The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (read the whole passage)
Most of us know the annoyance that weeds cause in gardens and lawns and even fields. Weeds steal energy, water and resources from the plants that we placed purposefully in our gardens. Weeding is probably one of the more joyless parts of maintaining our plants and gardens. Pulling those prickly, finicky nuisances that seem to do anything they can to stay in the ground is not fun.
And so when we hear Jesus tell the parable of the Wheat and Tares or wheat and the weeds, we can identify with the experience of the servant who wants to get the weeding done.
Yet, as anyone who regularly walks down neighbourhood streets knows keeping and maintaining gardens, in particular the weeds, is an individual approach as anything. On the street that we live on, the gardens, flower beds and lawns of our neighbours vary wildly. There are some lawns and flower beds kept impeccably. Hardly a blade of grass out of place, not a weed to be seen. And then there are others where the weeds and grass seem to be growing in harmony… and growing tall. The contrast is noticeable when there are next door neighbours with these two extremes of garden and lawn styles. A golf green lawn next to a patch of wild grass and weeds.
This tension sits at the heart of the parable of the wheat and weeds. The crops have been planted, the wheat is growing… but so are the weeds. And the servant and the master have very different approaches to deal with this tension. The slaves of the household wants to get down to weeding. They want to purify the fields, get ride of bad and unwanted weeds right away, resolve the tension that they are experiencing… but the master wants to wait. Let the wheat and weeds grow together, for in pulling up one you will destroy the other.
Now of course, when we slow to think about it, this parable is not about wheat and weeds. Jesus isn’t discussing gardening philosophies.
But nor is this parable about the explanation that Matthew puts in Jesus’ mouth either. This isn’t about the weeds being like the evil ones of the world who will be thrown into the fire, or about the good wheat being gathered into heavenly grain bins.
In fact, the explanation to the parable about what the wheat and weeds are seems to have missed the point.
The point just might be the tension.
We are not good at living with tension.
The master says to leave the weeds be, but we are most often more like the slaves who want to get down to weeding. We don’t do well with tension because we would rather get to resolution. Its why most TV shows tell a complete story each episode, and why cliffhangers frustrate us so much. It is why most music is careful to end with resolving notes, a song that ends without sounding finished feels wrong. It is why we want to get the weeding done, instead of letting the weeds grow with the garden… the tension bothers us.
But the tension extends far beyond gardens and into our lives and work, into our relationships and even into our faith. We don’t like it when things we perceive as good and bad, right and wrong, exist at the same time in the same place. We don’t like weedy things infecting our wheat.
As Matthew attempts to unpack this parable by telling us what it means, he puts it in terms of faith, or more specifically faith communities. As faith communities, we know that we need to welcome new people, to try new ways of doing things, to open ourselves up to new life and the places it could grow among us… yet, new people can feel weedy to us, new ideas and new ways of being can feel like they are taking our limited energy and resources… new life can feel like it is choking our life out.
How often do we turn down new ideas because they are too weedy… they seem like they will just take energy and life from us like weeds?
How often are we concerned only about whether we will get a fruitful return, a wheat crop as reward for our efforts? How often do we weed out potential new members to our community because we expect them to be wheat instead of weeds?
How often does new life in our midst need to be a bit weedy… need us to sacrifice some of our own resources, our soil, our water, our energy in order to let the new life take root among us?
We really do struggle with with letting the wheat and the weeds co-exist, especially as people of faith. We struggle with the tension, of living in the grey areas, and not being able to define our world in the terms of good and bad, right and wrong.
And yet the tension, the place in between good and bad, right and wrong, even life and death, is where so much of our faith rests. It is the grey ares where God seems to show up, in the places where wheat and weeds are growing together.
God comes to us a king of creation, yet born as a nobody peasant in the backwater town of Bethlehem.
God comes preaching good news, but to the lost, least and forgotten of the world.
God comes to save us, by dying on a cross.
And so we are sinners yet forgiven and righteous.
And so we find our lives by losing them.
And so we are made alive by dying in Christ.
And so God chooses to love us, even though we should be unloveable.
The master tells his servants to leave the weeds be, leave weeds because pulling them out will uproot the wheat.
The master tells the servants to live in the tension, because that is where life can grow. The weeds will steal from the wheat… but both will grow. The tension is the place where life grows.
It is the same message that God gives to us, that God proclaims in and through God’s church.
Come you who are sinners, to this community of people made righteous. Here your sins are forgiven.
Come you who are suffering, to this community of healing. Here you will be made whole.
Come you who are hungry, to this community of bread and wine. Here you will be fed.
Come you are dirty and unclean, to this community of the washed. Here you will be cleansed.
Come you are who are dead, to this community of life. Here you will be raised.
The tension is the place where life grows.
Here is the thing… just as wheat fields without wheat doesn’t exist in reality, there is no community of people without sinners, without suffering, without hunger, without being unclean, without death.
The Master knows that the weeds are always part of the growing, all part of the fruit producing. The Master knows that the weeds are a part of life.
And God knows that it is in the grey areas that life is found.
God knows sinner meets righteousness in the grey area of forgiveness.
God knows that suffering meetings healing the grey area of mercy.
God knows that death meets life in the grey area of resurrection.
And so the Master says to us, let the weeds be. Let the bad grow with the good because it is in the grey areas that life is found.