It seems to me there is a whole lot that falls short in the metaphor Jesus offers now. Indeed, one cannot miss the harsh judgment with which Jesus punctuates this section of his preaching. And yet, this stark way of thinking is familiar to us, of course. We hear it, we live it all the time. In fact, I heard it again just the other day.
This is how it was. On may way to work last Monday I kept a long scheduled appointment to give blood. Now this is one of those places which offers rewards for taking the time to give a pint of blood. In fact, every time you do so you accumulate points which can be ‘cashed in’ for prizes: gift cards and the like. On my last visit, one of the staff there went on line and cashed in some of my points on my behalf. Now this was almost two months ago and truthfully, I had long forgotten about it by the time those gift cards arrived last week. Even so, I tucked them in my wallet, knowing they would get used quickly. The next day as I was checking out, I handed the clerk those two $10 gift cards. One went through just fine. The other one? It only had 3 cents on it. Truth be told, I found myself laughing to discover this. I don’t give blood for the ‘rewards’ anyway, so it made little difference to me.
Only that morning, rather in passing I mentioned this to Barb, the one who usually seems to be the one who draws my blood. A frown crossed her face as she asked me to repeat what had happened. “Do you have the card with you?” she asked. No, actually, it didn’t occur to me to ask for it — particularly once the 3 cents had already been spent.
Barb went on to tell me that a woman in another blood collection center just east of here had just been fired. It turns out she had been taking gift cards off the pile, spending them down, and then returning them. I didn’t hear how she had been caught, only that the consequences were obviously severe. Barb went on to say, “I just don’t understand it. I guess there are ‘bad seeds’ everywhere.”
And isn’t that exactly what we hear in today’s Gospel illustration? And so I wonder now, does it follow then that you and I are meant to believe as Jesus seems to so clearly point out that some of us are good and some of us are evil? And that those of us who were ‘planted’ by the ‘enemy’ will come to a fiery end?
Oh yes, we see this played out around us all the time. Only in this life now, very often, as apparently was so with the woman who was spending down gift cards while employed by Heartland Blood Center, we often meet the consequences of our ‘bad-seed-ness’ immediately. Oh no, in her case there was no waiting and growing alongside the wheat until some later time. She was quite simply, ‘weeded out’ immediately.
And so it is I do have a hard time finding any grace in Jesus’ words for us now. Except for this. The consequences are not quick in coming. For, in fact, both the wheat and the weeds are all bound up together. For apparently, to remove one would also inevitably destroy the other. Or maybe it’s this. Perhaps one cannot tell the difference right away between the wheat and the weed.
Now it could be that Jesus means this as a a simple word of warning that you and I are not to be ‘bad seed’ — as though we can begin to control that anyway. This could be, and yet, I find myself standing with the householder today — wondering what to do with the whole mess of “wheat and weeds” before me. For if we stand with the householder, it seems to me, then Jesus’ words are to:
“Wait. It is not harvest time yet. Let them grow. Let them grow together. One will not be tainted by the other. And at the time of the harvest it will all be sorted out.” Indeed, maybe this is a reminder that you and I are not to judge. Perhaps the word for us is that we simply do not have the ability to discern the good from the bad — at least not in one another. And maybe this is also so. Maybe the metaphor simply does not work when it comes to people. For how can one be good from the start and another evil? Maybe even Jesus was scrambling for a way to make a point as you and I so often do. Indeed, could it be that this one simply doesn’t work.
I cannot say for sure, but this I know. The world often does not work that way, of course. And it may be so that in the end God will not show mercy either. But either way, here and now? You and I are meant to grow alongside the ‘weeds’ —- those who appear to be less than, different from, yes, other than what we believe God intends. The weeds can’t hurt us. More than that, taking them away too soon may even harm us.
And oh, isn’t this a vitally important word for us in this time and place when while we may not be terribly attentive to the ‘evil’ in our neighbor (unless that evil threatens or harms us) we are certainly deeply aware of all sorts of other differences. Indeed, one can hardly get people from different leanings on the political spectrum to hold a civil conversation whether we have judged the other as ‘evil’ or not (and I am afraid, that all too often that is precisely what we tend to do.) What would it look like if we were to heed the vision Jesus offers now of all of us ‘growing alongside each other?’ Might we, in fact, be irreparably harmed if we simply remove the other or remove ourselves from the proximity of those who are different from us? Or those who appear to be as wasteful or as threatening as a weed? And isn’t this the case all the time? Aren’t we, in fact, stronger in our diversity regardless of what those differences are?
Whatever else may be so, I struggle with the point Jesus seems to be trying to make in his preaching now. Either way, what I offer here is my starting point this week. What do you think?
- How do you hear Jesus’ preaching this week? Do you struggle to find grace in his words? Why or why not?
- Can you think of examples of where it would do more harm to the ‘wheat’ if the ‘weeds’ are removed prematurely? How might those examples fit into your sharing this week?
- Can you imagine a different ending to the story I shared above? Indeed, can you think of a time when the ‘bad seed’ was not weeded out, but was allowed to stay? What did that look like?
- Might the ‘grace’ in this passage simply be that you and I are not to judge and in our not judging the one who first presented as a ‘weed’ might have the chance to show oneself to be ‘wheat’ after all? Could it be that in our not judging, we simply give the ‘other’ time?