“Letting Go Until Harvest”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 20, 2014

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy 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. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘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.’” 

 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “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; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

 

Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for planting your Word within us as good seed, germinating new life through Jesus Christ, you Son. May we grow into His likeness. Amen.

 

Our Gospel for today poses an interesting contrast

to its related,

and more well known,

distant cousin in the Gospel of Mark.

We know the parable of Wheat and Chaff,

how God will separate the two on the threshing floor,

the wheat will be stored into barns

and the chaff

– that is, the stalks from the harvested wheat –

will be cast out and burned in unquenchable fires.

We recall last week,

Jesus' parable of the Sower,

how some seeds are sown in thorns,

others on rocky ground,

and others in fertile soil.

Some never take root and grow.

Others grow only to be choked off and die.

While the seeds sown in the good soil yield 30, 60, and 100 fold.

Truth is,

Jesus tells many parables about seeds, planting, and the harvest

- and most of them are familiar to us.

 

Which makes our Gospel for today a bit disorienting.

We think it is one we know;

but then, we hear of the evil one

sowing weeds in with the good seeds,

and, of God commanding

that the weeds be allowed to grow until harvest

- we discover it is a radically different story.

And it can be troubling.

 

It unsettles me, too;

Yet, I hope and pray for clarity of vision.

Some background work is vital.

It is important to note

Jesus was preaching to the crowds,

while later,

the interpreting of the parable came

during his private instruction to his disciples.

Why?

 

Some scholars believe

the interpreting of the parable was done

by early Christian editors of the text,

and others believe the form in the original Greek

was carefully created

to assist in the memorization of the text

during the first couple of generations of the oral tradition.

 

Let’s also recognize the fact that

this Gospel passage is largely descriptive,

not proscriptive;

that is, Jesus generally isn't telling us to do something,

he is describing the kingdom of heaven

- though he does tell us the Lord of the Harvest

doesn't want us mucking around in his fields.

 

I can envision

members of the Early Church hearing this parable,

looking around at the violence and fearful environment of persecution

at the hands of merciless Romans,

nodding their head and saying,

“Yea, I understand.

We are living in the midst of evil weeds.

They are all around us.

The end is coming when they are going to get theirs.”

Those early Christians may have been tempted

to lash out in vengeance against those weeds,

to stick a concealed dagger between the ribs

of an unsuspecting Roman centurion.

So perhaps, they were given assurance that,

if they remained patient and nonviolent,

God would deal with the weeds.

Retributive violence would be averted.

The Gospel would be served.

God would be pleased.

 

Driving recently through nearby farm land

I noticed on the right side of the road

two fields of wheat.

The sun was setting in the west

and the fields were simply beautiful in the warm, evening light.

Our Gospel lesson immediately came to mind.

I looked carefully,

to see all that I could see,

to take in as much detail as possible.

I noticed that the fields were not perfect.

There was not a uniform, homogeneous growth of wheat.

At various occasional places there were weeds sticking up;

a milkweed plant here,

a thistle there.

Perhaps the weeds accounted for only a fraction of a percent,

in the midst of an otherwise perfect field of wheat.

And it dawned on me.

 

If I stopped the car

and attempted to pull all the weeds out of those fields

(I might be arrested for trespassing!),

I would be tramping all around,

walking on the good wheat,

making a mess,

going from weed to weed,

leaving chaos in my wake.

Sure, I could get the weeds out.

But there wouldn't be much left of the wheat field for a harvest.

It would be mostly destroyed,

like the aftermath of a violent hail storm.

 

Consider all the times throughout Church history

when we have failed to heed Jesus' parable,

when the Church has been unfaithful to the Gospel,

when it has gone hunting for weeds

leaving behind devastating destruction.

The Church pays for generations.

 

Remember the Inquisition,

and the search for heretics.

Recall the Crusades,

and the thirst for the blood of infidels

- Muslims who occupied the Holy Lands.

“The Scarlet Letter” and the Salem witch trials

both bring to mind past forays into the Lord's fields.

Non-Christians are quick to cite such blemishes of history,

while ignoring the vast majority of faithful attention to the Gospel.

Violence pays evil dividends for generations.

 

Think that this violation doesn't happen in the modern era? 

Consider violence in the name of culture and religion.

It is a constant churning and broiling

of killing and maiming going on

… all in the name of God.

In the nineties it was the killing fields of Rwanda and Serbia.

The last decade was terrorism and counter terrorism.

Today, it’s South Sudan, ISIS, and fundamental extremism.  

Who hasn’t seen chilling video of unconscious slaughter?

It is human nature to trample the wheat

in an effort to purge the field of the weeds.

