July 17, 2011
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
When I was between the ages of 10 and 14, we lived in Colorado. We lived on a dirt road in a small, close-knit community. We were also surrounded by fields. They were filled with sugar beats and corn. We had fun in the field. We would run in them when they were empty. Play hide and seek in the corn when it was tall. And a couple particular memories include a hot air balloon making an emergency landing in the field north of our house and a particular wind storm that blew everybody's patio furniture into the fields. Not just patio furniture, but anything that was outside. Walking through the fields collecting our furniture and pool toys was an experience.
I used to walk across one of the fields to visit a friend's house. It was a pretty long walk…perhaps we would call it a "country mile." The short cut was through the field rather than up over and down which would have been a country three miles. Growing in this particular field was sugar beats. But there was always other stuff mixed in. Particularly, there were stalks of wheat around the edges from past plantings. I am sure the farmer would consider these stalks "weeds." I thought they were great for picking and sneaking up behind people and tickling them with the soft end of the wheat stalk! Perspective is everything.
When I was reading today's scripture, there was one thing that jumped out to me. I'll read it again. From verses 24 and 25:
“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."
I noticed that Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. There were seeds and weeds sown in the Kingdom of Heaven. I find that astonishing. What was God doing while somebody snuck into heaven and planted weeds? Maybe that isn't what Jesus meant at all.
And later on in the scripture, the servants are wondering about these weeds that are suddenly being found in the harvest. Folks want to yank out the weeds and destroy them right there. But the master reminds them in verse 29,
“in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them."
The roots of the weeds and the wheat have become intertwined. I don't know if you have ever walked by a weed and just yanked it out .. or tried to yank it out. You pull and it doesn't budge. You pull harder. And harder. Finally it comes out with a mess of roots and dirt in a root ball the size of a softball. All the stuff that came out was not just the weed. I probably pulled up a miniature eco-system. There was no way to easily separate the weed from everything else that came up with it.
Nowadays, some of us have a different approach to weeding. Instead of pulling weeds, we use Round-Up and kill it. Now, Round-Up is made by Mansanto. Mansanto also genetically modifies seeds so that they are Round-Up resistant. For example, they make a soybean that cannot be killed by Round-Up. That way farmers can plant the soybeans and use the Round-Up to kill all the weeds. However, there is a price to pay for using the soybean seeds that Mansanto engineers. Farmers must commit to a laundry list of demands by Mansanto and they cannot use any seeds gleaned from the plants they grow. This sets up a circle. Farmers buy their seeds and their Round-Up. Then either the farmer has to buy more seeds from Mansanto, or they need to switch to other seeds that are not Round-Up resistant. There is a third option. Farmers glean seeds from the Mansanto plants and plant new crops. Illegally. Well, it isn't breaking the law, but it does break a legal contract. Over the years, Mansanto has made $15 million dollars suing farmers for illegally planting their crops from gleaned seeds.
It seems very easy to get outraged over this company and their treatment of farmers. But it is a difficult issue. First, I know a lot of folks are avidly organic in their food choice. I think that is a great choice if you can afford it. I have a friend, Lisa, who volunteers in the detention center with me. She tells me that she loves organic food and that is all she buys, but when she goes into the prisons and sees what the kids are eating, she is well aware how privileged she is to be agle to make the choice. It is companies like Mansanto that allow people who cannot afford organic food, to eat. Without the seeds that they have genetically engineered and the weed killer that allows the seeds to grow, it would be much more difficult for many people to get food. Mansanto does indeed do some good.
What I would really like to say is that Mansanto represents both the weeds and the seeds of human nature. There is no way of untwining the good we see from the bad. Sometimes I think they cross the line, but I am well aware that they have spent a lot of time, effort, and money developing products that make food more available and less expensive. But this is business! Not the Kingdom of Heaven. I expect that in business, there are always moral and ethical situations to be faced. It seems that in the Kingdom of Heaven, it should always be easy to separate the weed and the seed. The moral and amoral. But perhaps it isn't this easy.
In Jesus' teaching today, he tells us that he is the farmer, the field is the world, the good seeds are the children of the kingdom, the weeds are the children of "the evil one."
