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Weeds and Seeds

July 28, 2014

From my sermon preached on July 27, 2014 at Spring Mount Mennonite Church.

Scripture text: Matthew 13:24-32


24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 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?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 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.’”

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (NRSV)

A parable is a type of short story that is intended to teach a lesson, or sometimes a number of lessons. At first glance a parable might appear quite simple. But with parables there is always more than meets the eye. Even when there’s an explanation given, parables like these rarely feel like simplistic answers. They are an opportunity to reflect, to think deeply about life, and perhaps even be challenged in our understanding.

I think this is what Jesus was trying to accomplish as he used parables to teach. He was trying to help his audience—at least those who were willing—to move forward in wisdom, in mission, and in relationship with God. There’s a short little beatitude in the story at verse 16, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” Jesus seeks to open eyes, open ears, and heal those who turn and change their hearts and minds.

So as we reflect on these parables, may we come with eyes open, with ears willing to listen for the Spirit, and a willingness to turn and follow Jesus. AMEN.

The first parable: Weeds among the Wheat

This first story presents a land owner who sowed wheat seeds in a field. During the night “an enemy” came and sowed weeds in the same field. Since the word “enemy” is used in this story, and since Jesus is the one telling this story, it might make us think about how Jesus talked about enemies.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; (Mt 5:43-45 NRSV)

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. (Lk 6:27-28 CEB)

If we turn back in the pages of the Bible to Psalm 23, we find a description of a “shepherd,” one who is a representation of God leading and caring for the people. This description includes the image of a table, a place where God provides space for people to be present with their enemies:

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies; (Ps 23:5 NRSV)

According to these scriptures, when enemies are near God doesn’t give his followers weeding instructions. Instead of a call to immediate separation or eradication, God offers space within the presence of enemies. Maybe this space is an opportunity for God’s kingdom to break in—for more people to grow in wisdom and for more people to get in sync with God’s mission. That space would include actively subverting systems and powers which produce destructive results. But to do so in the way Jesus advocates requires his followers to be present in that space—just like Jesus was—living as peacemakers who offer life-giving alternatives. Of course, this kind of work is very difficult. That’s probably why simple, easy answers are often preferred-especially here in our suburban context.

Let’s get back to the story. When the plants grew, the result was not a pure field with one kind of crop, but instead a field with multiple kinds of plants—wheat and weeds. This troubles the workers of the household, and they immediately want to hunt down and root out the weeds in the name of purity. They want weeding instructions from the boss and they seem really motivated to act. There’s an impatience to the workers response. I wonder…is this about a need for control?

But the owner responds by saying “No…Let both of them grow together (13:29-30). He cancels the weeding out mission before it can start. Because a mission focused on weeding out has a high probability to cause damage.

At times in its history the Church has listened to the voice of impatience rather than the voice of the Spirit, and tried to take control of the situation. And in the process horrendous damage has occurred. The Crusades and the Inquisition represent active forms of weeding missions. And the uncountable Protestant divisions over whatever-hot-issue-of-the-day could represent passive-aggressive forms of weeding (“so-and-so gave us no choice so we had to split”). Damage results, even when we think we’re righteous. 

The owner in the parable seems to indicate that there’s a bigger picture to this whole project—a view that the owner has but that the workers lack. And the owner takes the responsibility for the final results, for making all things right at harvest time. The owner will be the judge. In the explanation of the parable Jesus indicates that he is the owner. Perhaps the patience of Jesus in this story is intended to open us up to new possibilities. Is it possible that some of the “wheat” would actually act like weeds? And that some of the “weeds” would actually act like wheat? This harvest time could be quite surprising.

Dandelions are considered by many people to be one of the worst weeds. They invade lawns with those stunningly bright yellow flowers. And soon they go to seed they reproduce like crazy. I grew up with a different view of dandelions than maybe most people did. Our family consumed dandelions in various ways. The greens were used for salads at spring and summer gatherings (with some kind of bacon dressing, because everything tastes good with bacon). And my grandfather would make wine from dandelions: when I was pretty young I used to spend hours collecting dandelions for him for this purpose.

This readily available “weed” has value as a food. Last April Goshen College held a “Dandelion Day on campus to help people understand the value of this unappreciated plant and to think about sustainability and stewardship. The campus chef took these green & yellow weeds and created dishes like salads, omelets,and even cupcakes.

Perhaps we should be careful what we call a “weed”?

The second parable: Mustard

The mustard plant was a shrub that grew in the wild. Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with it. The mustard plant would grow continuously, and if one got into your garden it would have no problem taking over the whole space.

Jewish law actually had some specific directions[1] about what was proper to plant in a garden, and mustard was not allowed around other crops. I don’t think it was that mustard was a bad thing—the prohibition seems to have been more concerned with keeping mustard under control. The way mustard plants grew seemed to go against established order and patterns. Does this parable also hint at our desires to control?

when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Mt 13:32 NRSV)

There is hospitality pictured here. In the bible, “birds” are sometimes used as an image for people or nations.

On Israel’s mountainous highlands I will plant it, and it will send out branches and bear fruit. It will grow into a mighty cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it and find shelter in the shade of its boughs. (Ezekiel 17:23 CEB)

The parable pictures different people coming to join in God’s kingdom and receiving a welcome and hospitality that sustains life.

What might we learn from these parables? The workers in the story learn that God’s mission requires patience and trust, and that God is in control, not them. As we see in many places in the NT, patient endurance is involved in the coming of God’s kingdom. God knows that things are not right in the world. But God promises to hear our cries and be present within the mess. Aaron Klinefelter recently wrote,

We want a God who divides in this life, but what we get is a God who abides and lives within the ambiguity of all things.[2]

Rather than bringing quick judgment, God’s compassion includes patience and space for more people to know the abundant life of God’s kingdom. In this time we abide with Christ and seek to produce fruit that is a blessing (Jn 15:4). 

Tom Wright wrote this about today’s parables,

Somehow Jesus wanted his followers to live with the tension of believing that the kingdom was indeed arriving in and through his own work, and that this kingdom would come, would fully arrive, not all in a bang but through a process like the slow growth of a plant… [3]

The slow, patient approach might seem like God isn’t doing anything or that God doesn’t care. But Jesus used this approach as he was teaching, preaching, and healing. People were valued and transformed. When we look at Jesus we can see God and God’s compassion and care.

When we’re really motivated to weed, maybe we should stop and think: Do we know everything that God does? Do we have all the answers? Do we completely understand how or what God is transforming?

Rather than pulling weeds, perhaps our job is to plant seeds.

[1] Claiborne, Shane and Chris Haw. Jesus For President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 103. See also


[3] Wright, Tom. Matthew for Everyone: Part One. Westminster John Knox Press. 170.

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