Jesus tells us that this is primal,

and that it needs to stop.

Hatred, discrimination, violence, rape and murder

In the name of God

Needs to stop.

 

When the slaves of the Lord of the Harvest approach Him

and ask permission for them to clean up some weeds,

the Lord replies

“‘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.’”

(Matthew 13:29b-30)

 

It's not Christianity's business to be tearing things up

in an effort to destroy the evil of this world.

Jesus affirms today that it is God's prerogative

to be the judge and final authority.

Just walk away, Jesus tells us.

Just walk away.

Walk away and wait.

 

This is hard medicine for us to swallow,

at least it is for me, I must admit.

When I hear daily reports of violence in our community,

Of abuse, neglect, rape and murder;

I'll tell you what

- I want to run right out there into the field of wheat

and rip out that God forsaken weed,

and fry him in an electric chair!

 

But our ways are not God's ways.

 

Jesus tells us to be patient.

Wait.

Be prepared.

Trim your lamps.

Watch.

He can come at any watch in the night.

Remain faithful.

No one knows when.

It is God's field, not ours.

It is God who has grown the good wheat,

not us,

not the Evil One.

 

The pietistic Conservative and the lazy Liberal

might take this parable out of context

and draw the same, inaccurate conclusions from it

- that disciples of Christ are to take a hands off

Laze fare

attitude to the social conditions

– the poverty, the racism, the injustice of the world.

 

The pietistic Conservative and the lazy Liberal

Might find cause to take the immigration fight to innocent children,

Or to turn a blind eye to the discrimination and violence towards

the Rochester Bhutanese population.

On the contrary,

when embracing the larger picture of the Gospel and the life of Jesus,

the faithful recognize the fact

that Jesus reaches out to the poor,

the broken,

the despised,

the lowly;

the widow,

the orphaned,

the child left behind.

He radically changes their life for the better

– in a revolution of the meek,

who will inherit the earth,

a conversion of the poor,

who will receive the kingdom of heaven,

a complete reversal of fortune for the hungry,

who will be filled,

a complete turnaround for the merciful,

who will receive mercy.

(paraphrased from Matthew 5).

 

We are enlisted to be Christ’s instrument of social change.

We are his disciples

who are to prepare the ground for his coming,

change the world using God's kingdom

and applying Jesus' life as our pattern,

so that when God's kingdom does come,

it will roll into town

like a joyful, New Orleans parade.

 

But, be forewarned:

The Evil One has been doing some sowing of his own.

It is the Evil One,

not God,

who brings sin into this world.

He is working against us.

He is making efforts to sabotage our work.

But the Evil One will not reign or triumph,

because this field here is

God's field.

This field here is God's Kingdom!

 

This field here is God's Kingdom.

That sidewalk outside is God's sidewalk.

That mass grave in Tikrit is God's good earth,

The Garden of Eden.

The school girls who’ve been captured and held are God's children.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these

who are members of my family,

you did it to me.”

(Matthew 25:40).

The evil of this world

will have to face the music in God's time,

will have to stand before the Lord in judgment,

and will be brought to the precipice of fire.

 

Jesus reveals a bit of God's Kingdom this morning,

when he tells us about God's judgment.

That judgment is very real.

It isn't up to us to decide

who goes to the fire

and who goes to the storehouses.

It isn't left up to us to be God's proxy judges

- even though the fundamentalists of this world

would lead you to believe otherwise.

 

God is the final authority.

It's God say,

and His call alone.

God is in control.

After all, this is God's Kingdom;

and don't ever forget that.

 

It may be unsettling to some,

who may fear the judgment of God

at some, unknown future time.

But there is assurance as well,

here in this Gospel parable of Jesus.

 

That assurance is this:

It is God who planted you, not the Evil One.

While each of us will pass in critical review before the Lord,

know that it was God who made you,

God who nurtured you,

and that God is looking forward to collecting us up

when the time of harvest comes.

God is a timely judge.

A wise jurist.

A just magistrate.

In this, we are invited to trust.

 

The Lord's purpose is not,

nor will it ever be

thwarted.

Some might look at today's field and only see the weeds.

 

But the faithful disciples of Jesus looks at the field

and knows that it is God's field,

God's wheat,

God's decision when it is to be harvested,

and God's judgment that will triumph over all.

Be assured,

the chosen, faithful have no reason to fear God's judgment.

 

There is work to be done, dear sisters and brothers.

Let go of the evil.

Let it go.

Focus on what you can do for the good,

what you can do to prepare and welcome God's kingdom

when it does come.

 

Jesus is looking for a few good workers.

Won't you be one?

Amen.