Sermon - 7 Pentecost
In the Name…
A farmer was having trouble with some kids who kept stealing his watermelons so he put a sign in his field which read, “One of these melons has been injected with cyanide.” For several days thereafter he had no more trouble. Then, one morning, he saw another sign had been put up next to his. It read, “And, now there are two.”
A first look at this parable makes you wonder how much Jesus really knew about growing things. I mean, what gardener leaves weeds to flourish? Weeds can take over and choke out seedlings (precisely what Jesus warned about in his parable of the sower and the seed). Not only that, leaving weeds to stay in the garden until they have grown seed only guarantees another crop of weeds the next season.
Normally when a gardener sees a weed, he pulls it up, roots and all. So, when the farmer in the parable orders the farm hands to leave the weeds to grow in amongst his crop, we may wonder, but, and this may surprise us, those listening to Jesus didn’t have any trouble understanding this story. It made perfect sense to them.
In Jesus’ day, sowing weeds in a field was a common way folks had of getting even with each other. Instead of painting graffiti on the fence or throwing a tomato at the neighbour’s chariot, they’d scatter weed seeds into the neighbour’s crop.
Also, the particular seed spoken of in the parable was a variety of rye grass known as bearded darnel. In the early stages of growth, it looks similar to wheat. So, you really didn’t know there were weeds in your field until the heads of grain appeared and then it was too late, because the roots would be so interwoven that to pull up the weeds would be to pull up the wheat.
And, just for good measure, eating darnel grain can lead to dizziness, slurred speech, convulsions, vomiting and diarrhoea. Do not take if you are operating heavy machinery. It was bad stuff.
So, the farmer in the parable was doing exactly what everybody else would have done. Leave it alone and sort it out later.
But, what are we to make of it? As well as giving us an insight into first century farming practices what message does it provide for us today? Basically this. Good and evil exist side by side and quite often it’s hard to tell the difference.
Some kinds of evil and certain people who do evil things are obvious. The difference between what is good and what is bad is quite clear. And, Jesus teaches us that where evil is clear then we need to do something about it. Just take the example of his drastic action in the temple when he saw that it had become a market place. Or, what about his sharp words against those who made a great show of their religion, but were very quiet when it came to acts of love and charity toward the down and out.
But, in this parable, Jesus isn’t talking about the evil and good that can be easily distinguished. Like the darnel among the wheat, it can be impossible for us to determine what is really good or bad. And this is precisely Jesus’ point. There are cases when what we might readily claim to be evil might really be good and vice versa. We can be too quick to judge thinking that we know all the facts whereas in actual fact we don’t.
Just consider our own experiences. Who are the crazies among those we pass in the street? Which apparently friendly neighbour has enough anger to kill someone? Which trusted person will harm our children? Who will cheat us and take us down?
And, on the other hand, there are those who sacrificially give themselves to serving the poor, the dying, the starving, the sick, the refugee. But, tragically, it sometimes turns out those very exemplars have a secret fault, which, when revealed, means that we, in our anger, literally knock them off their pedestals or drop them from the church calendar.
When Jesus calls us to discipleship, he calls us to righteousness and to right living, but, even in ourselves it’s easy to be a Dr Jekyll or a Mr Hyde and, in an instant, switch from being one to the other. One minute, kind and loving; the next, uncaring and cruel. We may even shock ourselves with how quickly we can say or do something that injures and hurts. We may ask ourselves, "Where did that come from? Or, What made me suddenly do something that I hate in other people?"
The parable, through the words of the farmer, is urging us to be aware of our own shortcomings and not be hasty in our judgements of other people. It encourages us to be patient. Yes, there will be a harvest; yes, there will be a day of judgement; but it is not for us to predict how God will judge. It is not for us to put people into categories such as those who are saved and those who are hopelessly lost.
The reason is simple. When we judge too hastily we cut ourselves off from that person and we make it hard for God to use us to be a positive influence in that person’s life. When we let our judgement on the evil in a person’s life take precedence over how God feels about that person we forget that just as God applies his grace to the evil in our lives, he will apply his grace to those whose lives are ruled by evil. He might even use us to be instruments of his love and acceptance.
And so, the parable concludes reminding us that in spite of evil there will be a great harvest. The weeds have no impact. There is a note of triumph, "The righteous will shine like the sun."
The lesson is write no one off as hopeless, lost, or irredeemable just because he or she looks like a weed. Compared to God, we are all weeds, but God refuses to write any of us off. He refuses to write off even that person who at this very moment defies God, denies his existence, and allows evil to run his or her life. There is always grace and God is always reaching out to every person regardless of how good or how evil they might be at any particular moment in time.
I imagine that the last judgement will be full of surprises and when we look at the crowd in heaven, I’m sure that we will say numerous times, "I didn’t expect to see him or her here." And, someone might even say that about us.
Thanks be to God the harvest will be plentiful.
In the Name…