God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Last Sunday’s gospel and today’s both have Jesus telling parables about agriculture. And both parables are… kind of odd, aren’t they?
I mean, I’m not an expert in Ancient Near Eastern farming practices. But last week, the sower was scattering seed every which way, resulting in a lost of waste when the seed fell on bad soil. And this week, we have another strange narrative: a landowner plants his crop in his field. That part seems ordinary. Then, Jesus says, “while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.”
How many of you have practice gardening? Taking care of a vegetable garden, or your flowers, or even just maintaining a lawn. Whatever the specific situation, you know what gardening involves a lot of? Weeding.
Pulling weeds is something any gardener has experience with. You need to pull up the weeds so they don’t take up all the resources and starve out the things you’re trying to grow. Even in last week’s parable, we heard about the problem of thorns that choked out the seeds so they couldn’t grow.
So you’d think, if someone intentionally sowed weeds all over your field, you’d want to pull those weeds up as soon as the plants were big enough to tell apart. Otherwise, your wheat is competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil. That’s what the workers in today’s parable think. But the landowner says, “No… let [the wheat and the weeds] grow together until the harvest.”
So we have a landowner who doesn’t want the weeds to be pulled up. He says, let the weeds grow alongside the wheat, and we’ll sort them out after the harvest, at the end of the season.
I want to come back to this landowner in a moment, but first, I just have to note the other weird thing about this parable: what kind of enemy sneaks into a field in the dead of night to plant weeds? It’s such a strange scenario. You would have to have a very specific grudge against this landowner to engage in agricultural sabotage.
Who knows, maybe it’s not as unusual as it seems to me. Some people take their gardens very seriously. I read a survey that said, in Britain, fully one-fifth of people admitted to throwing snails and slugs into their neighbors’ gardens so the pests would mess up the neighbors’ plants instead.
Anyway, back to the parable. We have a landowner with a weed-planting enemy, who wants to let the weeds grow alongside the wheat for the whole growing season. It’s strange. It’s also, of course, a parable. Parables aren’t really about the thing they’re about. Both last week and this week, after Jesus tells the parable to the large crowds, he privately explains the parable to his close disciples.
He reveals to them what the parable is meant to symbolize. “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.”
Now we have our explanation, right? In the world, there are good people—the wheat—and bad people planted by the devil in order to mess up the good harvest. At the end of the age, the good and the bad will be separated, and the bad will be burned up like weeds.
Weeeell. Let’s not be too hasty. Parables are meant to be difficult. They’re meant to be ambiguous. They resist easy interpretation, even when they come with an explanation like this one.
So let’s complexify this parable a bit. And I’ll do it with just one question: are you wheat, or weed? Let’s do a show of hands… who thinks they’re part of the wheat, the good crop, and who thinks they’re a bad weed planted by the devil?
It’s very easy for us to assume, because we’re good church-going Christians, that of course we’re the wheat. And it’s dangerously tempting to assume that we know exactly who the “weeds” are. The weeds, obviously, are the people who vote for the other political party than we vote for. They’re the people who belong to a different church or a different religion altogether. They’re the people whose lifestyles are different from our own. Those people have clearly been planted by the devil—or so we think—and God is going to burn them after the final judgment.
To be clear, I think that’s the wrong way to understand this parable. Even if some people are wheat and some are weeds, we can’t possibly know which is which. The laborers are instructed not to pull up the weeds, to wait until the whole harvest is done… so we certainly can’t start weeding out our neighbors here and now.
I’ll also say, according to our Lutheran theology, it’s impossible for any single person to be only “wheat” or only “weed.” We are, all of us, both good and bad. We are imperfect, sinful creatures, made in the image of God our creator. We are, to use Martin Luther’s language, simultaneously saints and sinners. Or in the terms of the parable, each of us is wheat and weed, at the same time.
So I think it’s a mistake to assume that we can know who is wheat and who is weeds, and it’s foolish even to think that we are one or the other. Maybe each of us is a little piece of that field, with wheat and weeds growing within us side-by-side.
Ultimately, however, all of this interpretation has focused on what’s growing in the field. Let’s turn our attention instead to the landowner, the gardener who planted the wheat and is overseeing the field as it grows.
Jesus tells us this is “the Son of Man,” a title he uses to refer indirectly to himself. Based on the parable, what do we know about this gardener?
We know that he sowed good seed. Much like the sower in last week’s parable, this figure has the seeds for growing good, healthy crops. Less like the sower in last week’s parable, this sower plants his seeds specifically in a field, where the soil is presumably all good (no rocks or thorns here!).
Then the gardener faces an unexpected challenge: an enemy has planted weeds alongside the wheat. While it would make sense for a gardener to pull up the weeds, this is a parable and it’s not really about good agricultural practice.
So instead, the gardener leaves the weeds alone. There will be a time for separating out the weeds, just as there will be a time for milling the wheat and making it into bread. This gardener in the parable is patient. He’s not in a rush, he’s not concerned about the weeds doing some irreparable harm to the crop. He is patient.
The other aspect to this gardener is that he knows there will be enough. Whereas real-life farmers have to worry about there being enough rain, enough sunshine, enough good weather, the farmer in the parable isn’t worried about any of that. He knows there’s not only enough for the wheat to grow, but there’s even enough for the weeds to grow, too, without harming the wheat harvest.
This figure is meant to represent Jesus himself. So what does the parable tell us about our Lord? That he is doing good work, planting good seeds. That he is patient—he doesn’t rush to judgment, he’s willing to let things grow and develop. And that he is confident is there being enough. After all, this is the same Lord who looks at a crowd of thousands, looks at a few loaves of bread, and knows there will be enough for everyone to eat and be satisfied.
So instead of worrying about whether we are wheat or weeds, instead of judging the people around us as the weeds planted by the evil one, I think this parable should focus our attention on Jesus. We are created and nurtured by God, who is a good gardener. We follow Jesus, our teacher and Lord, who is patient and calm, even in the face of challenges. And we exist in a field, “the kingdom of heaven,” God’s dominion, where there is enough for everyone, wheat and weeds alike. There is abundance in God’s kingdom. Abundance to scatter seed far and wide—like the sower in last week’s parable. And abundance to let the wheat and the weeds grow up side-by-side. We have enough. We are enough. We are growing ever closer to God, whose love is shining down on us. Amen.