I am a terrible gardener.
It could be that I just don’t care about it enough. Or that I have simply not taken the time to develop the skill. Or maybe I’m just never going to be good at it, because you see I often have a hard time telling the difference between the weeds and what’s supposed to be growing there. Or maybe it’s just that until recently, I have not been blessed with adequate garden space or adequate garden space with enough sunshine or adequate time at those times of the year when gardening needs to happen to bother to put the effort in.
Whatever the reason, I can’t tell weeds from wheat or anything else for that matter. And if that is true when it comes to green growing things, for me this is all the more true among human beings. I can’t tell the “weed” from the “wheat.”
Oh, it’s not that I don’t live in a world full of such categories and its not that my mind doesn’t still go there. I expect we all think in terms of insiders and outsiders, producers and those who simply consume, those who belong and those who don’t. I have had plenty of times in my life when I’ve felt like a ‘weed.’ Just think Junior High or getting cut from the team or, even now, as I experienced a few weeks ago simply walking into a shop which was so ‘high end’ I just knew I didn’t belong. I know what it is to feel like a ‘weed’ and I don’t doubt I have made others to feel the same way. Only I’ve been wrong enough times — especially when it comes to matters of faith — that I am immensely grateful that I’m a terrible gardener.
Let me offer one small example of how this has played out where I am today.
A couple of years ago when I began as pastor here, the congregation was still in turmoil after a long, drawn out battle. To carry out the metaphor, casualties were everywhere: some we knew about and others we were simply left to guess at. In that tender time, when our healing had only just begun, one of our leaders suggested that I begin to make birthday calls. The thought was that this would promote a sort of simple kindness which was so very needed then. Well, we have an easy system for accessing birthdays and phone numbers and it seemed like an easy enough thing to do.
And so it is that for the last couple of years, every day I am in the office, I have made birthday calls. Sometimes I’m calling a day or two early. Sometimes I’m up to a week late. Often I’m leaving messages. Occasionally I’m finding the number we have is no longer in service. I just make the calls.
Only there is this. The list we have includes everyone. It includes active members and those we haven’t seen in years. It includes children who were baptized, but whose parents never actually joined. It includes those who live nearby and those who have long since moved away.
I made no distinction. I just called them all. Early on, a couple of times I was asked, “Are you actually calling everyone? Why aren’t you just calling active members?” In other words, “How come you’re not just calling the ‘wheat?'”
Well, when I first began making those calls, I wouldn’t have known the difference. I would not have been able to distinguish “the weeds from the wheat.” Even more than that though, and I mean this most sincerely, who am I to say who is ‘weed’ and who is ‘wheat?’
Now I know this is obvious, but people are different from green things which grow. One’s ‘wheat-ness,’ at least in this way, is not engraved on one’s DNA. Indeed, one may look like an awful lot like a ‘weed’ right now, but later turn out to be ‘wheat’ after all. And it could just be that a thirty second birthday call from the pastor — or any word of kindness or encouragement from anyone connected with a faith community — might be just what makes the difference.
And there is this. Even though one is not showing up as ‘wheat’ here, doesn’t mean they aren’t showing up as ‘wheat’ somewhere else. And shouldn’t I be encouraging that? For that matter, at some time everyone I call had some concrete connection to this ‘wheat field’ we call First Lutheran Church. Maybe they’ll find their way back and maybe they won’t. I wouldn’t want to be the one to stand in the way.
So here is what I’ve learned in a couple of seasons of making these calls. Those we might be tempted to think of as ‘weeds’ are more open to picking up the phone the second and third and fourth time a family birthday rolls around. The conversation seems to come easier. I have to say that I can’t help but wonder if this is because they thought I thought they were ‘weeds’ before and have since discovered I don’t think that at all. I am just calling to wish them happy birthday. I’m a gardener who can’t tell the difference. More than that, I suppose, I don’t want to tell the difference. Not really.
Now I know that Jesus doesn’t say exactly this in this parable. Evidently, in the image he offers now, one can easily tell which is wheat and which are weeds. Even so, he seems to be saying that we are to let someone else sort it out. That to pull out the weeds too early could mean uprooting all the rest. Either way, I’m glad I’m not the one sorting. Because people are harder to categorize than your ordinary wheat and weeds.
And I’ll say it again. I can’t tell the difference.
I am a terrible gardener.
- I have a hard time making the parallel between the weeds and the wheat and human beings? How do you sort that out?
- What kind of ‘gardener’ are you? When might it be helpful to be able to discern the difference between ‘weeds’ and ‘wheat?’ How might the Kingdom be served if you and I simply can’t tell the difference?
- I have proposed another reason to wait until ‘harvest’ until the weeds are separated from the wheat — namely that I can’t tell the difference — and maybe what at first appears to be a ‘weed’ might actually be ‘wheat.’ Does that work? Why or why not?