The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds is tough one, but there is room in my mountain field for both cultivated roses and wild Queen Anne’s Lace.
Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 / Proper 11 A / by the Rev. Tracey Kelly / preached to the congregation of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, VA / July 17, 2020
Good or bad.
Last Monday, I was sitting on my deck reading through today’s gospel, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, with my online preaching group. It’s a tough passage, we all agreed. It follows last week’s parable about good seed falling on bad soil and failing to take root. That parable was addressing the problem that the gospel was not spreading to outsiders as it should.
In today’s parable, Jesus is addressing an internal problem. There is division within the community of followers. Some of the members of the community of faith are, well, not so good. In fact, Jesus says that an enemy has sown seeds of evil right there among them. It’s a tough passage because Matthew seems to suggest that each person is fundamentally one or the other; a disciple of God, or a disciple of the evil one. And that there is nothing we can do to change our fate.
We are either good or bad. We are either in or out.
And one day, God will sort us out and either save us, or throw us into the furnace. Ugh.
Then I looked up from my deck and I noticed that the roses that had been planted by the previous homeowner were struggling. A few weeks ago, six very small rose bushes were blossoming with pink and yellow roses. But the deer have nibbled the bushes down to the nub. Only a few sticks and petals remain.
Then I looked across the gravel driveway to the edge of the asphalt road. Bursting upwards through the tall grass was a clump of Queen Anne’s Lace. Queen Anne’s Lace is my favorite flower. Many tiny, white flowerets cluster around a purple dot to create a disc, an illusion of handmade lace. It is beautiful.
Queen Anne’s Lace, my friends, is a wildflower. A weed.
It grows prolifically and fills in the spaces beside roads and in fields, and in disturbed habitats. It flourishes in drought and heat. I was wondering if I would see it in the mountains of North Carolina. Suddenly, this week, there it is, everywhere I look. One woman’s weed, is another woman’s treasure.
Maybe this parable isn’t so much about a predestined disposition of good or bad. Maybe… it is about difference, and diversity. And about where any one of us is at a particular moment in time.
Diversity and distrust.
As always, context matters. The Gospel according to Matthew was written by someone within the church community of Antioch near the end of the first century.
This community began as a group of Jewish followers of Christ, following the first persecution in Jerusalem. Later, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans left a mark on this community.
This is a church community struggling to establish its identity. They are no longer Jewish exactly, but what and who are they instead?
Now this church of second generation of Jewish Christians, for whom Matthew’s gospel is written, is finding its membership becoming increasingly Gentile. It is an urban church, and more and more the congregation reflects the diversity of the city.
Diversity often brings disagreement, and distrust. A question for this early first-century Church arose: “How are we supposed to deal with those among us who seemed to be like us at first, but now… well, now it is obvious that they are somewhat different.”
The answer the author provides for his congregation is simple: Leave the sorting out of judgment to God.
Wheat and weeds.
In this passage, Jesus, who is moving towards his own time of trial and judgment, cautions his disciples against their rush to judgment lest they forget their own failings.
His faithful disciples, the privileged twelve, are themselves a mix of wheat and weeds.
And aren’t we all? Like the disciples, like those early church members, each one of us is capable of good and bad. Each one of us is a mixture of wheat and weed. Don’t our own lives resemble the farmer’s field – days on which weeds and wheat tangle together?
My friends, these are difficult days.
It feels like seeds are being sown among us. Seeds of discord, and distrust. Seeds of angst, and fear. Seeds of prejudice and intolerance. And these seeds are taking root.
This parable unveils our human preoccupation with judging: who is in and who is out. Who is right and who is wrong. Who understands the truth and who is telling lies. It has always been a challenge for us to distinguish between good and bad, wheat and weeds, healthy debate and destructive animosity, peaceful protest and dangerous rhetoric.
It is a task that is particularly challenging in times like these, when tensions are high and so much is at stake. I know that back in March I was hoping that, by the end of summer, this whole pandemic would be wrapping up. I didn’t expect we’d be gearing up for Round 2. These are stressful times, punctuated by cries of despair and anger over racial injustice, accusations about the failure of leadership. And need I mention that there’s a Presidential election coming up?
These are difficult days, filled with difficult decisions. This week, I’m thinking especially of those of you who are parents of school-aged children, those of you who are educators.
Some of us are doing okay, like my Queen Anne’s Lace. Some of us are struggling, like my roses.
Sow different seeds.
The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds is never going to be my favorite. It’s a tough one. It feels harsh and judgmental, and not particularly redemptive.
But the parable does rightly name that evil is real and is at work to tear us apart from each other. And the parable does assure us that there is one who is wiser and stronger than the weed-sowing enemy. God will sort out the good from the bad.
This is the same God who through Isaiah establishes the completeness of history with a single, sweeping statement, “I am the first and I am the last.” All of human history, indeed all of creation history – the past, the present, the future – are under his control. The Lord alone will save them and us.
But if isn’t our job to proclaim judgment, then what are we to do? Well, maybe our task to sow different sorts of seeds: seeds of understanding and compassion, seeds of curiosity and peace, seeds of trust, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of love for the diversity among us.
We each live with different identities. We may call ourselves American, or Republican, Democrat, Libertarian. Teacher, student. Mother of a young child, or son of an aging parent. Immunocompromised and vulnerable. Healthy. A person struggling with depression and anxiety. A survivor. We each live with different identities, but our common and true identity is in Christ.
I don’t know that I would have planted cultivated roses on the side of a mountain. But here they are. There is room in my field for both cultivated roses and wild Queen Anne’s Lace. Someday, I may transplant more of the Queen Anne’s Lace into my field.
But for now, I will take care of the roses, because the roses need my help. I will do my best to protect them from the deer. I will do what I can to enrich their soil, to nurture them, and to help them flourish among the diverse beauty of my mountain field.
© 2020 Tracey Kelly. All rights reserved.
Photo credits: “Queen Anne’s Lace” © Tracey Kelly, “Roses after the deer” © Tracey Kelly.