July 23, 2017, 7th Sunday after Pentecost YR A Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 The Rev. Anne Abdy
How many of you are gardeners? Or just love to be outside planting a vegetable garden? Now I admit, I am not a green thumb. I confess that I have killed a cactus. I remember visiting an souvenir store somewhere in Arizona and brought back to college with me a cactus in a small pot. I was forewarned about not over watering it. I grew up in a dessert and I have a little understanding of succulents so I guess I didn’t take that warning to heart. But I don’t recall watering it to much at all, yet it died. Maybe I forgot to talk to it. That plant has probably been the last indoor plant that I have had. Now don’t get me wrong. In fact, I love the beauty of plants and flowers. They do brighten one’s day. Often I’ll just walk into a florist to get a blast of scents and smell overload as I open the door. I will then wander around and after a while leave.
Yet as a kid, I remember growing beans between two sheets of cotton and being fascinated with the process as tiny roots sprouted. Then shortly thereafter came the stem and maybe a leaf or two. It seemed about this time we then transferred it to a bowl from the plate and the miracle of life continued. All that mystery between two sheets of cotton.
This is one of five parables where Jesus is setting the stage of his ministry and keeping and pretty secretive about it. He really is not disclosing to those around him, who he truly is—he is the Son of God. As we well know, Jesus picks those ordinary everyday items that the plain folks of his day understood and used them to illustrate the points that he was attempting to make.
So here we are talking about seeds, weeds, and harvest. Last week the Parable of the Sower was about the growth of the Kingdom using the role of the seed. The meaning of the seed does not change. This week, Jesus adds evil—the weeds—to the story of the God’s Kingdom on earth to illustrate how evil impacts the world. In verse 25, we read “But while everyone was asleep…,” that suggests something happens when we are sleeping. The evil one is at work and does not stick around because he knows and relies upon the good and Godly people to do his work.
The most extraordinary statement of the parable is the order the farmer gives his servants when he tells them to do nothing. “What farmer or gardener will leave the weeds in the ground till harvest?” Every avid gardener that I know is always pulling weeds, except me . . . I’d pull the flower. He tells them, “Leave them! Don’t pull up the weeds.” That is so contrary to human nature and very unusual. So, his hearers had a point when they objected.
How many times have we heard world leaders say, “Let’s root out the evil?” In African countries it is not uncommon for the church to speak out about corruption, lack of government services, and then for those church leaders to become targeted with death threats or exile because they are opposing that country’s president. My neighbor in Sewanee was the retired bishop of the diocese of Southern Malawi who experienced just that. Should he return home, he could be shot dead.
But even on our shores we are not immune from evil. After 9/11 President Bush vowed to leave no stone unturned in order to bring those who brought terrorism to our shores to justice. The War on Terror has lasted 15 years and has expanded from Afghanistan to across the Middle East. During my research on evil powers I came across this fact which astounded me. The Centre for Research on Globalization in 2015 identified that since 1776 the United States of America has only had 21years of peace. In most of these conflicts, America was on the offense. No wonder America is thought of as the enemy!
Now before I go much further, I need to pause here to explain the type of evil weed that we are dealing with. I consulted with a colleague who helped me understand the Greek and Latin for the word weed. The Greek word is “zizania” but the Latin word is “lolium”. There is a species of weed called “lolum termulentum” which does look like a mature stalk of wheat. It is more commonly known as poison darnel, darnel ryegrass, or cockle. This species of weed can easily be infected with a fungus which if eaten can be fatal.
So, it makes sense to me for the servants to want to take out the weeds. But the greater point that Jesus is making is that not only is poison co-mingled with a life-giving grain as in our parable, but evil is co-mingled in the real life of our everyday world. Evil co-exists with good and Godly people.
My point is not to either agree or disagree with national security issues, my point is to say that evil is cunning. Remember the Genesis story of Adam and Eve story. The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ (Gen. 3:13). Evil wants the servants in the parable to take out the weeds literally knowing that it would destroy the harvest. It also wants others to do the dirty work because that dirty work can cause more harm evidenced by the countless civilian and military lives destroyed by war. Plus, the enemy thrives off negative energy. A simple illustration is ISIS. Their recruitment videos use the negative reporting of the Western perspective that this group is evil and needs to be wiped from the face of the earth to persuade the vulnerable to join their club.
Jesus by suggesting that nothing is to be done with the weeds is preaching on tolerance and on the principle of forgiveness as it relates to living as a disciple and a participant in the Jesus movement. He uses the wheat and weeds as the example of how God expects the Children of God to live and act. We are to forgive others, just as Jesus did at the cross with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34)
Knowing that Christians are to actively forgive others who have wrong them, the interpretation and explanation of this parable goes further. Every preacher reflecting on this passage also needs to deal with theological explanations Jesus offers in the last verses of this reading. Jesus explains who the different characters are but the escatological explanation begins in the second half of verse 39. It reads: “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.”
Jesus explains that the Kingdom will reign but only the good and Godly Jesus followers will enter the Kingdom of God. Good triumphs over evil. The Savior arrives to destroy evil and promises entry into heaven for those people living with no sin.
In the darkness of the night the enemy came and planted weeds while the good and Godly people slept. We can sleep with assurance because Jesus is awake in our hearts. He has revealed himself to us and now he is doing so to the simple farmers and town folk around him. He encourages them to repeat of sin, and to be born again through salvation so that he can be that living presence in their lives, just as he is alive in our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.
It is the practice of Christianity to repent of our sins and reconcile with God. We do this each week at the Confession of Sins. In corporate worship, we come together to listen to the Word, pray for others, confess our sins, and then united together as we step forwards to receive communion. For many centuries, however, if two Christians came to church and could not exchange the peace in good faith with each another because of a disagreement, they did not receive communion. Only after dialogue and an expression of sincere forgiveness affirmed by the exchange of peace to re-establish order in body, mind, and spirit, would the brethren be allowed at the altar.
So the bottom line from this parable is this: God does not expect us to be a pacifists in the face of evil. God expects Christians to speak up and to be heard. After all the servants did. But God also expects us to be patient and to tolerate the waiting because at the end of time the all powerful and mighty God will prevail.
The harvest will be plentiful because the weeds will be separated from the wheat.