The Parable of Weed Killer

Proper 11 (16) - July 19, 2020
- Isaiah 44:6-8
- Psalm 86:11-17
- Romans 8:12-25
- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Parable of Weed Killer
A dialog sermon by Pastors Matt and Diane Day

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat. That is a horrible title for a parable.  That is not going to get you a spot on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Weeds among the wheat.  Like, no kidding.  We ordered take out on Thursday night from the Dining Room in Inwood.  Driving down 51, past a number of the farms, a number of those fields have a bunch of volunteer crops from last year popping up among their good seeds.  Depending on how you look at these volunteers, they are either a cash crop or weeds.  If you allow them to continue to grow, they steal nutrients from your plants (your cash), they contaminate your final product, and they generally do not produce all that well.  This happens all the time. When you harvest the corn, or you harvest the beans, or you harvest the wheat, some of your harvest is going to fall into the field and lie dormant all winter, and if the conditions present themselves, will pop up in the next growing season.  Mother Nature is always going to do this. Weeds are a fact of life for farmers and gardeners.  No matter how hard you work at tilling the fields, spraying the fields, and physically pulling the weeds, you will have to contend with volunteers and other weeds popping up amongst your good seed.

Weeds among wheat.  Let’s talk about this title for a bit.  I don’t like the traditional title for this parable. Weeds among the Wheat. I have thought about a couple other options:

    • The Gospel accord to Roundup Weed Control.
    • The Losing Battle of Weed Control
    • (my favorite) The Parable of Killing Volunteers 
    • Or probably the most realistic title - The Parable of the Foolish Farmer Who Has No Idea What He is Doing…

Not that catchy of a name as the original but much more in line with reality. Maybe we should just stick with the title the NRSV assigned it…Weeds among Wheat. The reality of the matter is that this parable should not be read like “awww…that is such a great story.” Rather, it is suppose to make question all our previous notions and ideas of the dominion of God and we can best do this by putting ourselves into the same mindset that 1st century hearers would have heard it. And mind you—Jesus’ original audience were most likely farmers… 

But before we do this, let us remember the working definition of what a parable is.  The word parable comes from the greek word parabole.  That Greek word is a translation of the Hebrew word mashal which means "to be similar, to be comparable.” So, the best definition of a parable that I have ever found came from MGVH and my wife beautifully quoted it last week but I will say it again as a reminder.  “Parables function as metaphors, metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper experience of God’s dominion, a dominion identified with those who are the LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`” 

Please note, Parables are not allegories, though Matthew 13:36-43 might make us think it is.  An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Often, allegories have characters that we compare ourselves and each other.  Such as in the parable of the prodigal son, many of us can identify with the older son and see others, especially those who we don’t like, as the younger son.  But an allegory really cheapens a parable into this simple little story and totally misses the bigger picture of the coming dominion of God being associated with the last, LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`” Often times, allegories can be summed up by those cute, little sayings you find crotched onto a pillow or stuck onto a meme.  

These past few months, I have heard so many people say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Seriously, my brothers and sisters, I am so incredibly tired of hearing it.  Clearly y’all, if you think God caused this pandemic, we need to have a chat and I will be in my office tomorrow morning ready to chat by phone or video.  603,000 people from across the world have died from Covid19. 141,000 are from the US and 100 people in our great state of West Virginia.  Clearly this is more than any of us can handle!?!? How do you tell someone who lost a love one to this horrible, wretched virus, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  To people who have lost parents too son, children who can’t see grandparents they love.  It is no wonder why people have been turning away from Christianity.  We have cheapened this life-giving gospel to a bunch of stupid-memes, idiotic-crotchet-sayings and it has to stop.  We must call a thing what it is and stop the nonsense.  This virus is a horrible thing, but our God knows a thing or two about dealing with hopeless situations—our God knows how to deal with death.

So, let’s look at this parable and try to read it from the perspective of the 1st century hearers, and try to avoid those homiletical traps that are so easy to fall into.  

The kingdom of God is like a someone who sowed good seed in his field…that’s not exactly right.

The kingdom of God is like a farmer who sowed good seed in his field…that’s not exactly right either.

The kingdom of God is like a wasteful, moronic farmer who has no idea how nature and farming works, sowed good seed in his field… and while everybody was asleep, an enemy, I.e. mother nature, came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 

So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well, just like normal. And so the workers of the fields (otherwise known as the slaves who work for free and are treated as property of the master) come to the moronic farmer and say to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' And the farmer says, “It’s called mother nature…” Wait, no he’s still pretty clueless so instead he SAYS, "An enemy has done this.’ Because that is the best way to really sock-it to your enemies…plant dandelions in your neighbor’s field.  That will show them! 

So, 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. SO, 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 and by the way, I need more cow bell.”

1st century farmers listening to Jesus’ parable would have been scratching their heads, probably even laughing, as Jesus told this parable and I think that is the point.  Parables are suppose to help us question our presuppositions of God’s dominion.  So, how then does this parable help us think about the coming dominion of God? 

