Wheat and Weeds?

July 17, 2011

(Wisdom 12,13 & 16-19; Matthew 13, 24-30.) (Family Communion + Baptisms)

I’ve just planted a patch of earth in our garden with wild flower seeds. I cleared the earth of weeds before I sowed the seeds, but now they’ve germinated, I don’t know whether what is growing are flowers or weeds. I’m going to have to wait until they’re much bigger, perhaps even until they flower, before I do anything about the weeds.

And if I did then decide to remove the weeds what could I do? Well, I could use weedkiller. Trouble is, I would be likely to kill off all the flowers I’d planted as well. Or, I could use a hoe. That’s O.K. when you have clear rows of sturdy plants, but, with flowers, you are likely to chop off things you want to keep. Or, I could pull up the weeds. That would be very time consuming; and I would risk disturbing the roots of the flowers, so they might die. So I think I’ll just enjoy whatever grows in that particular patch – and hope the bees and the butterflies enjoy them too.

When Jesus told this story about the man who planted wheat in his field, and then found weeds growing up, he knew what he was talking about. The decision of the farmer not to try to separate the two until harvest time was the right one. In a field of wheat, it would be extremely difficult to tell the weeds, which would probably be a form of wild grass, and would look exactly the same as the wheat until the ears of corn were formed. Much better to wait until harvest time to sort them out.

The story says the man’s servants thought someone had come deliberately and sown the weeds in the crop. But of course, in an open field, or even in a garden, it’s very easy for weed seeds to get mixed in with the good seed. They are brought by birds or on the fur of animals, or blown by the wind. In any open piece of ground, it is inevitable that both the good things you want to grow and the weeds you want to get rid of grow up together.

I don’t know whether you saw a TV programme recently which featured the Blue Peter gardener, Chris Collins, talking about weeds. He made the point that many of our garden flowers started out as weeds. Then someone thought they were attractive, brought seeds to grow in better soils, cross-pollinated them and selected plants for their best characteristics, and so produced garden flowers.

But he also pointed out that some garden plants have now become weeds. Things like Japanese knotweed, buddleia and rhododendron were introduced as ornamental plants, but then their seeds spread into the wold, and now those who maintain woodland and look after railway lines spend millions trying to eliminate them. He also pointed out how useful some weeds are – for dyeing cloth, and as medicine. So it does seem that the old adage ‘A weed is merely a plant growing in the wrong place’ has some truth in it.

Jesus, of course, didn’t just tell stories to entertain. His stories, which we call parables, usually had a deeper meaning, which he left people to work out for themselves. This story is about the world, and the way the Good News of God is sown like a seed in a field. It grows and produces a good harvest in spite of all the evil around it. God, who is the farmer, will sort out the good and evil when the time comes. No matter how many weeds there are around, they can’t prevent God’s abundant harvest of good.

Because Jesus didn’t explain what his stories meant  we are free to find other meanings in them too. The church community for which St Matthew wrote saw the wheat and weed seeds as representing two different sorts of members of the church community. Some of them were inspired by Jesus, and their work was good. Some they thought were inspired by the devil (the enemy) and what they produced was evil. They hoped that the ‘good seed’ would be gathered in to God at the harvest on Judgement Day; but they expected that the ‘bad seed’ would be punished by being thrown into the fire.

In the story, Jesus warns his followers not to be too quick to judge which of his followers are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’. He doesn’t want them pulling people out and sending them away.  In the story of the farmer, he is telling them they are like the servants, not skilled enough to judge. Judgement, he says, should be left to God. His church should be tolerant of different ways of expressing faith, and leave God to decide which is right. That’s something some people in today’s church need to realise too.

Jesus also didn’t talk much about God punishing people. Like the writer of our Old Testament passage from Wisdom, he talked about a God who was kind and forgiving, who never gave up hope that bad people could be turned into good people, and who was patient enough to wait for however long it took for people to accept the Gospel and turn from weeds into productive wheat. Jesus talked about a God who, like the farmer in the story, will spare everyone punishment if possible. In the story, even the weeds have some purpose. When they go into the oven they produce heat to cook the bread made from the wheat; and they ash to spread on the ground as fertiliser for the next crop.

The story of the weeds and the wheat is a very good one for today, when we are going to baptise R and M, make them members of the community of the church, and ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon them to strengthen them to live good lives in the service of the Gospel. We hope and pray they will grow up to be wheat, rather than weeds in the world.  It will be the task of their parents and godparents, supported by all the rest of us, to nurture them and to promote their best characteristics, so that their lives are good and fruitful. Baptism and membership of the community of the church is one way that we are strengthened to grow as good seed and defended against the competition of the bad seed.

But of course, the reality is that all of us are sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes wheat and sometimes weeds. That is why we need God’s mercy, to forgive us when we go wrong, to patiently leave us growing and changing in the hope that we will all turn out to be fruitful members of the church and community, and to gently separate out the good and bad in us when judgement time comes.

Today as we support R. and M. and their family as they come to baptism, we will thank God for his mercy and pray for them and ourselves that we may grow into fruitful  plants, which help to spread the Gospel of God’s love and contribute to an abundant harvest of good things for God.


Prayer for ‘weeds”

A prayer for those who do evil:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will.

But do not remember them for the suffering they have inflicted;

remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to that suffering:

our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this;

and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen