My sermon yesterday proposed that the key to understanding the parable of the sower was to begin by accepting that the story was confusing—just like the logic behind the kingdom of God. That theme continues with this coming Sunday’s gospel, which features the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
I’ve read plenty of commentaries that discuss the biology of first-century Palestinian weeds. Several report that there was a weed that, when small enough, could not be distinguished from a young wheat plant. That line of interpretation leads us to conclude that Jesus is describing the kingdom as a place where the “children of the kingdom” and the “children of the evil one” cannot be distinguished in the current age. Bottom line: I don’t buy it.
Parables aren’t designed to hinge on an obscure piece of knowledge that most of the people in the crowd wouldn’t know. Jesus wasn’t a farmer. His disciples weren’t farmers. Most of his audience weren’t farmers, either. This story has to be more basic than that. It has to startle us. And that’s why I think this parable is the exact opposite of what we’d expect.
A long time ago, I planted a herb garden. There was a corner of our property in Montgomery that was relatively unproductive. It wasn’t a place where the kids could play. There weren’t any flowers there—just a little bit of grass being overrun with weeds and some neighboring lilies. Elizabeth and I dug it out and built a small garden in its place. I chose some of my favorite herbs, and planted them in carefully laid-out quadrants.
Within a week or two, weeds began to spring up. Some grass. Some other undesirables. But, remembering Jesus’ parable, I let them grow alongside the herbs. When my father saw the horticultural disaster-in-progress, he asked what I was doing. “If it was good enough for Jesus,” I replied, “it’s good enough for me.” The end result? All weeds and no herbs. Why? Because letting the weeds and the wheat grow together is bad advice.
No farmer would do what Jesus said, and that’s the point. This is bad agricultural practice. And, despite my ignorance, I’m pretty sure that’s something the audience would have known. No one lets wheat and weeds grow up together. Separating them at the time of the harvest would be time consuming. It would limit the yield. It’s all around a bad idea. Yet that’s exactly the kind of farming God does. His kingdom is different. His harvest is different.
What does that mean for us? That’s tomorrow’s post.