Let both grow together until the harvest.
What is your favorite kind of weed? I know there are some that are pretty—I love sweet peas, the wild pink ones that have another name that sounds far more annoying than “sweet pea”…but I must say my favorite weeds are the ones that are easiest to pull. Ralph Waldo Emerson described weeds as plants “whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” We could probably do well to think of some people that way.
Today’s parable is often called “the wheat and the tares.” The tare, known as “false wheat” or “bearded darnel,” sounds like an awful plant. Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking out water and nutrients. It is impossible to weed out the tares without prematurely uprooting the wheat. The plant looks a lot like wheat until you try to eat the seeds, which are poisonous. It has been described as the botanical equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
This co-mingling of good and bad, the work of God and the work of God’s enemies, is part of our reality.
We experience this reality of good and evil coexisting even within our own selves. Think of it as the good angel whispering in one ear and the bad angel whispering in the other, arguing about some discipline we are trying to keep or some money we are trying to save or who knows what else. Think of how we distract ourselves from being the hands and heart of Jesus in the world by spending hours on twitter, Facebook. (Not that social media doesn’t have its redeeming virtues, mind you J.) All of us, I’m sure, have had moments when we can relate to St. Paul when he says: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)
If we readily admit that we all experience inner conflicts, hidden weeds among the wheat of our best intentions, it should be easy to take that one step further and acknowledge that in any community of Christians, there are individuals who may or may not be living out their best identity as followers of Jesus. Sometimes this surprises us. Sometimes we get hurt.
In the quest for security and self-preservation, Christian institutions, such as churches and dioceses, can lose sight of their Christian identity and purpose as easily as individuals can.
We are a mixed bag. St. Augustine, who knew little about inner conflict, coined the phrase corpus permixtum. Mixed body. We are a mixed body. The times when people get the most hurt are when there is an expectation that life in their parish, or their neighborhood, or even their country, is meant to be a little slice of heaven on earth. Actually, it’s a little slice of earth, on earth. I am in no way excusing behavior that is immoral or illegal, perpetrated in the church or out of the church by clergy or anyone else. But, like the field full of wheat and weeds, our community and our world is made up of people motivated by love and people motivated by greed and fear.
Where is justice in this mixed bag of human community? Are we simply to tolerate a world filled with good and evil, tragedy and joy, abundance and loss? The answer is a good Anglican answer: yes, and no.
At the end of the parable, the reapers sort the wheat from the weeds and burn the weeds. Jesus explains that the good seed are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the evil one, and that all evildoers will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. While this might not sound like the cheeriest of Good News, I believe it is intended as a reassuring reminder that God is in charge. We may not like some of the ways Jesus teaches about the end of the age, but the point is that we are not the ones who decide who is good or who is bad, who is in or who is out.
This end-of-the-age sorting reminds us that it is not up to us to do the rooting out and destruction of evil. We need only to look at the world around us, this very week, to see how futile, horrifying even, it is when humans take God’s matters into their own hands. Our friend Kelvin Holdsworth from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland, posted in Facebook that we should all sing a lament in our services this morning, for Gaza, for the passengers of Malaysian Air flight 87, and for all those whose lives and loves depend upon dangerous border crossings.
But we should not read this gospel as saying that we need do nothing about the injustice and evil that surrounds us. If we are to sing, our song—like our lives—must bear witness to the Kingdom of God that is just within our reach. While weeds will always be weeds, people are always capable of being transformed by love. Right now, weeds or no weeds, we must live as children of the kingdom. When you listen to all the bad news, or when your yourself experience the weeds in your own heart or your own community, look around for who is stepping out to love, to forgive, to reconcile. These are children of the kingdom. The price, on which I pray we will always keep our eyes, is to be won by loving our enemies, welcoming strangers, and seeking and offering forgiveness. If we are to sing in response to this gospel and the world we live in, our song might be “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” When we live as witnesses to the Kingdom, our slice of earth becomes a slice of heaven.