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Whenever I hear the parable of the weeds among the wheat, I always think of the time we were staying at a friend’s cottage on Mayne Island. Our boys were really little at the time and I had been teaching Nathan how you could chew on the long tender ends of the wild grass we found growing in the surrounding fields. It made for a lovely pastoral scene until we found ourselves back at the cottage and I suddenly turned around to see him reaching for the pot of ornamental grasses our friends had lovingly placed on their deck. Before I knew it he had yanked out a handful and was readying himself to have a really good chew. In his eyes, the long bearded stems looked an awful lot like the “weeds” growing by the side of the road we had picked earlier in the day. It was his first experience of today’s lesson on appearances not always being what they seem.
It was easy for me to tell the difference between the ornamental grass in the pot and the wild grass in the field that day but in our parable what’s really tricky is that the wheat and the weeds are growing right alongside each other, their roots inextricably intertwined. Sometimes this parable is called the parable of the wheat and the tares because tares are not ornamental grasses. They are actual weeds that look almost identical to wheat until they are almost fully mature when you can finally distinguish one from the other. Tares are actually noxious, so if you go pulling at them, like the slaves in the parable wanted to do, not only could you yank up the roots of the good wheat, you could also spread their poisonous seeds among the wheat and ruin an entire crop.
It’s a great illustration of our human compulsion to judge and criticize one another, to focus on negative aspects of our lives and our world, to uproot what’s good and right in the name of what we perceive to be bad and wrong.
It’s a reminder to be slow and patient in our judgements about what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and what’s bad until we can clearly discern whether or not anything positive or fruitful can come of a situation or a person, including ourselves.
I’m sure that many of us can relate this parable. Maybe you are someone who has been quickly judged because of the way you look or speak or because of the company you keep or the people you love. Maybe you have been quick to judge someone else and then later you’ve discovered that person you thought ill of, wasn’t so bad after all.
So when it’s difficult to determine what the right thing to do is in any given situation or when we’ve trampled over the good in our lives by picking at the bad or rushing in with quick fix solutions, or fast judgements, it good to remember that sometimes the best thing to do in life is to sit back and observe a situation or a person, giving things time to mature before making a decision about who the person really is or how to respond.
I often think of the conflict I was in with my neighbour years ago over a garden plot he thought was common property and we thought belonged to our backyard. For months on end I poured my energy into criticizing him, focusing on how wrong he was and how right I was. My sense of peace and harmony in my home environment was completely uprooted. And then with one simple gesture (on his part, not mine) a bag of apples left at our front door with a note, a truce was signaled and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying a glass of wine together in his backyard. Suddenly I was able to see him and myself in a much better light. He wasn’t a weed afterall.
I’ve witnessed this kind of thing happen with people many times over the years. I’m not sure that anyone actually wants to be a weed in someone else’s garden. And, I’m aware that these “turns for the better” can take a very long time to come when relationships have broken down and sometimes they don’t ever come. Sometimes we do eventually have to purge ourselves of certain relationships or behaviours but there’s something about Jesus’ invitation in this parable to be patient and wait for the fullness of time that helps us remember that when it comes to the realm of God and that there is always hope that the day will come when the wheat will outgrow the weeds.
It’s one thing for us to consider this on a personal level but it’s even more important when we look around and see lots and lots of weeds growing in the wheat fields of our world. We seem to be in a moment in history when name calling and divisive behaviour is on the rise and it has been uprooting good seeds that have been growing in our midst.
Historically, when it comes to international and even institutional relationships there’s no shortage of examples of times we have declared entire groups of people as weeds. We have seen this happen in the church, as if the role of the church was to root out evil in the world by rooting out certain groups of people. We’ve seen it happen and even participated in corporate weed calling on a global scale over and over again. You’ll recall that after Putin invaded Ukraine last year it became easy for us to lump all Russians in the weed pile and all Ukrainians in the wheat bin. We do it almost automatically when something happens that offends us.
And yet, recently I heard about an entire network of Russians who have been helping Ukrainians flee to safety since the war began providing them with financial resources, shelter and helping them secure safe travel into conflict free zones. It’s an underground movement quietly growing alongside the death and destruction of the war. It’s happening in the same way these movements have grown up in every other situation of conflict across history often unseen until the violence has ended. No war torn field is ever inhabited by weeds alone and over time the good that is sown among the bad eventually takes over and is celebrated.
One of the challenges of Matthew’s Gospel that we are reading from in these weeks is that the writer of the gospel likes things to be cut and dried, black and white. Throughout his version of the Jesus story there’s good soil and bad soil, good wheat and bad weeds, good sheep and bad goats. But I think we all know that life is not so simple. We know enough about ourselves and our communities to know that we have a mixture of right and wrong, strength and weakness, wisdom and foolishness within us and it often doesn’t take much for us to get caught up in the weedy side of our human nature. Carl Jung said that everything and everyone has a shadow side although our shadow side can be very well-hidden it doesn’t take much to bring it to the surface.
It’s helpful to remember that Jesus was describing the kingdom of God when he talked about the field of wheat growing up all mingled with weeds, as if to say, the realm of heaven is not some perfect place we suddenly arrive at one day, it’s a process of becoming. It involves good and bad, success and failure. Don’t forget that at the end of our parable, the weeds are bundled up and burned, as if to say that even the weedy parts of our lives can fuel the refiner’s fire.
So when the weeds of our lives rear their ugly heads, sometimes it’s best just to let them be, rather than trying to fix them or yank at them too soon and take our focus and energy away from the good that is growing in our lives and in our world. Sometimes we have to wait until we are strong enough to deal with our enemies and demons. Sometimes we need to let the good take root and grow strong before it can overcome the toxic weeds of our life. Sometimes we simply need to remember not to be too quick to judge ourselves and one another.
Appearances are not always what they seem to be and when it comes to the realm of heaven, Jesus’ message is that patience and grace is what causes a good life to take root and flourish.