Freed to Not Weed
Pr. Ben Adams
Every year I plant a garden, and like any bad gardener, I always try to plant too much. I usually end up underestimating how much space my squash will need and eventually one of my nearby tomato or bean plants gets engulfed and I spend the rest of the summer trying to keep the plants apart. Now neither plant is a weed, but if my plants had a mind of their own, they might see the other vegetables in their small space as invasive or unwanted like a weed. Thus I am glad that my plants can’t do their own weeding because if they could they might uproot fellow plants that I actually planted and wanted to be there.
Weeds and weeding also figure into today’s Gospel, and the way we hear the gospel from Matthew is entirely dependent upon how we define who or what is the wheat and who or what are the weeds.
Let’s begin then with the most basic, but maybe the most tempting way to hear the text this week with the weeds representing the bad people, and the wheat representing the good people.
Under this interpretation, it’s simple, we just have to make sure we are wheat and not weeds... it seems simple at first, but then we realize that making sure we are the right type of plant is impossible. If I was a weed I can’t just become wheat, that’s not how plants work. Now we are into some Calvinistic predestination territory where we just have to hope and pray we are one of the chosen wheat that has been cultivated by God, and not one of the despised weeds sown by the devil.
But under this interpretation we have nothing to worry about because we’re all wheat right? We’re not one of those weeds who will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Right? Well now that I’ve asked the question, I’m getting nervous, now I’m not sure, how can I be sure that I am not in fact a weed? I mean I guess I have a 50/50 chance, but that’s not comforting! Welp, nothing like having to wait until the end of the age to know for sure. I guess I’ll just have to worry the rest of my life away wondering…
Dang, this simple interpretation is rough when we actually think about it. Furthermore, If this is our interpretation of this text, then it may lead to some dangerous outcomes. Just think about it, the definition of a weed is wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.
That sounds eerily familiar to what we see happening all over the world where we see isolationist and nationalist rhetoric from powerful leaders about how unwanted people, like refugees and immigrants, need to be rooted out so that our cultivated wheat no longer has to compete with these pesky, burdensome, unfruitful weeds.
So before we get to far down the road, we need to dispel this elementary and binary way of dividing people as wheat and weeds. No one can claim to be 100% whole wheat. No one. We are always both 100% whole wheat and 100% whole weed, or simultaneously sinner and saint as Martin Luther was known to say.
And that leads us to the next way we can interpret this text as though we individually are both the weeds and the wheat. Now we have a excellent opportunity today to reflect on this interpretation because we have two baptisms this morning. Jack and Oscar.
Now considering these little ones, it can be hard to imagine that they could be anything but pure 100% whole wheat, but really, both are just like us, wheat and weeds. These are two precious innocent babies, their roots are a tangled mess of wheat and weeds, and contrary to Jesus’ parable today, we are not going to leave their roots in their current soil so that the wheat will survive. We are going to uproot Oscar and Jack, wheat and the weeds and all, knowing that their old selves will die, and we will plant them in the soil of Jesus’ death and resurrection and water them with Baptismal water.
And from this moment on, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they “shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out their roots by the stream. They shall not fear when heat comes, and their leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought they are not anxious, and they do not cease to bear fruit.”
Oscar and Jack’s old selves will die beneath those Baptismal waters and they will come forth resurrected with Christ. Thus they will be a born anew with ever-deepening and strong roots fed with baptismal waters will that no weed can threaten, and like a tree planted by the water, they shall not be moved.
Now, there is one more way we can interpret the wheat and the weeds though. We can imagine everyone and all creation as wheat sown by the Son of God’s good seed. The weeds, then, are all forces of evil, and death, and sin sown from the seed of the enemy.
Like the householder who instructs not to uproot the weeds, God too does not uproot all evil around us, and allows us to coexist. Thinking about the text in this way invites us as wheat in God’s garden to fight for life. To fight for our own life and the those around us, the planet included. We deepen our roots towards the water and reach our branches towards the Sun and invite others around us to do the same. Ultimately the weeds will not just go away, but our hope is not in our own ability to overcome the weeds, but in the harvester’s ability to separate the weeds from the wheat on the harvest day.
On that day all of God’s good, fruitful wheat will be gathered into God’s barn, and God’s righteous fire will consume all the weeds and everything that is in opposition to abundant, fruitful life. In times when the evil of the world seems all too much to overcome, we can find good news in God’s judgment.
Isaiah reminded us today, “Do not fear, or be afraid,” the Psalmist declares, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And Paul in Romans reminds us, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
As hard as it might seem, Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds is inviting us to be free. To be free of our incessant judgment of who or what we perceive to be weeds, and to be free of the work of harvesting and weeding. Judgment and weeding is God’s work. Not ours. We will be tempted to think that by zealously weeding ourselves or our communities we can become pure 100% whole wheat, but that is ultimately damaging to the fruitful crop.
So instead of purifying yourself or the world around you, just be a plant in God’s garden and simply grow strong and nurture others around you do the same. God’s baptismal waters and blessed body and blood will fertilize the fruitful, abundant, growth of ourselves, our communities, and this earth so let’s proclaim the good news and lead others to our spiritual fertilizer. We as plants cannot also weed, so put aside judgement and incessant desire to weed other plants around you out. Fed by the hope of God we wait for the harvest with patience.