Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

The bearded darnel is a devil of a weed.

Known in biblical terms as “tares,” bearded darnel has no virtues. Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and scarce water, making it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop.

And here’s the real kicker…

Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed. Those seeds can cause everything from hallucinations to death! (Talitha Arnold in Feasting on the Word, Yr A, Vol 3, p. 260)

So, a farmer sows good seed in his field, tends the field with great care and diligence only to discover when the wheat begins to bear grain that an evil one has come and sown poisonous weeds in his field!

This morning I am here to struggle with you with this text — not to provide any easy answers.

Most of the commentaries on this text — and indeed I have preached such an interpretation before — say that the parable of the wheat and the tares talks about how each of us has good and evil within us.

While I certainly think that is a true statement, I do not think that is what this text is saying.

When the disciples ask Jesus to explain to them this parable, Jesus says very clearly:

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
the field is the world,
and the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
the weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. (Mt 13:37-39a)

Well now, that seems relatively clear.

There are children of the kingdom,
and there are evildoers.

The servants ask the householder if they are to gather up the weeds, but he tells them, “No, do not pull up the weeds.”

This seems an odd thing… why not eradicate the weeds… that which crowds out healthy growth and even potentially destroys that which offers life?

I believe Jesus gives his disciples a couple of reasons:

First, the roots of the weeds get so enmeshed with the roots of the good wheat that you cannot pull up the weeds without also pulling up the wheat.

Eliminating the weeds then also means eliminating much of the wheat.

There is a second reason Jesus gives for leaving the weeds alone that I think is even more important: we are not good judges of distinguishing between weeds and wheat.

I would bet that all of us here, excepting newborn babies, have all engaged in harmful or destructive behavior at some point, if not many points in our lives. Some of us may not even recognize our behavior as harmful.

I have heard a story told about a band of Christian Crusaders in the Middle Ages who were on their way to the Holy Land when they came across a town of Arabs. Assuming that all the people living there were heathen Muslims, they killed everyone in the town. It was not until everyone was dead and they turned over the bodies that they saw that most of the citizens wore crosses around their necks.

These Crusaders had not considered the fact that people with dark skin and other Arab features could also be Christian (not to mention that non-Christians might also be children of God).

They were not good judges.

Because of our impaired sight and judgement, Jesus tells us to wait for the harvest because only God sees into the depths of our hearts, and only God is able to judge.

Consequently, the harvest will be at the end of the age after all the fruit has been borne so that good and evil may be distinguished one from another.

I wonder also that if we allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat,
then might there remain the possibility of conversion (at least in terms of human life).

I have told this story before, but I will tell it again because I think it is well worth our continued reflection…. In The Kingdom of God is Like… Father Thomas Keating of the Centering Prayer movement tells a story of a Christian woman living in California….

Her only son, a young man fresh out of college with a bright future, was shot to death on the street for no reason by a sociopath, a man who wanted to kill simply for the pleasure of having power over someone else.

The murderer was sent to prison, but the mother continued to wonder why God had abandoned her, whether God loved her at all, whether she was being punished for her sins, or simply why God had not intervened, allowing her son to live.

After much prayer she wrote to the man in prison to offer her forgiveness.

For a year she received no response.

Finally she received a letter acknowledging her letter but expressing no remorse.
She wrote, asking if he would see her.
It took a year for him to respond that he would.

She went to the prison and met him. He described to her, without any emotion, his horrendous childhood — a time when he was subjected to extreme physical abuse. He said to her, “You cannot imagine the immense joy I felt when I stood over your son and realized that I had killed him!”

The mother, despite her anguish, reiterated her forgiveness.

The mother kept writing to him and offered to return. He responded to her, “Please don’t come again. I’m afraid, if you keep coming, I’ll have to face the unbearable pain of my life.”

Well, she went back and kept going back.
She still lives with her own pain of the murder and loss of her son.
At her last visit, he cried.

She had become his mother… he is becoming her son.

Is he still a weed?

When I experience all the pain in the world: in my own life, in the lives of those I love, in your lives, in the lives of our homeless brothers and sisters, and I begin to wonder as this woman did why God allows so much pain and destruction and why there is so much evil in the world, I realize that I need to be in church, to hear over and over that God loves us and that God suffers along with us, and that God offers us the gift of healing and wholeness.

In the words of today’s Psalmist:

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar….

You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me….

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my restless thought.

Look well whether there be any wickedness in me
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that we are children of God, groaning along with the whole of creation in labor pains, hoping for the possibility of redemption.

For now the reign of God encompasses both “good” and “evil.” The Kingdom includes the weeds, the unclean, the corrupted — this is the material of conversion.

This parable teaches tolerance and patience.

We are called to be servants who tend the fields,
spreading the Good News of God’s love and offer of salvation
to any who have ears to hear.

Thanks be to God that the One who loves us most fully,
the One who breathed us into Being,
the One who died out of love for us,
the One who knit us together and knows the very depths of our hearts….
Thanks be to God that it is this One who judges us finally.

As the apostle Paul says, we wait with patience for our complete healing in Christ.

AMEN.