Keep Your Hat On

Week of Sunday 20 July – Pentecost 6
Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 [aphete] Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time [kairos] I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

...

36 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.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

 Occasionally we would see Dad standing out in the sun, hat off and held upside down in one hand like a bowl, while he scanned the ground. Caltrop! This stuff would take the place over if it got a hold, and Dad stopped everything if he ever found a plant and. He would meticulously search the area, using his hat as a makeshift basket, and take the uprooted plants to the incinerator. On a different scale, I would be sent out with a hoe to chop out paddy melon vines from our paddocks so  they would not jam up the scarifier later in the season. These things could cover the area of half a tennis court and took an age to hoe out. Untangling scarifier or combine was far worse!

Weeds are serious business. But does the farmer in Jesus' parable take action?

Just don't pull out the weeds. I know you think you can tell the difference between the wheat and the tares, but trust me, you can't. And even if you do get it right some of the time you will do more harm than good; you will damage the roots of the wheat. Don't pull the weeds out. Just don't. Don't!

We are called to trust that God has things in hand. We can't always tell if a plant is going to end up being wheat or a weed. Do you notice that by the end of the season there are relatively few weeds in the crop... few enough that people can go in and cut them out without trampling the crop! The weeds were not the problem the slaves thought they would be.

In fact, the weeds that have grown are useful! The binding of the weeds is not an image of punishment. The dry weeds are bound together to make cheap fuel... for cooking.

Why will there be so few weeds by the time of the harvest? It's because we will have purified ourselves. The very nature of the life of the congregation will make it a place where weeds don't grow well.

We will have taken Matthew Chapter 7 to heart: 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

We will have paid attention to chapter 18: 15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

And as someone has said: We invite the Gentiles and the tax collectors into the church.

Sin and evil will not be tolerated if there is a refusal to change and repent, BUT... forgiving seventy seven times means that we will be doing our best to build up the community, and not to weed people out.

We will cultivate an attitude of mind which sees and removes weeds with the greatest reluctance. We will take no pleasure in it. To remove people will be seen as a failure on our part— a failure to help them repent and be healed, rather than a cleansing of the community.

There is a person we will not currently allow in our building. I support this policy only because it is necessary for people's safety. It is a recognition we cannot care for them safely, not a refusal to let in someone we have labelled as evil.

When we talk about excluding someone for the sake of safety, the safety we are talking about is the  safety of the people, not the protection of the institution. We are to protect the wheat, not the field. There is no excluding someone because they will make us look bad, or make us unpopular. We exclude them reluctantly only when we cannot keep other people safe in their presence.

 A part of our trust in God that the harvest does not need our purification is to not be so hung up on efficiency and purity. These categories are essentially heretical. We have always had the purists who seek to clean the crop according to their own prejudice, and sometimes cause immense pain and damage.

Efficiency is a modern heresy. It gets rid of the dead wood and the less productive members. We begin with the idea that weeds are bad and drift into rooting out the wheat that does not bear as heavily as other varieties. Small congregations have sometimes been seen as less valuable, for example.

Efficiency is not the way God works. My friend Kathy wrote last week of The Reckless Farmer as she examined the Parable of the Sower.  Nancy Rockwell went even further. She called God The Mad Farmer!

Trust in God learns that this farmer is neither reckless nor mad. Instead this farmer-God understands how the world must be; that crops grow and mature; that what seemed thin and weedy can bear a mighty harvest, and what looked full of promise sometimes produces a poor harvest.  

Brian Stoffregen says of the parable of the tares that things work to God's timetable not ours. I find that if we look for people to love and build up, rather than look for people to hate or correct, then God's  timetable does not seem  so strange after all!

So in the Parable of the Tares there is more than enough material on which to base a sermon. There is material here to challenge us for years! But, like the Parable of the Sower, Matthew felt it appropriate to add and explanation.

It is clearly and explanation from a different time. It is an allegory, neat and tidy, where everything has a clear meaning. It is not an open story like the parable, but one which defines meaning.

There is also a change in emphasis. In the parable "the field" could to be the Christian community. How is it that weeds are growing in the church, people ask? But the explanation of the parable clearly states that the field is "the world." (13:38) A  distinction is made between "the children of the kingdom" who are good seed,  and the "children of the evil one," who are weeds. There is a hardening of attitudes. Boundaries are drawn. The forbearance of Matthew 18 and its forgiveness is gone. The teller of this tale is confident there is no mote in their eye. Or are they?

For it is the angels who will collect the evil doers, not us, and only in God's time. If we judge, if we label people as children of the devil, then we label ourselves. Stoffregen says

Many years ago I heard Johnny Carson utter this quote: "Choose your enemies carefully, because you become like them." It can be very easy to become intolerant with intolerant people, or angry at the people who are angry at us, or bigoted toward bigoted people. By seeking to destroy our enemies, we usually condemn ourselves because we have become just like them.

Or as it says in Matthew 7, judge not that you be not judged.

Matthew might appeal to us if we feel the world is overdue for punishment. As Stoffregen says,

The phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" occurs six times in Matthew (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30) and once in Luke (13:28), and nowhere else in the NT. Thus, it seems to be a strong emphasis in Matthew.

[But] What I find interesting about Matthew's six uses is that those who will weep and gnash their teeth, all seem to have been "insiders"!

  • 8:12 it is the "heirs of the kingdom" (probably Jews vs. many from east and west)
  • 13:42 some from "out of his kingdom"
    • 13:50 evil from righteous, but both are "caught in the same net"
    • 22:13 someone at the wedding banquet, but not wearing the wedding robe
  • 24:51 wicked slave (as a slave, he was part of the household)
  • 25:30 worthless slave (as a slave, he was part of the household)

It seems to me that this harsh judgment is uttered against those within the community of faith, but who fail to bear the proper fruit of living in Christ. As was true in the OT, God's harshest judgments were pronounced against his own people. So, too, Matthew does in his gospel.

Don't pull out the weeds. Don't even think about it! Instead, build up the community. Make sure you are not becoming a weed yourself! Stay awake. Pay attention. Bear fruit.

Wheat Crop

 Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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