July 20, 2014

6th Week after Pentecost

At some point from childhood to adulthood, each of us makes that momentous and inescapable discovery that there are weeds in our garden. We discover that things are not as they should be; that something has gone terribly wrong. It may be through private events in our lives that we make this discovery or the great public events of our time that force into our consciousness the dark reality of the presence of evil.

However it happens, whatever our time and age, whatever happens to us, we discover the presence of evil, of brokenness, of sin, however you want to say it, our vocabulary strains to speak of this discovery. When this recognition intrudes on our consciousness we may say, like the servant in the story:  Master, there are weeds in the garden!

The Kingdom of Heaven is like someone who sows good seed in a field. The sower sows wheat, wheat to spring up and grow golden in the sun, wheat to harvest and mill and bake bread, wheat to feed hungry men and women, bread to nourish our children. The sower sows good seed.

Someone else comes along, however, and sows weeds in the very same field. This enemy sows darnel, a particularly pernicious weed. The immature plants look just like wheat through most of their growth, but they carry poisonous toxins. They do not nourish and feed—they bring sickness and death.

The seeds are sown, they sprout and grow, and after a while the servants notice the difference. “Master, there are weeds in the garden!” they announce. The sower explains this was not the plan at all but some enemy has sown darnel. Anxious to please and immediately set things right, the servants suggest the sensible thing:  weed the garden. Get rid of the weeds, wage a holy war against evil.

Get rid of the weeds, the servants say, but the one who sowed the seeds says, “No.”  Let wheat and weeds grow together for the time being. Until they’re mature you’re likely to mistake one for the other. Even now the roots have grown deep and are intertwined. You start pulling up weeds, you’ll pull up wheat too. Let them grow together until the harvest, then we’ll burn the weeds for fuel and gather the wheat into the granary.

The parable counsels patience. It does not accept evil, does not confuse evil with good. The sower knows the difference between wheat and weeds and has plans for both, but in the meantime, be patient. Evil cannot be rooted out with surgical precision.

The book of Revelation remembers a church careless and premature in weeding out evil. The Christians in Ephesus receive applause because they did not tolerate false teachers and wicked persons, but they are indicted for having so lost touch with the spirit of love and kindness that they have defaulted on being a Christian church at all. What happened?  They were so preoccupied with the evil outside themselves they were overtaken by the evil within.

If our first naïveté is lost as we discover the presence of evil in the world, there is also a second naïveté to be lost as we come to the shattering revelation there is also evil in us. It’s not just “out there.” It’s not just that there are weeds in the garden, there are weeds in my garden—in me. We are, all of us, strange mixtures of good and bad, selfishness and selflessness. The roots of wheat and weeds are tightly knitted together in our souls.

We humans are complex creatures. Psychologists who follow the lead of Carl Jung speak of the shadow side of human existence, which is to say that if our lives have living rooms where we welcome other people, we also have unfinished basements others seldom see or see only to our shame and horror. In the living room everything is dusted and neatly in its place, but in the basement foul-smelling stuff bubbles up from the drains. Flip on the lights and roaches scurry into hiding. This shadow side, this basement, these weeds in the garden intrudes where we least want them.

We are mixed bags of wheat and weeds. The best we do is not free from our own terrible need. Flip a virtue and you find a vice. The roots of good and evil intertwine in us, our very best works are generated by a strange mixture of selflessness and selfishness, of blessing and blight.

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, then, is addressed to us. It is not a counsel of despair, it encourages us to be patient. Let things grow. Wait on God. Be patient. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not an allegory for us to choose to identify with wheat or weeds, one or the other. Life is never that simple; people are never that simple; separating weeds from wheat is never that simple—that’s what the parable is about.

Jesus’ parable is unflinchingly realistic about the complexity of life. Yes, there is evil in the world, in us; yes, there are weeds among the wheat, weeds in the garden, weeds in our garden. God is not yet finished, not with the world, not with us.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a young friend:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,” because God is not yet finished with you, with this world. Be assured:  God is the Master Farmer who knows exactly how to harvest everything that grows in the fields.

Whatever grows in our gardens, no matter how hidden it may seem, no matter where it came from, it is on its way to God the Master Farmer who harvests all of life and makes certain that nothing, not even one grain of value is ever finally lost.

Let it grow for the time being, says the Master, let it all grow. The Master speaks so confidently. The time for the harvest will come. It will come. In the meanwhile, however, God is not finished with us or our world.