Weeds among the wheat.

The parable is intriguing; it speaks of real life. A diligent farmer plants ‘good seed’ in his fields.  But when it sprouts, it is clear that something has gone wrong.  Weeds.  Enough to be a serious problem.  Enough to seem like sabotage.   “An enemy has done this.” – and that’s all very well – even good people have enemies; even good farmers have weed problems.  But there are solutions, aren’t there…

One of the odd jobs that used to be a sure thing when I was in High School was offered by local farmers.  If, like me you were too small to be useful on the hay wagon, you could always hoe weeds.  thick or thin, there weren’t many types of weed that couldn’t be eliminated by a group of teenagers with the right tools.  So long as your crew could tell the difference between soy beans and milkweed, or ragweed, or lamb’s quarters, the farmer could save the crop.

The slaves in the parable have offered a similar service; They are the ones who notice the problem, and they’re sure they can fix it – but the farmer’s reaction suggests that the problem is severe and widespread.  Solutions must wait until harvest.

Jesus’ parables are short but full of subtlety; here the problem is so severe that we are invited to imagine someone casting weeds through the field with deliberate intent, in the dark of night.  Someone has conspired to ruin the livelihood of this particular, and in might have worked, except this landowner has his own subtlety – he knows all the tricks of the trade…And most compelling of all; “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to [this].”

Jesus never tires of the agricultural metaphor.  He knows his audience – they must live by the land and the sea; they know the rhythms of the seasons and the often fickle mood of the land when it comes to making a living.  It is certainly possible that those who were listening could relate to the premise of the story, for what better way to exact revenge on an enemy than to over-seed his field with noxious plants, and thereby disrupt his business.  Simple and effective.

There are, for most farmers, a number of ways to address such a problem.  Mind the fields – walk the rows – tend the crop.  But still, Jesus says – “Pay attention!  This is what it’s like.”   Things don’t always go to plan.  Bad things happen to good people.

Jesus offers a description of life, complete with complications, and compares the whole works to the kingdom of heaven.

Diligence has not helped.  The master has slaves who tend to the state of the farm, and the problem is too big for the usual solutions.  And so an unusual solution is proposed.  One that waits until the time (and the crop) is ripe.  One that sees the weeds dealt with permanently (one imagines).  The tried and true methods for tending to the crop are still available, but the kingdom of heaven does not depend on the ‘tried and true’ (the same old thing).  The holy response to the problem leaves people wondering;  “I will tell the reapers (to) gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned…”

We might wonder about the sort of questions Jesus had been facing that led him to tell this particular story.  This parable doesn’t address the concerns of theology or interpretation of the law, as some do.  This seems a very practical suggestion of how a current reality (the presence of those who wish us harm scattered among us in such numbers as to be impossible to isolate) might ultimately be redeemed.  Time is the only answer.  The right time brings a solution both practical and permanent.

Jesus describes a situation familiar to us; good and bad, side by side.  Often enough, it can be hard to tell the difference.  Early on, it all looks good, until that moment of recognition, when we realize something has gone wrong.  The parable suggests that it will be a struggle for us to tell the wheat from the weeds, and that struggle will be ours ‘till the end’.  Then, and only then, will evil get what it deserves – bundled and burned, and the good will triumph.  Good news, right?

But the problem is obvious – even following the ‘explanation’ offered (v. 36-43) – Jesus says the evil will be punished and the good will “shine like the sun” – but who is who?  Identification is a problem.  If this is a morality lesson, what sort of behaviour will keep us on the right side of the equation?

The explanation is too simple; the son of man scatters his children throughout the world.  The evil one does likewise.  The angels alone know the difference, and will sort it all out “in the end”.  It suggests that it is all out of our hands; that the determination is already made.  The explanation does not seem to offer us a course of action – but the parable itself presents an image of life as it is (and as it may, someday, become).

If ‘an enemy’ has spoiled the field – making it difficult to see what really grows there; if the harvest has been complicated by the appearance of stuff that is not useful – what is it that complicates our lives and obscures our identity as children of God?  The enemy might use anything – jealousy, deception, confusion, consumerism – anything that keeps us from being the people God has imagined us to be.  The obstacle may be naturally occurring or maliciously introduced to our lives; the choices may have been ours, or we may have been caught up in someone else’s choices.  Whatever the case, this field is plagued with a variety of things – good bad and indifferent – and the parable suggests, not only is there nothing we can do about it, but also “the kingdom of heaven may be like this…”

Does that come as a relief to you?  To know that the solutions to our problems – the definitions of good and evil; the ordering of humanity into ‘sheep and goats’  – none of this is  our concern.  Our only job is to grow to maturity, to be who God in Christ invites us to be.  To know what that is, for each of us, requires more than a parable.  We are invited to study the life of Jesus – to seek his peace and to follow his path.  these parables point out that it is never clear sailing.  Perfection is reserved for another time, another place.  This life, this path, is cluttered with obstacles – and that is the truth.  The hope in these stories comes, not from the obvious statements of truth, but from the knowledge that God is at work – in the growth; minding the crop; forming the plan that will result in a harvest worth celebrating.  What that looks like, and when that happens, God alone knows.  But in faith, in Christ, we can be sure that it will be glorious

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