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seedMatthew 13: 24-30 and 36-43
Introduction to the reading
Our summer sermon series on discipleship continues this week.  The original twelve are being instructed on being apostles, sent out to spread the word, the good news of the kingdom of heaven, to anyone and everyone.  How will it go out there?  What will they be up against?  Who will give them trouble?  Who will listen?  Who will come and follow in the Way of Jesus?

Jesus, you recall, often teaches through parables and stories.  In fact, Matthew says that without a parable, Jesus told them nothing. (Matt. 13:34)  Jesus relies on the power of narrative to bring the message, to make the point.  

Parables made sense to the people who first heard them because they dealt with their everyday life – farming, sheep herding, keeping home. They were simple, engaging, and relevant and yet, being allegorical, they also called for imagination in order to be understood.  They led to deeper levels of comprehension about life and meaning and the presence of God.  This is what fiction, biography, memoir and true life stories do also for us...

Last week we heard the familiar Parable of the Sower and Jesus’ explanation of it to the disciples.  Today it is the Parable of Weeds Among the Wheat and again, Jesus takes the disciples aside to explain it to them.

Weeds growing in with the wheat.  In Jesus’ time, that could be a real problem.
The setting for the parable we just heard is a “commercial” farm, so to speak, where wheat is the major cash crop.  It was, apparently, common during that time for rival landowners to mess with each other’s crops in hopes of increasing their own profits – a practice common enough that Roman law specifically forbade the sowing of detrimental plants in another’s field.  The weed plant in this story was probably something called “darnel”, a kind of ryegrass that looked like wheat in its early stages.  Jesus says that an “enemy” had snuck into the field at night, when everyone was asleep, and planted the weeds.  

By the time anyone realized the treachery, the fake wheat had become entangled at the roots with the real stuff, and it was impossible to pull up the weeds without damaging the wheat.  The only thing to do was to wait until harvest time.  Darnel doesn’t grow as tall as wheat and so it would be fairly easy to cut the wheat just below the head and leave the weeds to be cut down later. Then they would be bundled up and used as fuel for actually baking the bread that was made from the wheat. (“Fake Food” 36)  A kind of agricultural justice perhaps…

Fake news, alternative facts, outright lies, too much information – all put forth to confuse, obfuscate, hide, obliterate truth in the name of finding out as much as you can about any given subject.  These are the weeds of our particular time.  For example…

  • Did you ever go on the internet to research a health problem or find ways to stay healthy through diet and exercise?  There’s so much - too much really - to understand.  What should you worry about and what not?  Which source to you trust?  No matter the topic, the internet will provide… but what is wheat and what is weed?
  • What about food shopping?  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently busted a cheese manufacturer in Pennsylvania for marketing its products as “100% real parmesan” when it actually contained no parmesan at all.  In reality, consumers were getting a mixture of imitation cheese, trimmings of cheaper cheeses, and filler, the bulk of which was cellulose, better known as wood pulp. (“Fake Food” 35)  What is wheat and what is weed, or in this case, what is cheese and what is wood?
  • And of course, the inane, stupid statements coming from our elected officials in Washington.  What is believable?  Who can we trust?  What is wheat, what is weed?

From politics to economics to important social issues like health care, poverty, crime, trade, and immigration, how can we possibly know what is legitimate, right and good?  Is it the ones who speak the loudest or make the most outrageous statements?  Who get the most press- and what press?  Who demand the most attention on the internet?

As you heard, Jesus explains the parable of the weeds among the wheat to the disciples when, privately, they ask him to.  You see, he is still instructing them.
Every element of the story has a symbolic meaning beyond the literal:  Jesus is the one who sows the good wheat seed; the field is the whole world; the enemy who sowed the weeds is the evil one; the harvest is the end of the age, when Jesus returns.  It has become a take on the problem of evil in the world and how to deal with it.

  • Perhaps you heard encouragement and hope – that everything in opposition to the gospel is impermanent and destined for oblivion.  God will not tolerate anything that ultimately interferes with God’s loving relationship with humanity.  …at harvest time, I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds … and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barns.
  • Perhaps you heard a message of God’s inclusive love.  There are weeds thriving among us in this world (sometimes, we ourselves, may be a weed in someone else’s life).  We cannot pluck them out; it is impossible.  We’re not even supposed to.  The overarching concern of the property owner is for the health of the wheat, not the destruction of the weeds.  The slaves said … ‘… do you want us to go and gather [the weeds]?  But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.’”
  • Perhaps you heard patience and perseverance.  Our challenging task is to be good wheat ourselves and not to judge what kind of plant other people are.  While trying to perfect ourselves by judging which individuals are not doing what they should be doing or living the way they should be living, we may very well cut them off from the love and hope that Jesus Christ is offering.  Leave the final judgment to God, we are told:  …and at harvest time, I will tell the reapers…  What endures is the wheat, not the weeds.

The challenge for us is to hold the issues of our own time up against the deeper meaning of this parable.  And up against everything that Jesus came into this world to preach, to teach, and to show by his own living example.  God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him.  

We are his disciples.  Glory be to God, forever and ever.  Amen.

“Fake Food, Fake Faith”. Homiletics July 2017: 35-39.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
July 23, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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