The Reverend Kathleen Killian
July 23rd 2023
The Field of the World
Our gospel this morning is a continuation of last Sunday’s gospel. Jesus is still sitting in a boat offshore in the sea of Galilee preaching to the multitudes back on solid ground. More precisely, he’s telling them parables about the kingdom of heaven; simple though not simplistic stories meant to illustrate and illuminate what God’s kingdom is like, and how it grows.
This morning we hear the parable of the weeds among the wheat, which is unique to Matthew. The story is about both good seed and bad seed planted in the same field but by by two different sowers. When both seeds sprout and begin to grow side by side, the field hands go to the owner of the field thinking he would want them to weed out the weeds. But surprisingly he directs them to let the wheat and the weeds grow alongside each other, assuring them that it would all be sorted out at harvest time.
Now this would seem contrary to agrarian good sense, and Jesus’ listeners likely would have shook their heads at the farmers decision to do nothing about the weeds threatening his wheat. But as I read in a commentary, Jesus’ story of an enemy sowing weeds—weeds that looked deceptively like wheat as the Greek indicates and were meant to mislead—was something that actually happened and was common enough that its punishment was codified into Roman law in Jesus’ day. This would have made his listeners scratch their heads all the more—it doesn’t make sense what Jesus is saying! And of course it doesn’t because he’s seeking to draw his listeners into the kingdom, into something beyond the concrete and literal.
After telling two more parables, which we don’t hear this morning, Jesus comes ashore, pushing his way through the crowd and back into the house where he’s been staying. His disciples follow and ask him for an explanation of the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Though Jesus often doesn’t explain himself or his actions, he obliges and spells it out for them, and us, quite plainly: the world is the field wherein the seed of the kingdom, sown by the son of Man, and the seed of the enemy, sown by the devil grow side by side, their roots entangled together. At the end of the age, God will send reaper angels to gather out of the kingdom the weeds or all causes of falling and all who do evil and throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Indeed. I bet Jesus’ disciples grimaced, wishing they had never asked for an explanation, because they got more than that: they got an earful of hard-to-hear prophecy and truth: evil is a reality, the reality of the world is a mixed bag, and judgement day will come. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: all life is interrelated, and somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.
Or simply, in the field of the world that is God’s kingdom all humans are both weeds and wheat, sinner and saint.
So what do we do with this rather straightforward parable and assertion about life?
First, this kingdom that Jesus is always talking about—some 38 times over in Matthew alone—is both a place in this world and the world hereafter. And the kingdom is also within us, inside each of our hearts—an internal mission field, a spiritual condition, and divine potential that is already here, and is coming.
But inside of our hearts is also the the enemy and evil one, that which seeks to pull us away and separate us from the kingdom of our essential goodness. This is not hard to see out there in a world filled with greed, deceit, hatred, and heinous acts. But it is harder to see within that which lures us to bow before its counterfeit masterdom. As our parable says . . . while everybody was asleep the enemy came. Jesus calls us to to wake up, and to stay awake.
Our inner demons are cunning, and often strike in the subtle guise of emotions and thoughts, distractions and worries, even habituation—and perhaps no where more often than in our choices—all of which are easily manipulated; after all as the late Pope Benedict XVI writes, the tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil.
This parable also calls us to consider judgment, that we are accountable for our actions; and that we are to consider our tendency to moral gardening or judging others. There are of course certain actions that are clearly wrong, illegal, and immoral that demand our response. But I think here in this parable Jesus is speaking more to our souls, to the essence of who we are, and that our own souls are being fought over. No matter how zealously we weed out what we deem to be deadly, mistaken, wrong, inferior, or ineffectual, none of us are able to pluck out the human heart; the harvest belongs to God, fully accomplished and consummated at the end of time.
Lastly then, Jesus continues to tell us that the kingdom is like something ordinary and insignificant, a tiny seed in our small parcel of Adamic soil. The kingdom is a hidden source that once discovered grows slowly, creatively, erratically, with great difficulty, and in the end by grace into a treasure beyond compare. So goes a hymn* I’ve been singing these last few weeks:
I am troubled, yet not distressed.
Perplexed, but not in despair.
Bruised and battered but not broken
Cause I’m a vessel full of power with a treasure from the Lord.
Might we say that the kingdom of heaven is the deepest aspiration of love for all creation, including the weeds? As St. Paul says, the whole creation is groaning in labor pains as the kingdom is birthed. Though we and the world struggle mightily, let us remember that Jesus’ power is greater than even death, and that Jesus’ provision and protection is always assured.
At the end of Jesus’ parable today, he urges his disciples to listen. Let anyone with ears listen!
His call this morning is to restraint and conscious innocence; to patience, forbearance, and perseverance; and devotion to inner purification and truth. As always and throughout the gospels, Jesus calls us to love ourselves and others through “the constantly shifting and deceptive content of our human awareness of who we are.” Rowan Williams considers that “this ‘unfinishedness’ is also a summons into the mystery of the infinite God. Discernment of the kingdom and the evil one, of the wheat and weeds is the work of a lifetime.
In closing, it struck me that the St. Francis prayer speaks beautifully to our parable—to wheat and weeds sown side by side—and to the deep wisdom of Christ.
Lord make me an instrument [and field] of your peace.
[Where there are weeds, let me sow wheat.]
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, [let me sow] Joy.
* Singers: Sam Robson; Words and Music: Micah Stampley