Wheat and Weeds: Side by Side

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If you are a child of the Midwest of a certain generation, you may have held a summer job like I did.

This is how it was.

When I was in high school for a couple of weeks of a couple of summers at just about this time of year, my sister and I ‘walked beans.’  We would arrive in the early morning at the edge of a field owned by a friend’s dad and from then until early afternoon, we would walk between the rows of soybeans, removing the errant corn which had been planted in that same fertile ground the year before, not to mention the seemingly inevitable weeds.

It made a difference when it came to harvest time, of course, that corn (or other growing things which were not beans) did not make their way to the scales which determined the value of that year’s yield.

Now nearly fifty years later when I drive past these same fields and ones just like them, I find myself looking to see if corn is sprouting in the beans. I know they are treated chemically now, so there is no need to employ one’s children’s friends to walk those fields in the early morning.  Even so, my eyes are ever alert to see if the fields are ‘clean’ or not. And I remember being part of removing the corn those many years ago.

Most of those early mornings run together in my memory now, for they were much the same one after another.

Except for one:

The first few weeks we had worked using our bare hands to pull the corn and the weeds and leave them to decay between the rows.  By the time we finished on any given day, as I recall, my hands were caked with mud and dirt, hardly able to grip the steering wheel as we drove home. Only then there was the day we were handed corn hooks: sharp curved blades attached to the end of a long handle — made especially for this purpose of walking through the beans and slicing out the corn stalks and the weeds.  No longer would we have to bend over. No longer would my hands be so shaped by the task that I would struggle to grip the steering wheel for the drive home.  It was with a sense of gladness and relief that I made my way down my first row that morning.

Only, this.

The blade on my corn hook was sharper than I anticipated.  It whipped right through the weeds which were mine to remove.  It whipped right through them and found its way directly into my left ankle.

So instead of earning more spending money that morning, instead of trudging alongside my sister and my friends down row after row of soybeans, I went to the emergency room.  I still have a scar to show for it.  One that has me thinking about the lessons before us in today’s parable.

And that is mainly this.

I cannot be entirely trusted with a corn hook.

In the end, I am likely to do more harm than good (even to myself!) if I am the one responsible for separating the wheat from the weeds! Particularly the ones Jesus speaks of now.

Now as with last week’s parable, I struggle to hear this wheat and these weeds as meant to represent individual people.  I am more inclined to consider that perhaps it means that God will separate and burn away that which is ‘weed-like’ in each and all of us.  This way of thinking has only become only more true over my lifetime as I more deeply observe and understand the complexities in all of our stories and as I wonder at how we have been shaped to be who we are, to behave as we do. But even if it is the case that the intent of Jesus’ teaching now is to speak of some people actually being wheat and others being weeds (which I do find hard to believe), then we are told it isn’t ours to judge, to separate out, to dispose of that which is ‘weedy.’ Indeed, if this is the case, there is great comfort in knowing God will sort it out in the end.

In fact, as I hear the story here again today, I am remembering words my dad used to say when my sisters and I would complain of one injustice or another.  It was almost a cliché, but not one I have ever heard spoken by anyone except those of us who can hear it in his voice:

“All bills get paid.”

It is akin, no doubt, to the more familiar ‘the chickens coming home to roost,’  or ‘it will all come out in the wash, or just an offhand comment about ‘karma.’

From time to time I have seen this to be so for myself, that the brokenness that marked another’s life, sadly, played out right until the end.

And then again, often I have been surprised to witness the grace that is extended, even to and from those who I might (in the smallness of my own heart) have thought did not quite deserve it and certainly did not believe could have shared it.

Most of the time, however, it is not ours to see or certainly to fully understand.  For we cannot ever entirely know what has shaped the ones growing alongside us, and we cannot ever know what God has in store, regardless of how weedlike they (or we)  may appear.

And so in this meantime, we live in the promise that it is all in God’s strong and tender and ever-discerning hands.

God’s Hands, which, without question, will always handle a ‘corn hook’ better than I ever will!

  • I imagine we all have stories about ‘wheat and weeds’ which could be told this week-end.  What would yours be?
  • How do you sort through whether this is about individual people or what is within each of us?
  • Jesus speaks of the wheat and the weed living side by side until the harvest as a kind of inevitability, and so it was.  I wonder, though, if there is to all of us some kind of benefit to living and growing beside ‘weeds,’ whether they are part of us or in the world?  What do you think?
  • Do you hear the promise in this Gospel?  How so?  Or is it still challenging to you?




  1. Wilbur Holz says:

    Since dad was a farmer it was our fields which I often walked. I must not have injured myself too badly since I don’t have any scars or vivid memories. Although I do know that more than one soybean plant succumbed to inept or over zealous use of a “hook knife” as our family called them. Yeah, don’t trust me either. I also struggle with tares being the evil doers, literal people.

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