Living with weeds

Full Text: 

            My grandparents (my mother’s parents) were mostly done farming by the time I came along.  They built a house in town.  We moved to their farm when I was four.  My dad left his job at “Wallace’s Farmer” magazine.  The plan was that my dad and my grandfather were going to raise beef cattle together.  But shortly after, my grandfather got pancreatic cancer and died when I was five.  And my dad decided he would rather sit behind a desk than on a tractor after all.

            Still, there are two things I remember about my grandparents and farming:  the first was that, according to my mother, my grandfather was very proud of how straight he could make the rows of corn and soybeans when he planted.  This not only made the most efficient use of land and seed.  It also looked best.

            The second was that my grandmother hated weeds.  Even after we had moved off the farm, one day, my grandmother hired my older brother and me to “walk the beans” and pull out every button weed and every renegade corn stalk in the soybeans that we could find.

            In this, they were no different than other Iowa farmers.  Farming is, as Garrison Keillor says, a spectator sport.  Driving around on Sunday after church, fields would be evaluated on how straight the corn rows were and how many weeds were in the soybeans.


            My grandparents would have a hard time understanding the farmers that Jesus talks about.  In last week’s lesson, as you remember from Rod Nordby’s sermon, the farmer strews seed this way and that, not really caring where it lands.  Yes, it is wheat and not corn, but still the seed lands on hard ground and rocky ground and weedy ground and the farmer doesn’t seem to care.  All the farmer seems to care about is the harvest at the end.

            In today’s lesson, Jesus tells us that God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted wheat in his field. Then, while he and the hired hands were all asleep, his enemy (maybe a jealous neighbor?) sowed weeds in his field.   When the wheat began to bear grain, the weeds showed up as well.  The hired hands wanted to pull all the weeds out. 

But the farmer said, “No, if you pull out the weeds, you’ll uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, let them grow together until harvest.  Then I’ll tell the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them into bundles for the fire, but gather the wheat into my barn.”


The weeds are darnel, a poisonous plant that looks exactly like wheat until both come to maturity.  At its full height, the wheat bends over with the weight of the grain, while the darnel stands straight up.  But, by this time, the roots of wheat and weeds are intertwined, and pulling out the weeds will also destroy the wheat.

What does the farmer do about the weeds?  He waits.  He lives with the weeds for now and waits until the end to sort things out.


            This parable, I think, is not so much about the existence of evil in the world.  It is not trying to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Nor is it so much about our inner life.  Jesus is not playing the role of a Jungian psychologist, as much as I would like to interpret the parable that way.

            This parable, I believe, is primarily about life in Christian community.  Life in Christian community is not perfect.  We are saved my grace, but we are not perfected.  Sometimes we are far less than perfect.  What do we do then? 

            We wait.  We wait because it’s hard to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds.  We wait because we don’t want to do more harm than good.  We wait because we trust that God will sort things out in the end.


            Matthew’s gospel speaks more about judgment than the other gospels.  He is the only one to mention the furnace of fire with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  He is the only one to include the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of separating the sheep and goats, and the only one to include the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  Matthew sees the creation, the world and the community of faith in black and white, good and bad, faithful and wicked, blessed and cursed.

            I do not see the world or the Christian church that way.  I don’t think it helps to demonize people.  I think it is not only does them an injustice.  It is dangerous for us.  Nevertheless, I like the wisdom of this parable:  Don’t take matters into your own hands; you could easily end up doing more harm than good; let God sort things out in the end.  As Paul says in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.”


            If you encounter difficult people, and you find it hard to do nothing, what can you do?  Matthew gives us two very good suggestions:

            One is in Matthew 18:  There Matthew lays out Jesus’ instructions for dealing with conflict.  If there is someone who has offended you, go directly to that person and try to work it out.  If that doesn’t work, try again, but this time with two or three others as referees.  If that doesn’t work, lay things out before the bishop and let him decide.  If that still doesn’t work, then you need to take a time out from each other.  But don’t give up.

            The most surprising thing, though, is that Jesus concludes, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”  When you are trying to work out your conflicts, I am there, too.

            The other is in Matthew 5:  You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise and the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

            When you encounter someone who troubles you, respond to that person, not with vengeance or with hatred, but with love and with prayer.

            But if all else fails, wait. 


            Why does God do what my grandparents – and any other farmer I know – would never do?  Why does God leave the weeds to grow along with the wheat?  Why does God tolerate such a mess?

            It is for the sake of the harvest.  God is like a crazy farmer who does not want to lose one single stalk of wheat.  God does not want to lose a solitary sheaf of grain.  Maybe God is so crazy he is hoping that the things that look like weeds right now will turn out to be wheat in the end.

            This may be wishful thinking – or it may be grace.  It may be that God, more than anything else, wants to show mercy.  That is God’s glory.  Far beyond the point when we are ready to condemn, God waits.  In that waiting, God continues to show mercy.

            And it is that mercy – the mercy of God in Jesus – in which we will shine like the sun!