“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2nd Corinthians 13:13
I mentioned a couple of Sundays ago how divided a nation we are. Liberals, conservatives; rich, poor; Northerners, Southerners; city dwellers, country folk. We tend to divide the world into two different kinds of people. Dr. Delmer Chilton has a collection of two different types. He says:
Mark Twain said, “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”
A man named James Thorpe said “The world is divided into two types of people: those who love to talk, and those who have to listen.”
Joy Mills says, “There are two kinds of people in the world: the Givers and the Takers. The difference between the two is that the Takers eat well, and the Givers sleep well at night.”
Then there’s good old Dear Abby who weighed in: “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ – and those who say, ‘Here I am!’ ”
And finally, we have Robert Benchley’s Law of Distinction, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”
In today’s gospel, we read about Jesus telling another story about farming. Last week the farmer was sowing seed all over the place. This week, we read about a farmer sowing good wheat seed. We read further that an enemy came while everybody was asleep and planted weeds. The Greek, in which the gospel was written, here specifically says darnel. It is also known as bearded darnel, or poison darnel.* It looks almost exactly like wheat until the heads matures at harvest time. Where wheat matures a golden brown, darnel matures virtually black. Both the wheat and the weeds (darnel) came up at the same time. The servants apparently recognized some difference in the plants and wanted to know if they should pull up the weeds.
The farmer, knowing how difficult it was to tell the difference, told them no. Besides the difficulty in telling the difference, in pulling up the weeds, they would uproot the wheat also. Wait until harvest; it could then be separated, the darnel bound up in bundles and thrown into the fire. Then the wheat could be bound up, thrashed, the grain stored and the straw be put in the farmer’s barn. Now I could stop right here and continue with a hellfire and damnation sermon—how unbelievers will be burned in hell for eternity. But the parable has more and deeper meaning than that.
Once again, as he did previously, Jesus retreats and explains to the disciples the meaning of the parable. The good seed, the wheat, are the children of the kingdom. He further tells them that at the end of time, the harvest, the children of the evil one, the devil, will be collected and burned up with fire.
Remember the first reading today from Genesis. I deliberately used the alternate reading today to remind us of Jacob. Jacob, who was later given the name Israel and is regarded as the Patriarch of the Israelites and is recognized in the Jewish, Christian and Islam religions. He was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Sarah and Abraham which would have made him a cousin of Ishmael (one generation removed). Jacob had twelve sons by four wives. These twelve sons names were used as the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the sons, the second youngest was Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and ultimately became second in power to the Pharaoh. But it was Jacob, his father who was the father of the Israelites—the one who produced many sons and the keeper of the promise of land and descendants as numerous as stars. How wonderful that sounds!
But Jacob was a scoundrel! In the reading today, he was running for his life from his twin brother Esau. With the help of his mother, Jacob tricked blind Isaac out of Esau’s inheritance. Esau was the first born of the twins and was to receive all the property, livestock, and most importantly the promise God had made to Abraham concerning the “Promised Land” and descendants as numerous as the stars. Jacob had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing while Isaac lay on his deathbed. Jacob was a scoundrel! Which side of the good and evil line would we have put him?
But we know how the story turns out. Jacob becomes one of the “good guys”. There were other scoundrels: Abraham, David, Solomon come to mind in the OT. Then there was Peter, who professed he would even die for Jesus, denied that he even knew him when the chips were down. There was Paul who oversaw the persecution and even the killing of the early Christians; one being Stephen. Which side of the line would we have put Paul? All of these people, and many more, played key roles in God’s plan of salvation. People we would not have chosen.
But God chose these people not on merit, but on grace. And if we were to judge, we would certainly not choose the people he chose. You see, God chooses whom he chooses and uses them in his grand plan for our salvation.
So the parable may be more about judging others as much as anything. On the surface, we sometimes like to think of ourselves as weed pullers or weed-wackers. We’re used to getting out in the garden and pulling the weeds, it’s just good practice—good farming practice if we are make an abundance of food or flowers. We like to do that with people too. But Jesus is telling us it’s not good people practice.
But the problem is sometimes we don’t know what’s a weed and what’s not. I get into trouble trying to help Julia Ann in her flower beds in the early spring. What I may think of as a weed turns out to be much, much more. What we consider as evil in Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Peter and Paul ultimately turns out to be something good. Who would have chosen these people?
Jesus was telling his disciples in his explanation that they shouldn’t try to figure out who’s good and who’s not. They had the ultimate traitor right there in their midst—Judas. The difference is always told at the harvest. The difference in the grains—what they produced—one is for food, the other poison. The difference for us is in what we produce—what’s in our hearts. Judging is God’s business, not ours. We are simply the seed that are sown and we grow and mature and produce more good seed.
When the farmer tells his servants not to go into the field and pull up the weeds, we should not interpret this as a call to let evil go on. It is not a command to ignore injustice in the world, violence in our streets, or wrong in the church. It is a reminder that we, the servants, do not have the ability to get rid of all the weeds, or even the ability to distinguish the weeds from the wheat, and that even sometimes pulling the weeds might cause more harm than good.
It would be easy to draw a line in the sand and all the wheat would be on one side and all the weeds would be on the other. But again, it goes deeper than that. That line cuts through the heart of every human being. Each one of us has good in us and each of us has evil in us; we are sinners and we beg God to forgive our sins; and he does! I pray I am forgiven on that day and not judged. To separate the wheat from the weeds; (the good people from the bad people, the righteous ones from the evil ones) would require us to destroy a piece of our own hearts. God does not want us doing that. He loves us and wants all of us to produce good seed.
Sitting around and worrying about who’s good and who’s bad, who’s in and who’s out distracts us from the real work God has called us to do, the work of proclaiming and living the kingdom of God in word and deed.
So what are we to do? The parable contains the promise, that in the wisdom of God, the weeds will ultimately be destroyed. Evil is temporary and will not last; good endures forever. We live in an imperfect world, and no human being can change that fact. We are given the task of living as faithfully and obediently as possible, knowing that the harvest is true. God uses us to do his will. He cultivates us so that we produce; that is, we do his work for his glory. Don’t worry about the weeds, just spread the good seed of God’s love.
Because he loves you and so do I!