McFarland

Seventh Sunday of Pentecost July 19, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25
Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Prayer of the Day:

Faithful God, most merciful judge, you care for your children with firmness and compassion. By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom, that we may rooted in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less (ELW 597)
For the Fruit of All Creation (ELW 679)
Praise and Thanksgiving (ELW 689)
When Morning Gilds the Skies (ELW 853)
All Things New (Green Carpet Players)

Reflection on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

by Pastor Tim Dean

I like to joke that I’m really good at growing weeds. It’s a special gardening talent that I have!

Some years I grow lots of dandelions, some years it’s African violets. This year, the bumper crop on my lawn is clover. The clover patches are taking over!

The great thing about my talent for growing weeds is that I don’t really have to do much work at all. They seem to sprout overnight in all kinds of places. Between cracks in the sidewalk, on the steps leading the front door, around flowers and trees, in almost every nook and cranny. I pull them up, and they keep springing back!

Today’s parable from Jesus concerns the weeds among the wheat. A sower plants good seed in the ground, and then overnight, the weeds spring up next to the wheat. What will the farmer do?

The sower’s response may surprise us. Palestinian farmers of Jesus’ time would have dealt with the weeds right away, separating the weeds and wheat early on. But this farmer is a bit eccentric—even paranoid! How many of us would get up in the morning, see weeds in the lawn, and rail, “An enemy has done this!”

But the parable’s landowner takes an unorthodox—and risky—approach: he lets the weeds grow alongside the wheat. It may sound foolish, if not dangerous. The weeds could choke off the wheat. The crop would be lost. But rather than looking for a perfect crop, the landowner makes the decision to let it all grow—he is willing to risk weeds for the sake of the whole field.

Jesus casts this parable of weeds and wheat as a comparison of the kingdom of heaven. Because of this, there is an easy trap for us to fall into. I call it the “Us Versus Them” theology.

Matthew’s own explanation for the parable leads us into this trap. The weeds are children of the evil one, the wheat are children of the kingdom, etc. This sounds clear-cut: us or them, good or bad, faithful or wicked, blessed or cursed. It’s dualistic thinking.

There may have been some comfort in this kind of theology in Matthew’s day. Matthew’s church may have been experiencing persecution from political and religious authorities. They may have needed assurance that they were in the right group, the insiders, the “true believers.”

But in our time, especially when fear, bullying and mean-spiritedness are rampant, an Us Versus Them dualism doesn’t bring good news.

Barbara Brown Taylor speaks an honest word when she writes that most of us experience weeds and wheat within ourselves. “Most of our fields are full of mixed plantings, or worse.” (Brown Taylor, “Seeds of Heaven,” p. 33)

Richard Swanson points out the danger when we say it’s us versus them: “God (by definition) is always on our side of the line. God is always one of Us.” (Swanson, “Provoking the Gospel of Matthew,” p. 181)

Rather than see this parable as a call to an Us-versus-Them theology, perhaps it’s better to see it as the risk of learning to live with the weeds. It’s not about judging or labeling someone else as a weed. It’s more about God’s infinite, indiscriminate mercy for you and me.

This is like the sower who risks the wheat by letting the weeds grow at the same time. Living with the weeds.

This is like Jesus who a couple chapters earlier says that God makes the “sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) The mercy of sun and rain does not discriminate.

This is like the risen Christ at the end of Matthew, who gathers both doubting and believing disciples, and does not discriminate, but sends them all out on his mission to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20) This is truly good news for us. The Risen One calls us—wheat and weeds mixed together—to do God’s work.

The kingdom of God is about risking it all on God’s infinite, indiscriminate mercy.

How does God’s mercy help us to live with the weeds—both in ourselves and in the world around us?

The first step is being aware of our own human impulse to judge—to separate “Us” from “Them.” It’s easy to demonize someone with whom we disagree, or who has a different point of view, or different experience in life.

God’s abundant grace makes us mindful of our own implicit biases and errors. We can admit to the weeds within ourselves—the blinders, the ways we categorize or label others, the broken cracks in our own hearts.

The second step is leaning into this risky, indiscriminate mercy that showers upon us. We are all children of God—as our Romans lesson says—no matter the economic background, the language we speak, where we are born, the religion we practice.

In the showering mercy of God, we can grow. Growth means that we will make mistakes—some of the things we plant will be weeds. But that’s okay. According to the parable today, God encourages growth not perfection.

One of my favorite sayings, one that I often recite to myself, is the “blessing of good enough.”

The reign of God is like an imperfect field—where the most important gift is not an unblemished state, but the opportunity and risk to grow into something new.

God’s deep mercy and love create the conditions where we can grow as God’s people and disciples of Jesus. God “does not share our appetite for a pure crop, a neat field, an efficient operation; growth interests [God] more than perfection… [God] is willing to risk fat weeds for fat wheat.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 36)

God gives us so many opportunities to grow in serving, compassion, justice, advocacy, generosity, patience, love for those who are different than we are. God blesses each of us with mercy for the weeds in our hearts and minds. God drenches us all with the water of baptismal love so that we can grow together in the field of the kingdom.

Next time I see weeds springing up—whether on my lawn or in my heart and mind—I will be gentle with myself and ask how I might live with them. I will trust that above everything else, God is in charge, and God is full of indiscriminate mercy. Amen.

Let Us Pray

God of Indiscriminate Mercy, you bring sun and rain on the weeds and the wheat, the righteous and the unrighteous, and you have compassion for all human weaknesses. Help us to live more gently and patiently with the weeds in our own hearts and minds. Forgive us when we act in ways that put barriers between ourselves and our neighbors. Shower with healing waters those who are ill, isolated and afraid, especially those who are affected by the Covid pandemic. Strengthen us to grow in the soil of your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.