  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God is not what we expect it to be. The kingdom of God is good soil with lots of weeds. The kingdom of God has both wheat and weeds growing up along side of each other.
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has a moronic farmer in charge of operations.
  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God still has to deal with mother nature messing up even the best laid crops.
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has dandelions…but Dandelions are not all that bad.

Dandelions spread their seeds by little kids running around and blowing the seeds all over the yard (and if you don’t have kids, the wind does it).  They are tough, hearty plants.  By the way, did you know Dandelions were not indigenous to North America.  They probably arrived in "North America on the Mayflower—not as stowaways, but brought on purpose for their medicinal benefits.” Dandelions are completely edible…every part.  During the great depression, many people went and picked them so that their family could have green food to eat.  They help loosen up tough soil.  Now-a-days, we create poisons to get rid of them… What exactly is a weed?  Is a weed not a living plant fighting for survival just like my tomatoes?  Do we not like weeds because of the way they look or because someone told us that this is a weed and therefore we must destroy it.  I think we should be careful who we listen to because there are a lot of weed controls companies out there that have made millions off our fear of the dandelion—a fear that was created by their desire to profit off our fear and desire to have that perfect lawn.

  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God still has our enemies…but how does Jesus tell us to deal with our enemies. (Pray, they may be people close to us, ultimately cast out from God’s presence) 
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has slaves?!?!

During the 1800’s, many people used the Bible to support their twisted, inhumane views of slavery.  “Most studies of slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity suggest that it was not the same as slavery in the pre-Civil War period of the United States. ‘Ancient slavery was not based on race, for example. One could become a slave by being born into slavery, being captured in war, falling into debt, selling oneself (or family members) into slavery, or being "rescued" from infant exposure and then raised as a slave. Moreover, poorer folk sometimes had slaves; even slaves sometimes had slaves! Many slaves, especially those enslaved as a result of war, were more educated than their masters, and they were often encouraged to continue their education in order to benefit their masters… Slaves could also accumulate property and wealth and buy their freedom, although they normally remained indebted to their former masters…Most slaves in Greco-Roman society could expect to be emancipated by the age of thirty, from which masters normally benefited economically.’” 

However, I am by no means endorsing slavery of any kind and even slavery during the days of Jesus was not a pleasant life to live.  “Since honor was the focal value of Mediterranean society, slavery was always bad, since it thoroughly deprived a person of honor. Slaves worked on plantations and alongside persons condemned to death by working in mines or rowing galley ships. Their life was harsh and brutal. Slaves were property (like animals) and did not enjoy the same legal status as free persons… Slaves were not legally married, their families were sometimes broken up, and disreputable table masters sometimes sexually abused female and young male slaves. Fugitive slaves had to be returned, and debts were to be paid to their owners by anyone who harbored them.”

Will the coming dominion of God include slaves?  No.  So why use this imagery?  Remember I said a parable was a metaphor?  In order for it to be a metaphor, you have to liken your topic that your audience will get.  Slavery was well imbedded into the social fabric of the 1st century world and it was something that people could all understand.  So does that mean, God endorsed slavery?  No.  Will the coming dominion of God include slaves?  No.  St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatian’s,  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

  • (DIANE) Why does Jesus turn this parable into an allegory in verses 36-43?

Simple answer, the disciples are just like us and want a simple answer.  Jesus gives them a simple answer.  But how many of us feel satisfied with just a simple answer?  Isn't faith more than just a simple answer that you can crochet onto a pillow or put onto a meme? I don't think that we should ignore 36-43 because it does give us an insight into our Lord's thought process and thinking, but I do think Jesus wants us to think more deeply about this parable and how it changes our presupposed assumption about the present dominion of God. It also makes us think about the necessity of judgment and how it can impact our lives and the fruit we produce now as participants in God’s dominion.

  • (MATT) Are we to fear the reaper? 

Luther starts each one of his explanations of the 10 commandments by saying, "We are fear and love God..." We are to fear and love God.  It is a strange dichotomy that Luther presents us with and not something that he just came up with.  He read scripture like this, parables just like this one that really makes us ask the question are we to fear the reaper?

I once read this great little proverb by a seminary professor who said, "Whenever you draw a line in the sand to say who is on the inside of the kingdom of God and who is on the outside, remember this, Jesus is always on the other side of that line.  Jesus is always with the outsiders.  What exactly is bad—the wheat or the weeds?  We assume the weeds are bad, but with if they are not?  The band, Blue Oyster Cult, got it right.  Don't fear the reaper. I don't fear the reaper, I fear that I made the wrong choice and sided with the people who are not on the side of Jesus.  

*****

(Diane) So, what the solution?  Let the reaper figure it out.  That is the reapers job, isn't it? Our role in the coming dominion of God is to to do the growing and the planting knowing full well that even with great soil, good seeds, we still need the work of the reaper, that we aren’t going to figure it out ourselves.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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