Wheat or Weed?

In the Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Jesus tells a parable about the co-existence of good and evil in this world. God’s judgment will remove all evildoers and causes of sin, but not until the end of human history.

24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘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.’ ”

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

This Gospel lesson is difficult. It is about good and evil and wheat and weeds, and the reality that destroying the weeds can also destroy the wheat.

On Facebook the other day I read a copy of a letter to a columnist from the Village Voice in New York City and the columnist’s response.

The letter to the columnist read:                  

Hi Andrew,

 I’m writing because I just can’t deal with my father anymore. He’s a 65-year-old super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total jerk intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics. I’m more or less a liberal democrat with very progressive values and I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. I don’t have any good times with him anymore. All we do is argue. When I try to spend time with him without talking politics or discussing any current events, there’s still an underlying tension that makes it really uncomfortable.

 Don’t get me wrong, I love him no matter what, but how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?

 Thanks for your help,

Son of A Right-Winger

The columnist’s response:                 

Dear Son of A Right-Winger,

Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. And you don’t consider your dad a person of his own standing — he’s just “your dad.”

 You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict.

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.

Drawing a line in the sand, with no way around the judgment that the line entails, limits God’s power and limits our ability to love.

 A long time ago I read a story about a professor who taught graduate students in the field of education. Every year he taught a seminar about values to students who were about to finish their Phd course work. At one of the classes toward the end of the semester, he announced that he was going to give everyone in the class a short IQ test. He passed out tests to the 20 students and after about 40 minutes collected them and told the class he would share the results with them in a week..

The following week he came into the classroom and seemed upset. He passed out the tests and said in passionate voice, “I just don’t understand this.”

Then he said, “Everyone who received a score of between 140-160 stand over there against that wall.” The students moved from their chairs to the wall on the right side of the room. They clutched their tests like medals and most smiled broadly.

Then the professor told those who received a test score of 120 – 140 to stand by a different wall. He pointed to the wall on the left side of the room. These students moved the wall and they too clutched their tests but their smiles were not as broad.

Then the professor, shaking his head, told the rest of you go to the back of room and stand along that wall. Those IQ test scores were 110 or less.

Then he raised his voice and said, “You students with the low IQ’s don’t belong here. How did you advance to this stage in your education?”

He ranted some more. Some of them were crying. The room was dead silent.

Then as abruptly as it started he asked everyone to sit down. I want you all to remember how you are feeling right now. Some of you are a little smug. Some of you are just ok about the IQ number on the top of your tests. Some of you are totally embarrassed and humiliated.

Now I want you to remember one thing from this class and one thing only for the rest of your career: “Never label anyone.”

At the end of the letter to the son of a right winger, a very liberal columnist wrote these words:

 Love your dad because he’s your father, because he made you, because he thinks for himself, and most of all because he is a person. Have the strength to doubt and question what you believe as easily as you’re so quick to doubt his beliefs.

 Live with a truly open mind — the kind of open mind that even questions the idea of an open mind. Don’t feel the need to always pick a side. And if you do pick a side, pick the side of love. It remains our only real hope for survival and has more power to save us than any other belief we could ever cling to.

 Your friend,

Andrew W.K

In the parable about wheat and weeds Jesus is asking us to live together and let God be the judge at the end.

Jennier Kaalund ends her blog post with these words:

Jesus teaches: “Let 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” (Matthew 13:30).

The owner of the field understands that once they are together, the weeds and wheat must grow together since the destruction of one can lead to the demise of the other.

Likewise, our tendency to split our world into two – “believer or nonbeliever” or “sinners or saints” – is not useful. We are in this world together, whether this world is the planet, our country, our community, or our congregations, we must grow together and allow the Great Judge, God, to do the separating in God’s own time. We should acknowledge that likewise we need each other to survive.

We are all guilty of judging others, but we are all wheat and weed simultaneously. What kind of wheat or weed will you be?

That question is what forces us to do the only thing possible: to understand that the grace of God empowers us to love one another.

In spite of our differences and in spite of our struggle with our identity as wheat and weed, we are given the opportunity to go through the sifting process on a daily basis, sorting out the fact that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. God does the sifting and we do the living. The hard choice is to love even when we disagree, even when it hurts.