A few years ago, my wife Kristin and I took a group of kids to Sault Ste. Marie, MI for a service trip. My work group was assigned to weed flower beds along one of the main thoroughfares in town. From 10AM to 3PM. Under the sun, with no shade. In a week that set records for high temperatures.
The complaining was loud and immediate. In defense of all the kids on the trip, it was brutal weather for that sort of work. Also in their defense, they did a great job. The flowerbeds had been planted by former volunteers, but weeds had grown up and choked the life out of the flowers (I think they were petunias). We had a lot of work to do, and the students did it well. Ever since that service trip, I’ve thought of those kids whenever the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds comes up in our lectionary.
The easy move would be to say that we are all wheat and waiting for God to weed the field in which we live. But honestly, folks, it’s not that easy. We aren’t always wheat, and we aren’t always weeds, but we are both more often than not. As Brother Martin once said, “We are simultaneously saint and sinner.” It is this wisdom Jesus is teaching in the parable – the wisdom to understand that we don’t always know whether we are weeds or wheat.
A horticulturist will tell you that a weed is simply a plant growing where it shouldn’t. A petunia in a soybean field is a weed. Corn in a flowerbed is a weed. Weeds are random plants which grow to take over everything and blossom where they aren’t planted. We tend to find ourselves in random places, we like to take over everything and we often blossom where we aren’t planted. Sometimes when we think we’re being the most righteous, most holy, most Christian, we’re growing in the wrong place, choking the life out of something God has planted. Johnny Carson once said, “Choose your enemies carefully: because you become like them.” In our existence, wheat can become weeds very quickly. It’s not as simple as we often think.
Getting rid of the weeds is not our job, Jesus says. We are not the weeders of the world: we wait for the work of the Weeders. Those petunias in Michigan didn’t weed their flowerbeds – they waited for us to come and take care of the weeds. Petunias can’t weed themselves – neither can we
Jesus says “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will collect out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,” even if many of us respond, “But I want to be about the Lord’s business!”
Remember – you are both wheat and weed: YOU are being weeded. That unconfessed sin that confronts & afflicts you is the painful weeding of your life that takes place once you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. This is the gospel afflicting the comfortable: where weeds have taken root in us the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to cleanse, tear, uproot and destroy all that chokes the life of the Spirit in us. This is not our work: it is God’s work in us, and it is sometimes painful.
There is, however, opportunity with the promise Jesus gives us. Our opportunity is to bear fruit in a world full of weeds. Jesus continues: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Weeding is done so that the fruit we bear will reflect the good news of the God who has claimed us. In Michigan, the petunias looked dazzling after we weeded out all the crabgrass, thistles and other weeds that had been choking the beds. They were there the whole time – but they had disappeared underneath a whole pile of things that were choking the life out of them. The weeds will grow back: they always do. But the flowers will be stronger for the weeding, better able to withstand the attacks of the weeds that return.
If we spend all our time weeding, we become weeds ourselves. We strive to overtake & choke the life out of anything that is not like us. Bearing fruit regardless of the weeds that may come allows us to live the life God has intended for us. Life lived in the mercy of God is not centered on the exhausting battle against every evil that might come our way. Life lived in the mercy of God is filled with and identified by a reflection of the grace, mercy and love of Jesus Christ. Life lived in the mercy of God bears fruit by making the people around you wonder what it is that would cause you to be the person you are. One of my seminary professors began a lecture with one sentence: "You defend God like you defend a lion -- you get out of his way." God, it seems, has never had much trouble with his enemies -- it's his friends who give him fits. The theologian Karl Rahner put it this way: "The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable." Perhaps the best defense of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and live like God told us to live. The gospel would then have such power and attraction that we wouldn't have to worry about defending it.
The work of God in us is this: bearing fruit no matter how the weeds may threaten to choke the life out of it. You have opportunities here: you can live the good news of Jesus Christ bear fruit in the midst of the weedy, uncontrollable circumstances of our lives. Christ gives us his grace, his mercy and his love to weed out our lives and make us shine: may you shine today, weeded and splendid, bearing fruit for the kingdom that is already here and is still coming. Amen.