Monday, July 17, 2017

Grow Together or Not?

My favorite thing about preaching on parables is that different commentators use completely opposite interpretations to reach the same conclusion. I haven't read any of the secondary literature on the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) yet, but I recall there being significant disagreement as to whether the wheat and the weeds would normally be allowed to grow together.

The parable presents a good farmer who sowed good feed in his field. While he slept, an enemy came and sowed weeds amidst the wheat. When they both grew up, the farmer told his laborers to let them grow together and then sort it out at the harvest. I presume that this is good advice for disciples, but is it good advice for farmers?

Some theologians (notably not farmers or biologists) argue that a particular species of weed, in the first few weeks of growing, is almost indistinguishable from a wheat plant, meaning that Jesus' kingdom advice is also good agricultural advice. But I'm not so sure. Note that the reason that the farmer gives isn't because the wheat and weeds are indistinguishable but because their roots are entangled. Also, note that the laborers can tell that weeds have been sown amidst the wheat--that they seem evident at this point. If Jesus' argument hinges on this being good agricultural advice, he's not making that clear.

I take the opposite approach. I think that anyone who has grown anything--from the largest commercial farmer to the smallest backyard plot--knows that it's not a good idea to let weeds grow up amidst your crop. In the past, I've preached on the herb garden I started in our backyard in Montgomery. As the herbs began to take root, some grass and other weeds began to invade the territory. Recalling this passage, I decided to let them grow up together and see what happens. Within two weeks, I had abandoned the entire operation. The herbs were almost unidentifiable. At that moment, I knew that Jesus' parables aren't intended as good advice for farmers but strange advice for disciples.

In almost every parable, there's a strange detail that catches our attention. It's the "wait a minute; that's not right" moment that is designed to teach us something. There's something strange about the kingdom of God, and the parables are designed to help us see what we otherwise would not notice with our earth-trained sight. In yesterday's Parable of the Sower, it was the indiscriminate sowing that didn't make sense. This week, it's the farmer who allows the weeds and wheat to grow up together. That doesn't make sense, but that's how the kingdom works.

This week, I'm working toward a sermon about living in the kingdom of God amidst all the weeds that seem to stand in the way. In fact, they don't stand in the way at all. They are a part of what it means to grow up under God's reign. God doesn't sort it all out on the front end. We have to wait for it. Jesus words are an encouragement and a challenge, and I suspect that there's a message in them that I need to hear this week.

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