In Peru, we spent time with the girls at the shelter eating with them, doing crafts, playing games, communicating with them and other ways to affirm their value. We have loads of pictures and stories to share at the STM presentation. In addition to spending time with the girls directly, the team also physically labored to minister to them indirectly. Some of the team spent time digging holes to set the foundation for the building the shelter is constructing. Others went into the field to level it out, breaking up the little mounds and filling the valleys to make flat ground. And still others went into already level fields to clear it of rocks and roots. Through the experience, I developed a new appreciation for farmers as I saw how much work it takes to grow some produce.
Last week we heard a parable about a farmer who sowed seeds all over the place. Today’s passage talks about growing wheat and the issue of weeds. Jesus was a carpenter, not a farmer, but he knew his audience enough to use examples and topics that were relevant and interesting to them when telling them about the kingdom of God. I know that for some, if you were to have a conversation on the topic of cars, jewelry, sports, or investment strategy, you could talk for hours. But I am fairly certain that most of us here would have little to speak of in regard to agriculture and farming. Again, Jesus knew his audience.
I have some pictures here that you might not be able to see from where you are sitting right now, but if you take my word for it, they are pictures of the team clearing out a field. They are using pick axes and hoes to dig out rocks and uproot weeds. You will notice in the picture that they are hunched over as they labor. In one picture there is a member who gets down on the ground to pull out the weeds by hand. She found that by doing this, it was much easier to pull out the weeds and their roots. As she did this, she was reminded of today’s passage.
She went so far as to bring back to the farmhouse a sample of the weed. During our Group Process, she shared that when the weed is young there is no way to distinguish the difference between the weed and grass. Only when it blooms, then you can tell what it is. As she shared the experience of clearing the field, she also mentioned how badly she felt for uprooting good plants because she could not tell the difference between them and the weeds. On the positive side, she ended up harvesting some beets that the team ate in a salad. Not only did she help the shelter by laboring on their behalf, she developed a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ farming parables.
When Jesus tells his parables, his audience, like our STM member, were already in the know about farming. They did not need explanation in regard to the actual subject matter. It was already understood that when famers planted wheat, there was a certain weed that looked identical to wheat that grew in the fields. Under the hot sun, with some intense focus, they could distinguish between the two plants. Yet they also knew that the roots of the weeds grew deep and wide so if they pulled out the weeds, the farmers risked damaging or pulling out the roots of the wheat as well. That is why the famers let the wheat and the weeds grow side by side until harvest time.
When harvest time came, the wheat and the weeds would be collected together. After being tossed into one pile, the people would gather and start separating the two. While they could distinguish the difference, the act of separating them was painstaking labor. But they had to pay attention because the weeds were bitter and poisonous if eaten larger quantities. Lastly they took the wheat to mill it into flower and the weeds they collected into piles. This is exactly what the STM team did with the weeds they collected and piled up and burned them.
While the listeners understood the subject matter, they did not necessarily understand Jesus’ point. For this, Jesus leaves the crowds, and speaks to his disciples and to them gives the secret of the kingdom of God. As readers, we too are made aware of these secrets. The field is the world. The farmer’s seeds are the children of the kingdom. The enemy’s seeds are the are the children of the evil one. The harvest is the end of the age. Jesus, like last week says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”
As Elder Jenny shared last week, the byproduct of listening is understanding. What is there to understand about this parable? I want to suggest two things:
First: If you’ve heard this parable before, maybe you’ve heard it interpreted to the context of a congregation: “Some of you here are good seed. Others of you are bad seed! Jesus is going to let us grow together until the end and BOOM some of you are going to heaven, and some of you are going to hell!” If you’ve never heard this parable before in that way – good. It’s a poor interpretation. Jesus tells us that the field is the world. It is the whole world. Connecting this parable with last week’s parable of the Sower we see the Sower sows seed everywhere despite the type of soil.
This parable reminds us that this is God’s field. This is God’s world. Just as farmer cares about his or her field, God cares about God’s field. God cares about the whole world. If weeding were a possibility, God would weed. But God’s deliberate strategy is to allow the good and the bad to grow and live together. All that the farmer does for the field is done for the good of that which grows in it. When the famer waters or fertilizes the field, it benefits both the wheat and the weeds. As it grows, God cares for the weeds as much as God cares for the wheat.
This is so important for us to listen and understand. We are now in the field. You do not know if you are the wheat or if you are the weed. You cannot know. If God treated the wheat good and the weed poorly, we could tell. But God treats both the wheat and the weeds the same – therefore we are unable to distinguish through mere observation. As far as we know, we are ALL wheat and God loves us all. This should change the way we treat people. Anytime we judge anyone else, we make a claim that we are the wheat and we know who is the weed. We are simply plants trying to grow as much as we can absorbing the water and fertilizer that is so graciously provided by the farmer. As plants, all of our struggles are common. In that manner, as humans, our condition is the same. We are all struggling to live. Some details may be different, but the struggle is common.
We can do our best to help and be supportive to our fellow human, assuming that they are wheat, assuming that God cares for them as much as God cares for us. We do not need to pluck or uproot anyone out of the field for that is not our job and that is not our directive. Jesus tells us the farmers rationale when asked about separating them: ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’
So we are to assume that we are ALL wheat. Everything we do should be for the betterment of the field in which we all live and grow.
Which brings us to the second point: the harvest. Living and growing is all done in the field. But one day, the harvest will come. Jesus tells us it is the end of the age. While God allows us to grow in the field treating us all as wheat, at the harvest, God will separate the wheat and the weeds. At the harvest, there is nothing for us to do. The harvest is all God. At the harvest, there is no opportunity for the weeds to become wheat or vice versa. At the harvest, we will find whether we are the wheat or the weeds. Nothing we can do, but there will be indeed a justice that the whole world is groaning for.
To put it another way, at the end of this movie, the bad guy will not get away with it, the good guy will not lose. This gives us all the more reason to live loving and being kind our fellow humans regardless of their skin color, gender, or sexuality as we are all in the same field. It gives us strength to fight for the betterment of the field, the rights of the people because even if we do not win justice today, justice is guaranteed. The table set before us today i sthe meal in which we celebrate these things. [All join together in Communion]