Bad Seeds and the Grace of God

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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?


  1. Jane Uzzell says:

    Too true–I pulled some weed grass out of my petunia bed, and 2 petunias died as a result. They came up too close or roots entangled into the weed, and I pulled a couple before I realized that. Tried to replant them, but at this time of year, it didn’t work. Made this lesson pretty clear to me.

  2. Daryl Stienstra says:

    My physical therapist friend, who is in her early 30s recently found out that she is allergic to gluten. She is Roman Catholic, and I told her that in the Lutheran Church gluten free bread is usually and option for communion. I also said that I had heard that the Pope would not be allowing gluten free bread for communion. She said that she knew that and after taking one small wafer at communion one Sunday, she was sick enough the next day that she couldn’t go to work. I said that I would have to come up with a recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that doesn’t use wheat flour. I often made cookies for her. She said gluten free oatmeal is also needed. While oats in itself is gluten free, I checked Quaker Oats online and found that normally farms that provide them oats also harvest wheat and/or rye, so the oats could be contaminated during harvest, during hauling or at the processing plant.
    Another incident about planting seeds. A couple of years ago I had some milkweed seeds that I planted along the fence and in the pasture. They never came up. This year we have milkweed plants in our perennial garden. We did not plant them there but assume that birds picked them up fertilized then and dropped them in the garden. We still do not have plants where we planted them.

  3. Alice Tondora says:

    I see where you are coming from, but I do think Jesus is speaking on a cosmic level. The evil of some Roman soldiers was no secret. Evil exists. Paul and the apostles and the martyrs dealt with it. I can look in the eyes of someone who deals in child pornography and call it evil. I can hear the story about the 4 young men murdered in eastern PA and call it evil. I can hear of Christians tortured in North Korea and call it evil. Like the Psalmist we cry “How long?!” This is Jesus’ answer.

  4. Lynne O'Shea says:

    I, too, struggle with the harshness of the “harvest” in this parable, but I think it serves as a reminder to us that there will be a final judgment – although I certainly hope that it will not be as clear-cut and predetermined as this parable makes it sound! Either way, that is something we don’t tend to give a lot of attention to, especially as Lutherans, because we are so focused on being “saved by grace through faith alone.” And yet, as I continually preach and teach, God does have expectations of us, and our actions – and lack of action – do have consequences. However, the good news, at least for me, in this parable is that those consequences are not ours to assign. We are not the ones in charge and, in fact, we do not begin to have the capability to determine who is wheat and who is weed.

    This is a very timely reading for my congregation, as we will be beginning the conversation on conducting marriages for same-gender couples in our sanctuary after our worship service this week. I will be preaching this as a story of tolerance, being non-judgmental, and growing together – for we each of aspects of weed and wheat in us. And it is not even ours to say that we can’t go back and forth between these two categories – for I think we do so pretty regularly. And, despite all of this, we know and are reminded in our other readings, that we have a God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

    I don’t know if this helps, but it is where I am this week.

  5. Given Matthew’s perspective, there is that in me that is both ‘wheat’ and ‘tare.’ ‘point a finger at someone else and 3 point back at you (because the thumb points too).’ So I can’t pull apart my passion and my fear, my care and my blindness. I make decisions with mixed motives. ‘Anomie’ – lawlessness – isn’t dealing with the law of the religious or political authorities – in Matthew, it’s the law of love of God and neighbor. And there is no room at the ‘end’ – (syntelos – the coming together of completion) for that which isn’t grounded in love, or that traps others (skandalon – the trip stick in a box trap) in oppression or oppressing.

    So know and trust that we’ll be ‘weeded out’ at the end?

    • Oh, and BTW – ‘tares’ Zizannion – darnel, looks like wheat but grains are black. For a long time, this was thought to be the only poisonous grass but it is now agreed that it is just one of the unfortunate hosts of the complex and multi-harmful ergot fungus. It isn’t the seed – it’s what grows on it that is poisonous…

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