And, although Jesus does not restate it, I would like to add that the entirety of what Jesus just described is in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited to the world, but the world is part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are so many things that can be discussed deeply in Jesus' teaching. But the main question I would like to ponder is, how do we separate the weeds from the seeds, the good from the evil, when it is all within us? Each one of us has impulses towards good and impulses towards evil. Not one of us is perfect. Us, the children of the kingdom, we are the children of "the evil one." The roots of the weeds and the seeds are intertwined in us.
Remember Jesus saying to Peter, "Get behind me Satan?" At that point in time, Peter let his impulses rule the moment. If you will recall, Jesus was telling his disciples that he was going to suffer and die. Peter declared, "no!" He did not want to watch someone he loved and cherished die and suffer. Peter demonstrates a very natural response.
And we do to0. We often respond naturally to things we don't understand. It is these moments that our weediness and seediness is tested. So, I suppose, we need to define what the test is in order to know whether we are acting weedy or seedy. And that is seedy like seeds from plants not seedy like shabby or dingy. The test that I have in my mind is the "simple" question, "what response or action will bring the most spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual freedom to those among us who are the lost, the least, and the lonely."
I would like to read it again, "what response or action will bring the most spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual freedom to those among us who are the lost, the least, and the lonely."
Peter's denial of the plan that Jesus was revealing was a denial of the salvific action that Jesus was in the process of acting out on behalf of the entire world. Peter wanted to save the pain of his own heartache and sacrifice the world. That does not bring the most freedom.
And this is where I think that Mansanto crosses the line sometimes. By favoring corporate profit over what brings the most freedom to those who are treated the worst, they often sue farmers who can not afford to battle against a corporate giant. But that is what a business is supposed to do! Favor profit over freedom. Sure. If this were the kingdom of Mansanto. But it is not. We are living in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our job is to make the hard decisions and to influence others to make hard decisions that bring spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual freedom. Our job is to be seedy not weedy. All too often, though, we fall down on our job and make choices that favor our own comfort. We all do that. And sometimes, the decision comes back to haunt us.
For example, we know that food is good. And then sometimes we choose gluttony. Or financial comfort is good, and sometimes we choose greed.
Our saving grace, is well, grace. We see it in Psalm 139. God is with us all the time. God knows our thoughts. God knows our own weeds and our own seeds. God will lead us in the way everlasting, if we allow it.
This is the everlasting way of grace. God gives us the freedom to respond. That is why freedom is so important. If we did not have freedom, we would not have God's call to us. It would be more like a demand than a call. Grace calls to the seed growing in our heart, not the weed. That helps us respond to God's call out of the freedom. God is there with us, calling us, loving us. Even when we don't hear God's call or even when we respond to God's call in a rebellious or "weedy" way, God is with us.
We are very blessed that God knows that we will have times when we are the weeds.
At the end of today's scripture, there is the phrase "Let anyone with ears, listen." This phrase is used repeatedly in scripture. Mark, Matthew, and Luke use it as well as the Book of the Revelation. What I found out doing some research was that it could be a reference to a phrase from Isaiah 6. Isaiah is sent out to the people to ask them to listen. However, it is used in an upside-down way. God does that upside-down thing sometimes. Isaiah is saying,
"Keep listening, but do not comprehend." and a couple phrases later "so they may not look with their eyes and listen with their ears and comprehend with their minds."
It is possible that Jesus uses the phrase "Let anyone with ears, listen" as scriptural shorthand to let people know that he knows that we are very weedy. That we won't always comprehend.
The comfort is that God sent this message. OK. Maybe that isn't so comforting. God is sending a message that we won't comprehend? So, let's reframe it. God is sending a message that we won't always get it right. We will continue to be seedy and weedy in our lives. And God loves us through it.
Like Peter, like Mansanto, we will continue to make decisions out of our personal need. But we don't need to rest in that. Because like Peter and like Mansanto, we can make decisions that change the world.
The question becomes, in the comfort of our seedy weediness, how are we going to hear and respond to the call of God? How are we going to create a space of spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual freedom so that we can begin to comprehend? How are we going to make decisions that bring the greatest possibility of freedom for people who are the least, the lost, and the lonely? What will be the cost of discipleship for each of us? If we are willing to pay this cost, relying on God, we will truly begin to live up to the motto of the United Methodist Church and begin the deep work it takes to become and create disciples that transform the world.
Shalom & Amen.