5th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (NRSV)
The parable of the weeds
He put before them 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!
I’m going to be honest with you. When I told my father I would be preaching from this parable today, he laughed at me. He said, “I wouldn’t want to be you! That’s that “bad news” scripture about weeping and gnashing of teeth, right?” “Right, dad…” (giggles…)
Indeed, upon further inspection, I realized that there is a reason that Matthew has the unenviable reputation of being something of a downer. One commentator wrote, “Matthew's gospel knows little compromise: sheep or goats, wheat or weeds, good or evil. Finding the good news of God's love for all people [and] for all creation, can be a challenge in this book.”
Over the next four weeks, we will encounter God as righteous judge and merciful redeemer. We recognize that the age old complaint, “That’s not fair!” can be a good thing (breathe) as a fair God must always condemn those who do evil, but a just God is able to move beyond fairness to justice, peace, and reconciliation.
In today’s gospel lesson we encounter a farmer who has experienced “biological warfare” of a sort. Some enemy has sown weeds in amongst his wheat, hoping to destroy the whole crop. Rather than prematurely yanking out the weeds, and thus potentially killing the wheat at the same time, the farmer allows both to grow up together. Ultimately, at harvest time it is easier to tell the difference between the weed and the wheat. Wheat heads to the table and weed to the fire.
This is a lovely story until Jesus explains the meaning of his parable. He says that the good seed are the children of God and our good deeds, whereas the weeds are the children of the evil one and their bad deeds.
I’m going to confess to you that it was particularly easy for me to feel smug after reading this scripture, after all, I am one of the good guys, right? We are the children of God. We are the ones who do good deeds, right?
Well, usually right…
Well, sometimes right.
Oh my! Even as Christians, we can sometimes sow the weedy seed of lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, rage, envy, and/or pride. We can sometimes act like dandelions, choking out the grass, when we sow seed of hatred, prejudice, separatism, and intolerance. We can sometimes act like grain beetles, consuming the feelings of others as we fuss and fight in the church and at home, determined to get our own way.
So, just what does Jesus mean when he says that 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.”?
Well, I’m not going to stand before you today and pretend that I have all the answers to God’s mysterious ways.
But, what I will do is affirm—in the words of Martin Luther--that we are all simultaneously “saint and sinner.”
This both/and approach, rather than an either/or, seems much more authentic to the human condition in my eyes.
As a result, we can extrapolate that we are all wheat and we are all weed as well.
So, how will God extract the weed and leave the wheat at the end of the age? How will God’s justice meet God’s mercy and grace? How will what is fair be conquered by what is peaceable and right, thus leading to relationship and reconciliation?
As good Christians—I am glad that we are unafraid to deeply reflect on these theological questions regarding our faith.
In the book of Romans, Paul attempts to tackle some of these mysteries when he states (in essence) that on the last day there will be a separation of our weedy, fleshy selves, from our spiritual selves. Our spiritual selves will not be cast into the fire. Rather, we will live as the adopted children of God and co-heirs with Christ!
This is our eternal hope as Christians. This is what we affirm as Followers of the Way--That God loves the world so much that Jesus was given to die on the cross, to save all of us from our sin, and to gift us with eternal life!
Although we are all simultaneously weed and wheat, saint and sinner, The One who became the Bread of Life is able to declare us righteous through his shed blood upon the cross. As we feast at the Banquet Table of His Love, we are reminded that we are now a forgiven people set free to love and serve others as we live in hope of that great day when Christ will return and all of creation will be freed from decay and receive the free gift of salvation and redemption!
My fellow Saints and Forgiven Sinners, when we are in Christ we are not bound for the fire, rather we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our God! Let anyone with ears listen!
It is my prayer that each of us will be set free as we recognize ourselves as adopted children of God and co-heirs with Christ. It is my prayer that this freedom will liberate us from the guilt and shame of being simultaneously saint and sinner. And it is my prayer that we will experience the Amazing Grace and unconditional Love of God which satisfies our every hunger through the Bread of Life who is Christ Jesus our Lord.
I pray all of this in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta