Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
July 23, 2017

            I used to shuffle cards by dropping them in a heap onto a table and then scrambling them with my hands until I thought they were all moved into some different order. It was not the most accurate of methods. Then my sister taught me how to actually shuffle. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I practiced shuffling for hours. I would sit and watch television after school and shuffle cards over and over. If only I had put as much time into practicing my cello or my piano as I did cards, think where I would be. I thought being able to shuffle made me look cool, and as that was the ultimate goal in life, that’s what I worked for.
            Had my grandmother lived closer to us and known what I was so diligently working toward, she would have been shocked, nay appalled! To her decks of playing cards were “the devil’s hand tools.” That’s a direct quote. My Gramma loved games, and she would play a game called Skipbo for hours. It’s also known as Spite and Malice, and you can play it with a regular old deck of cards. But she would never have played with cards because, again, they were the devil’s hand tools. After all playing cards were the instruments of gamblers. They were the devil’s hand tools.
            Obviously, with that kind of attitude towards cards my parents did not grow up playing Gin Rummy. Nor were they were allowed to dance. They were not allowed to go to movies. My mother’s first big act of rebellion was to sneak off to see a movie when she was 12 on a Sunday afternoon. She saw “The Pride of the Yankees” with Gary Cooper, and she has always told me that she sat there amazed that her parents had kept her from this wonderful world. But she was also such a good child that she immediately went home and confessed to her mother what she had done. Gramma wasn’t sure what she was more upset about – that Mom had gone to a movie or that she had gone to a movie on a Sunday!
            I realize now that to my grandparents, playing cards and movies and dancing, etc. were not just temptations for young people –  pleasures that might lead them astray, they were weeds. They were weeds that would corrupt them; weeds that would rob their soil of its nutrients and block out the full amount of necessary sun. They were weeds, and they must be kept away. If even one weed, a game with cards, started to take root, then it had to be plucked out before it had any chance at growth. No weeds. No way. Weeds are bad.
            It would seem that this parable Jesus told backs up this idea that weeds are bad. He says it pretty plainly. They were sown by the enemy. This is a second kingdom parable following the parable we heard last week about the sower and the seeds.
            The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seeds in a field. But after all the sowing was done, after everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the good seed then slipped away. When the seeds began to shoot up, the weeds were seen along with the wheat. The slaves of master reported this to the householder. They wanted to do something about right away.
            “”Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ 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.’”
            As with any parable Jesus told, there are many points to think about. Again, this is a parable about the kingdom, so it seems that Jesus made it clear that the kingdom was not without opposition. There are enemies to the kingdom. In the explanation Jesus gave to the disciples, he named that enemy as the devil. Along with the naming of the enemy the devil, there is the implication of evil. Evil is real. Speaking of evil, the householder has slaves. The Master owns both property and people. Slavery was and is an institution based in evil. Lastly, this parable definitely seems to promote the idea of an “us versus them” ideology. There is the wheat and there are the weeds.
            One commentator said that the kingdom in Matthew is divisive, not because it wants to pit us one against the other, but because it makes us choose our allegiance. Will we be with God or against God? The problem as I see it is that we more often choose the latter rather than the former.
            It is hard not to take from this parable that there is an us and there is a them. Isn’t that how we structure our lives? Rich versus poor. Democrat versus Republican. Liberal versus Conservative. Mainline versus Evangelical. Denomination versus Non-denomination. Who will win in the end? Who is the wheat and who are the weeds? Well clearly the weeds are the other side. We just need to rip those weeds out and everything will be right again.
            Except in the parable Jesus told, it won’t be all right. The master told the slaves not to pull the weeds. If you pull the weeds, you might uproot the wheat as well. Wait until the harvest. Then they can be separated. Then what has been sown can be sorted.
            Let them grow together, those weeds and that wheat. That’s the answer that the Master gave. That’s the answer that Jesus gave. The kingdom of heaven is like a field where both good seed and weeds grow right alongside one another. No one judges which is which except God.
            All of this is great, except what does this mean for us? When it comes to injustice, is this parable telling us to not just let it grow but let it go? I don’t think so. In his explanation to the disciples, Jesus said that all causes of sin will be pulled up and thrown into the fire. What we sow, we will reap. So it seems to me that we still have to sow the seeds of justice, righteousness, mercy. We’re still called to be peacemakers, to stand up to the powers and principalities, to take up our own crosses and follow Jesus. But it also means that we cannot remove ourselves from what we perceive to be the weeds.
            Living in as many different places as I have, I have seen an interesting phenomena when it comes to home schooling. This is not a diatribe or a criticism for or against it. But when I lived in New York State, I knew several people who home schooled. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, overwhelmingly their reasons for home schooling were religious. These kids were from ultra-conservative families, and they did not like religion not being taught in public schools. They believed that the secular humanities being taught in public schools were a potential corruption for their children. So they pulled their kids out and home schooled them.
When we moved to Iowa, our town had a large home schooling group as well. They were very organized. They got together for special functions and activities. Special teachers were brought in for different subjects and extracurricular activities. But overwhelmingly they were kids from ultra-liberal families. They thought the public schools were too parochial and pushed antiquated, conservative values that forced children into gender specific roles, etc.
            My point is that both sides thought the others were weeds, and their children, their beautiful wheat, needed to be protected from growing alongside them. In reality it was no different than the white flight I saw when I was a kid the minute bussing became a reality. We live in an “us versus them” world. It is easy to interpret Matthew’s Jesus as saying this too. But I think this is a false dichotomy. I do believe there is wheat, and I do believe there are weeds. There is good seed, and there is certainly evil and people who do evil. But we are not called to remove ourselves from them. We need each other. The truth is, I have good seeds and weeds jostling for power within me too. I suspect all of us do.
            So what do we do? We acknowledge the evil without and the evil within. We stand up and call out injustice. We keep praying for the Holy Spirit to work through us, sowing good seed, bringing to fruition its good fruit. And we remember that we don’t see what God sees. We are not called to be judges or to be sin police. We are called to love. We are called to live the gospel, to show compassion and kindness, to offer cups of cold water. We are called to sow seeds, even as we pray to be fertile soil. We are called to love and to live in the world, right alongside those we may believe to be weeds. We are called to remember that we need each other. We need each other. That is the kingdom of heaven.

            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia.” Amen. 

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