Hidden in the Weeds

Matthew 13:24-43  

What is your favorite tool for getting rid of weeds? Trowel, hoe, weedwhacker, Round Up? Anybody just leave the weeds? 

Well, that’s what the owner did in the parable in the Gospel lesson today. He planted good seed, but an enemy came and sowed all kinds of weeds. When the slaves asked if he wanted them to tear out the weeds, he said No. You might tear out the wheat along with the weeds. Better wait for harvest, and the reapers can separate the two. Maximize your crop. 

…except that weeds compete for soil, sun, and water. Crops can get overcome with weeds. I once had a trumpet vine from the neighbors which threatened to crowd out the raspberries that I had planted earlier that season. It was the first season in that house, and I had cleaned out the bed, thinking that the border garden would be perfect for berries. But no matter how many times I whacked back that trumpet vine, it kept coming back. And not just on the fence where it was intended but also through shoots growing underground. It took over the whole garden, and unchecked would even grow into the driveway. Needless to say, my raspberries didn’t make it. 

It is hard to let the weeds take over when they can do so much damage, and so I identify with the slaves who want to tear them out. But of course this parable isn’t actually about gardening. It’s about the Kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, there are two more parables of the Kingdom in middle of this reading which we’ll read next week. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the tiny mustard seed which grows into a large bush. It’s like a little yeast that will leaven all the bread if you just wait. Both parables suggest that with patience, surprisingly good things happen. 

The same theme rings true in the parable of the wheat and weeds. When Jesus explains the parable, he identifies the owner as the Son of Man, himself. Jesus, as the judge admitting entrance to the kingdom, exercises patience. The wheat are the children of righteous, and the weeds, children of the evil one. He could have sprayed his Round Up, but instead he waits, give those plants a chance to yield some good fruit before he decides what to tear out and throw into the fire. 

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time with this kind of patience. There is so much in the world that is weedy, sown by the evil one. I want to get in there and start tearing it out. I think of the children I know from my days working in poor communities, kids with all the potential in the world—good seed—and yet they are born into poverty. They suffer abuse and are exposed to violence. They are like a plant getting choked out by the weeds. Isn’t it time for us to get in there a tear out those weeds? Give those kids a chance? Like the slaves, I want to ask, “When do we get to pull out the weeds?” 

It is a good question to ask, because sometimes it is time to tear up the systems of discrimination and violence. Sometimes we are called by our faith to name evil and to stand against it. But that’s not the point of this parable. It isn’t the slave’s job to pull those weeds; that’s for the reapers. It’s not our job either; we don’t get to decide who stays and who goes. Our job is to cultivate the best yield we can, trusting that God will sort out our weedy world and put all things to right. 

But how do we do this when the children we love are vulnerable? Evil visits affluent communities, too. Mental health issues are especially prevalent among our young people. Depression and anxiety are at all-time highs. We know the dangers of being helicopter parents, that our kids need to struggle to become resilient. How do we as parents and a community exercise the kind of patience God does and not give in to the temptation to try to swoop in to root out every weed before they are trouble? 

It takes a huge amount of faith – which reminds me of another story about weeds. When I was in seminary, I went on a mission project to a garden in inner city New Haven. We were told we would be harvesting vegetables from a community garden. When the bus arrived, however, all I saw was a corner lot full of weeds and brush. Where’s the garden? I wondered. Then the leader explained that lot was the garden, but they had allowed the weeds to grow. The weeds offered protection from vandals, who in frustration or boredom, might destroy the crop. 

I was skeptical—the place was so overgrown, I couldn’t imagine how vegetables could survive. But when I began to push back the crab grass and thistles, there they were: beautiful eggplant, squash, tomatoes and watermelon. A full harvest. 

That is the faith that we are called to cultivate. 

In this parable, Jesus is inviting us to trust that God has our ultimate good in mind. He is patient for you and me and for everyone else. But we don’t need to worry that evil will win. God is on a cleanup mission and even now is creating a world where all people have fulfilling work, healthy children, and loving families, where young people are accepted and supported as they are. It doesn’t happen in our application of Round Up—it happens through our careful cultivation of loving patience. It grows under the cloak of darkness but will be like the garden of Eden, like the new creation in Revelation. 

Until then, the vegetables are there, silently hidden among the weeds: protected, not neglected; produce enough to sustain us through tough times; beautiful growing vegetables, reminders that we will survive—we will thrive, that the harvest is coming, and that God is faithful while we wait. 

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