The big, beautiful maple trees in front of our church produce thousands of seeds called samaras, winged things that are fun to toss up into the air to watch them spin their way back to earth. Left alone, our church yard would soon be full of young, hopeful trees that would hide our church in a thick forest. We used to get the church school kids outside to pull hundreds of these tiny trees up. Sean, Lorraine’s grandson, took issue with this and wanted to allow some of the poor little trees to grow. So, we humored him, sending some little trees home in a cup full of dirt, and leaving some in the ground. A few weeks later, we were ready to pull those up too. But not before we had a lot of discussion with the kids about ‘good’ plants and ‘bad’ plants, which really revealed the completely arbitrary nature of gardening and the judgments we were making about the world that God made. We never had the kids pull up little trees again.
This farming parable today drives me nuts, not because of its content but because of the boring, laborious way that Jesus explains the parable. This is SO contrary to how he usually presents these often-dumbfounding parables that some scholars think that Matthew added the explanation himself.
It’s a very simple story: good wheat seed is planted then an enemy sows weed seeds among the wheat plants. Both sprout and the servants want to go pull the weeds. The two plants are so intertwined that the master tells them to let everything grow. At harvest time, the weeds will be burned, and the wheat kept.
Having told this story to a crowd, Jesus goes inside and explains it again to his followers, and he is kind of beating a dead horse. The Sower of the good seed is the son of man, the evil one sows the weeds, which are his children. The harvest is the end of time, and the angels are the reapers. The weeds are collected and burned, just as sinners will be burned at the end of time by the angels. And the righteous will shine like the sun!
I liked it better before he explained it. I’m not crazy about end times theology as I believe that we make our own heaven or hell right now, every day in how we live our lives. I don’t care much about what happens after I die but I do want to live my life in the best way I can.
Jesus lived at a time where many people were focused on apocalyptic teachings. Probably having your homeland occupied by the cruel, invasive Roman empire would encourage thoughts about the end of the world.
This story includes talk about the evil one. We don’t preach much about the devil in our church, but evil is real, and it doesn’t have to be a guy in a red suit with horns and a tail. There is evil in the world. There is evil in church folks who preach hatred toward others, evil in politicians who actively work to legislate discrimination, evil when the world turns its back on people in need. It’s real.
The apostle Paul says that God works for the good in all things. The best example of this is the cross which shows that evil happens, but it is not strong enough to defeat God’s love. Dying on the cross, Jesus did not condemn his enemies but rather he forgave them. He knew that God would sort it out in the end. God was with Jesus, as he is with us, even as we struggle through our most difficult times.
Notice in this parable that it is not up to the servants to sort the weeds from the wheat, it is up to God. God makes the judgement, not the servants. Today we see some church people declaring that others, such as LGBTQ folks are weeds, not wheat. How can church folk who claim to take the bible so literally, forget the part that says; ‘Judge not, or you too will be judged’?
My mom’s family was not well to do. There were 8 kids, 4 boys, 4 girls, living in a two-bedroom house with a sleeping porch for the boys, while the girls all shared a bedroom. The girls took great pride in being clean and making the most of the clothes they shared. Mom used to tell of one hot afternoon when all the sisters were sitting on their front porch, judging the people walking by. My grandma stood behind them, and after listening for a while, and pointing at them, chastised them: “Mira las perfectas!” – (Look at the perfect ones!) Her comment must have hit a nerve because I heard my aunts share this story often, even while they continued judging others.
Maybe because I grew up listening to my aunts judging people, I learned to do the same and still consider it one of my greatest sins. We need to trust God to do the judging. If we trust in that, it frees us up to just try to take care of our place in the world. We also need to trust that God will take care of evil. We can still try to take care of our neighbors, stand up for justice, and support those in need remembering that God is right beside us, helping us to do this good work.
In our Genesis reading today, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before: When Jacob dreams of his ladder, he sees angels going up and down that ladder between heaven and earth. But where is God? God is standing right beside Jacob, not up in heaven. God gives him a wonderful blessing then says: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
In Greek and early rabbinic traditions, ladders were associated with judgment. God makes ladders and some folks are raised up while others are brought down. As Christians looking at our Genesis text today, we may see foreshadowing of the incarnation where God comes down from heaven and promises to guide us and be with us in the person of Jesus.
Listen to some verses from Psalm 139 which illustrate just how close incredibly close God is to us:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
We must trust God to deal with the weeds of the world while we tend the wheat. If I ever get a tattoo, it’ll say ‘Let Go, Let God” so that I can remember that God will do the judging, God will work to defeat evil, so I don’t have to!
Jesus is saying to us that we can relax in knowing that we don’t have to be in the judging business or in the business of destroying that which would work against God, because the owner of the farm, God himself, will make it all come out right in the end.
Let us pray: Lord, help us remember that you are right by our side all the time. Knowing that we live in your continuous presence, help us to trust you to hold our whole world in your loving hands. Teach us to let go of worry and fear while you lead us into the world to share your love.