Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
Jesus spoke in parables. When people asked him about God, about God’s rule, about God’s kingdom, he told stories of sheep, or fish, or seeds. “The kingdom of God is like..” or “may be compared to…” Jesus began his stories. The story is there to make us think, to help us reflect: the stories are designed to chew on.
And Jesus’ parable are never straight forward stories – there is always something in them to pull us up short, to surprise us, to make us want to say to Jesus ‘hold on a moment?’.
So where are the moments of surprise in today’s story?
The kingdom of heaven is like someone who sowed good seed in his field. So far, so good – actually last week’s parable told us that the kingdom was like a sower sowing seed. But last week Jesus had us concentrate on the ground into which the seed fell, and this week, he draws our attention to the seed.
“But while everybody was asleep” continues Jesus “an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat”.
Hold on a moment.
The land owner has an enemy – who wants to spoil the harvest. So what does he do? What would you do if you wanted to ruin someone’s crop? You’d trample it down, or dig it up, or encourage sea gulls or pigeons to come and eat all the seed.. wouldn’t you? Or would you carefully gather lots of weed seed and then go to all the trouble of sowing this seed among the good seed.
Jesus was no idiot – he knew where weeds came from – weeds are just waiting in the soil for the farmer to plough the soil up & then they just pop up from where they’ve been hiding. Or else, like dandelions, they are wind-blown seeds that settle in the field after the real crop has been sown & take advantage of the rich soil to grow alongside the wheat. No one sows weeds – no one has to – weeds look after themselves.
But in Jesus’ story, the farmer has an enemy who plants the seeds – then what? The slaves ask their master “do you want us to gather the weeds?”.
Hold on another moment.
The slaves, who are there to do what they are told – ploughing, sowing.. watering possibly… are volunteering for extra duties.
This is a funny story – an enemy planting weed seed – slaves who want extra work to do.. what next?
The master of the slaves says “No – you might uproot the wheat.. let both of them grow together and at harvest time I will tell the reapers – collect the weeds first and tie them in bundles to be burned – then gather the wheat into my barn”.
Last one, I promise, but hold on a moment –
wouldn’t it be the slaves’ job to gather in the harvest. But here the master says ‘don’t worry about the weeds. Someone else (the reapers) are going to handle all that when the time is right’.
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to this strange world in which enemies plant weeds, slaves volunteer for work, but are told not to do it, and in fact are told not to do the work which does need doing, but to leave it to someone else.
If a parable is meant to be chewed on, Jesus gives us a really gristly tale for today !
So what is Jesus talking about?
If you rad this in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples an explanation. But clevere people then me have suggested that the explanation could be a later addition, so let’s just stick to the story Jesus tells.
The kingdom of God is like a field. In the field grows wheat and weeds – good stuff and bad stuff. We know that Jesus is right: in our world – even in each of our lives – there is good and bad. Some people look for an ‘enemy’ who makes the bad stuff grow. God is responsible for all the good growth, but an enemy makes the bad stuff grow. Is Jesus telling us the story to say that this is how it is in the world – that an enemy of God – we might say ‘the devil’ sown the weed seed in God’s good farmland? Or is he challenging that view. Just as we know that weeds are just a fact of life, rater than the act of an enemy, maybe instead of looking for someone to blame for the bad stuff that grows in our lives and in our world, we should accept that good and bad just do grow alongside each other.
The world has bad stuff in it – and maybe Jesus is challenging us to stop asking ‘why is there evil in the world?’ and instead to ask ‘what should we do about it?’.
The slaves first of all question the land owner about the origin of the weeds, but then quite quickly their thoughts turn to eradicating the bad weeds. This is a very human instinct, and increasingly out TV channels seem to be full of this: let’s get rid of the bad stuff – the anti-social “neighbours from hell”; the immigrants who are over here stealing our jobs; the paedophiles who stalk our internet; those who rely on benefits or food banks or the bank of mum and dad. Let’s convince ourselves that we are good by vilifying anyone and anything that is different. Let’s root out those weeds.
And in our own lives, let’s stamp out the weaknesses, let’s deny the softness, let’s try to be strong at all times.
But in the story Jesus tells us ‘No’. Accept the mix of good and bad “let both of them grow together”. The role of the workers in the field is to encourage the growth of the good stuff, which brings the eventual harvest. And this is our role in God’s kingdom – growing the good stuff, rather then being obsessed with rooting out all that we see as weed – all that we perceive as opposition.
So who is going to deal with the evil of our world, or of our psyche? Jesus is clear on this one, too - “someone else”. The farmer says to his workers “at harvest time I will tell the reapers, and they will collect the weeds”. Who are these mysterious reapers? When will the owner of the field send them to sort things out?
We have no idea – and Jesus tells us we don’t need to have any idea – we only need to know that it is not our job. As my daughter’s generation would say… ‘chill’.
So what is Jesus saying to us?
It could be many things: maybe this parable is to help us stop fretting so much about evil in our world, or to stop us tipping over into too much concern with the lives and morals of others. Maybe Jesus wants to free us from endlessly fretting over and re-living the mistakes we make in life and wants to re-direct us to the positive fruits we can grow instead.
Jesus tells us – compare the kingdom of God to this story. When we do, perhaps we will learn to trust that in the end there will be a rich harvest and a feast of pure rejoicing.
In the name and in the presence of Jesus