Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 11)

Text: Matthew 13:24-26
Jesus told this parable: A man sowed good seed in his field. One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up.

Wheat and weeds

A first look at this parable makes you wonder how much Jesus really knew about farming and growing crops. What gardener leaves weeds to flourish in a veggie garden? Weeds can take over and choke out seedlings (precisely what Jesus warned about in his parable of the sower and the seed when some seed fell amongst weeds and thorns). Not only that, leaving weeds to stay in the garden until they have grown seed only guarantees another crop of weeds the next season.

Normally when a gardener sees a weed growing in his veggie patch, without a second thought, he bends over and pulls it up roots and all and discards it. One of the congregations I served was in a market growing area and chipping weeds was part and parcel of the every day life of a market gardener. When the farmer in Jesusí parable orders the concerned farm hand to leave the weeds grow in amongst his crop, we wonder what Jesus knew about growing a good crop. He might have been a good carpenter but knew zip about farming.

We may find this parable a little strange but those listening to Jesusí parable didnít have any trouble understanding this farming story. There are three things that we need to know as background to this story.

And so, putting all this together, Jesus told a parable. A farmer sowed a field of wheat but, while he slept, an enemy came and sowed darnel, so that, when the wheat began to sprout, so did the darnel. His farm worker was concerned about the weeds and was keen to rip them out. But what does the farmer tell him,
"Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn".

So what are we to make of this parable? As well as giving us an insight into first century farming practices what message does it provide for us today? What is Jesus really trying to tell us?

In the farmer's field there was the wheat and mixed in amongst the wheat are the weeds.

Good and evil side by side. Sometimes itís hard to tell who is good and who has evil intentions.
Who are the crazies and the weird among those we pass in the street?
Who are the dangerous and the destructive?
Which apparently friendly neighbour has enough anger to kill someone?
Which trusted person will harm our children?
Who will cheat us and take us down?

There are those who sacrificially give themselves to serving the poor, the dying, the starving, the sick, the refugee. But on the other hand, there are those who will kill, maim, or imprison the innocent.

Jesus calls us to discipleship, he calls us to righteousness and to right living, and even in the body of Christ, the church, there is a mixture of "wheat and weeds", those who are obedient and those who are disobedient, those who are sheep and those who are goats (see Matthew 25). In the church, those who are serious about their faith and their Christianity find it easy to making comparisons, and be quite judgmental. And when comparisons are made, it is easy to criticise and to look down on those who appear to be somewhat less of a Christian than ourselves.

We agree that there is a mixture of wheat and weeds in the world and the church. We even surprise ourselves when we recognise the wheat and weeds in our lives, in our children, in our congregation. Itís easy to be a Dr Jekyll or a Mr Hyde and in an instant switch from being a good Dr Jekyll to an evil Mr Hyde. One minute kind and loving, the next uncaring and cruel. We may even shock ourselves with how quickly we can say or do something that injures and hurts. We may ask ourselves, "Where did that come from? Why made me suddenly do something that I detest in other people?"

Some kinds of evil and certain people who do evil things are obvious just as there were certain weeds in the farmers paddock that were clearly weeds and no doubt the farmer quickly pounced on them. The difference between what is good and what is bad is quite clear. Jesus clearly points out that where evil is clear then we need to do something about it. Just take the example of his drastic action in the temple when he saw that it had become a market place and making money had replaced prayer and worship in the temple. Jesus was not afraid to take action against what was wrong. Or what about his sharp words against those who made a great show of their religion but were very quiet when it came to acts of love and charity toward the sinner and the down and out.

But Jesus isnít talking about the evil and good that can be easily distinguished. Like the poisonous rye grass among the wheat, often it is impossible to determine what is good or bad. And this is precisely Jesusí point. In fact, sometimes what we might readily claim to be evil might really be good and vice versa. We are too quick to judge thinking that we know all the facts whereas in actual fact we donít.

Tax collectors were condemned by one and all as thieves and traitors. As far as every one was concerned there was no way a tax collector could ever get to heaven. But that kind of judgement was hasty, too premature and far too generalised. Look at the good Zaccheus did after his encounter with Jesus.

The thief on the cross next to Jesus was an out and out no gooder. Rotten to the core. Condemned by everyone and hanging on a cross because of his wickedness. Every one was finished with this man but not God. Jesus declared him a good man, a forgiven sinner and promised him a place in paradise.

The parable, through the words of the farmer, is urging us not to be hasty in our judgements of other people. More often than not we are not able to distinguish between wheat and weeds.
We are encouraged to be patient.
There will be a harvest;
there will be a day of judgement;
there will be separation but let God bring these about in his own time.
It is not for us to predict how God will judge people. It is not for us to put people into categories such as those who are saved and those who are hopelessly lost. The parable rejects any action on the part of the servants that would separate the weeds from the wheat.

The reason for this is simple. Like the wheat and the rye grass in their early stages cannot be told apart, neither are we able to rightly judge who is good and evil now and who will be good and evil in the future. It is too premature for us to make that kind of judgement. Wait! Be patient! Judgement is God's business, we are told.

The parable concludes reminding us that in spite of evil there will be a great harvest Ė the farmer and his workers rejoice at the size of the harvest. The weeds in the field have no impact on the size of the harvest. The seed was good, and in spite of adversity, brought a fruitful harvest. And so the parable ends on a note of brilliant triumph about that harvest, "God's people will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom. Listen, then, if you have ears!"

Write no one off as hopeless, lost, irredeemable, worthless because he/she looks like a weed. Thatís the way God views each one of us. We readily admit that we are "weeds" Ė the evil in our hearts and minds takes control. But God refuses to write us off. He refuses to write off even that person who at this moment defies God, denies his existence, allows evil to run his/her life. There is always grace. While we are here on this planet, God is always reaching out to every person regardless of how good or how evil they might be. Every time evil takes control in our lives, he graciously invites us to come to him, to receive the forgiveness that he is offering through his Son Jesus, to welcome the Holy Spirit who will gladly guide and lead us down the path of right living.

When we judge too hastily
we cut ourselves off from that person,
we make it hard for God to use us to be a positive influence in that personís life,
and we let our judgement on the evil in a personís life take precedence over how God feels about that person.

Just as God applies his grace to the evil in our lives, he will apply his grace to those whose lives are ruled by evil. Most likely he will use us to be instruments of his love and acceptance.

I imagine that the last judgement will be full of surprises and when we look at the crowd in heaven, Iím sure that we will say numerous times, "What are you doing here?" Or we may think quietly, "I didnít expect to see him/her here." Thanks to God for his victory over evil through Jesus death on the cross.
Thanks to God the harvest will be plentiful.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th July 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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