Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
1st Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8
2nd Reading: Romans 8:12-25
I can just hear the Disciples asking Jesus, “If God is good, why is there so much bad in this world?” It is a question asked in many ways throughout the generations. Sometimes it is asked like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
For the Romans, during Jesus’ time, the explanation came down to all the different gods they worshipped. From their perspective, different gods have different ideas of what is good and sometimes one wins and other times another one does. Some of the gods want what his good and others want what is evil. But we believe in God who created everything good, who is love and all goodness. We believe God is all powerful and all knowing, so when it comes down to the bad things in this world, sometimes we wonder if God allows suffering, or causes it.
Jesus didn’t answer the question right out, but instead he did one of his favorite things and told a parable. Maybe they were sitting right out there in a field while he was telling this story and could see the wheat growing up all around them, hear the wind blowing through it, see the weeds in the midst of it. Jesus told the story of a benevolent farmer who sewed what was good, wheat.
But there are forces of evil in this world. Chock it up to free will, or greed, or idols, or people worshipping their own power and working to increase it. Jesus doesn’t explain where this enemy came from who sewed the weeds where the wheat was sewn. An enemy can be anyone or anything that is against God’s intention. God wanted good things to grow that would be nourishing and life-giving. Sometimes we don’t want what God wants, what is good for people. Sometimes we don’t think they deserve it. Sometimes we won’t accept the good things that God is offering us, because we think we know better, or we don’t think we deserve it. Maybe it doesn’t matter where this enemy comes from. When I plant my garden, weeds grow, and I don’t have anyone to blame. When I am out there pulling weeds, I might curse some enemy, but it is going to be soil or the wind or the birds. Who would intentionally come and put weeds everywhere? That is the nature of weeds. They show up where they aren’t wanted, they get in the way, they take from the plants I am intentionally growing and have lovingly planted, and sometimes I pull them up and sometimes I let them grow. That is the nature of life. God created everything good, but we sure can get in the way sometimes and mess it all up. We can sometimes be the enemy blowing dandelion seeds all over God’s good field.
There is a lot of good wheat in this world, good plants that bring nourishment. There are good people. Good things happen all the time. We enjoy good health, we bear happy healthy children, our kids grow up without knowing hunger or homelessness, we celebrate Birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, we live very comfortable lives that are full of joy. It is good to remember that much that is good in life is from God.
And there are weeds in life. The troubles come and there are things that are really messed up about this world. There are illnesses and injuries, addictions, rebelliousness, misunderstandings, wars, famines, and so forth. But God isn’t throwing those things in there to trick us or test us. Those things are contrary to God’s intention for us. However, that doesn’t mean that God can’t use those things or work through them to bring about good.
The servants are rushing to pull out the weeds, but God stops them. I think we can equate this to our feeling sometimes that we can tell who or what is a weed and what is wheat and our temptation to rush to judgment. The master advises the servants to let everything grow up together, so that some of the wheat doesn’t get ripped out with the weeds.
It reminds me of a cousin of mine, Melinda. She had a rough time as a teenager and young adult. She was out drinking every night. She was rebellious, dropped out of school. She got pregnant from a one-night-stand. Everyone was thinking she was a weed, a lost-cause. But then, practically overnight, Melinda seemed to finally get it. I don’t know if it was her newfound responsibility as a mother, or what, but she suddenly focused. She decided what she wanted to do with her life, went back to school, married her baby’s father, and became a nurse. She developed into wheat, after all. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t make mistakes or have problems. She got a divorce, after all that, and like all of us makes mistakes every day. But she is a good mother, a productive member of society, using her skills to help people.
In the wheat fields, there is a weed that grows that looks very much like wheat. But if you let it grow into maturity, the wheat begins to lean and the weeds stand up tall, making them easier to tell apart. It isn’t always easy to tell which is which. I remember working on the line at National Frozen Foods as a teenager, looking at peas going past me on the conveyor belt. Sometimes there was nightshade in the peas, a dangerous weed whose fruit looks almost exactly like peas. I remember concentrating so hard to see which is which so that nightshade didn’t end up in someone’s supper. It isn’t easy for us to tell which is which.
And aren’t we all a combination of weeds and wheat? Are we sometimes the peas, and sometimes the nightshade, or are we more like a conveyor belt of peas and nightshade mixed? God made each of us good and very good, in God’s own image. We are amazing creatures with amazing abilities. We can do so much good in this world. We are capable of great compassion, great generosity, and even sacrifice to benefit other people. And boy have we got some weeds growing within each one of us. We have our own selfish desires. We mix up God’s will and our own. We are greedy. We act in fear. We make a lot of mistakes. Even when we try to do good, have good intentions, try to be generous and loving, it doesn’t always work that way.
Thankfully, it isn’t up to us. God is the first and the last, the one with the big picture view of what’s what. We are in the field. We can’t see what’s going on. Only God knows what is lasting and what will be thrown into the fire. The Good news for this morning is that although all fall short of the glory of God (we are weeds) God adopts us into God’s family and makes wheat out of us. God sent the only son to live as the only stalk of wheat in a field of weeds and to throw good seeds out there in our midst. God sees the best in us, cross pollinated, hybrids of wheat and weeds that we are, invites us into God’s family and causes us to bear good fruit. We have nothing to fear. God made us and loves us. I take some comfort in knowing that God will sort it all out, so I don’t have to and in the thought that all that is broken and greedy and fearful and miserable in me, will someday be destroyed and that something good will remain, that is the person God made me to be, shining with God’s love. I like thinking of all of you that way, too. God made us well and sees the best in us. That goodness from God is lasting.
The reading from Romans this morning depicts the creation as pregnant. Something is growing and forming that is amazing and beautiful. Abundant life is being organized and formed. Many of you know that pregnancy and labor is not always beautiful. There are definitely some difficult things about it and there is going to be pain. But pregnancy is a temporary situation. Pain does not mean we are being punished or that something bad is happening. It is a part of life and part of the process of bringing life into the world. God is bringing forth abundant new life.
The seed of abundant life has been sewn in the field by God and is ripening. The field is pregnant with new life. There are difficulties in this labor, fears about the uncertainty of what will be born and what the process will be like. But God promises something, the glory of which will overshadow the labor pains and fears and weeds and the suffering that has come before. Because this is God, the beginning and the end, we know it is going to be good. God created us good and God is taking us toward something good. God sewed us in love and harvests us in love.
When we are expecting something terrible, we live in fear and become paralyzed. But when we are hopeful, we prepare with joy. When we are hopeful we have a vision, a picture in our mind of what we are looking forward to. A farmer pictures the field full of beautiful ripe wheat. Parents picture themselves holding a healthy beautiful baby. We might picture people of different backgrounds worshiping God together. We might picture a world where the air is clean, where everyone has enough to eat, and everyone shares power in decision-making. Then hope kicks in and we find ourselves preparing for that glorious future that we can picture. We tend those fields, we make space for a new baby, we make our church easy to connect with. We share our food, give voice to each person, and tend and care for this earth. We hope for what we do not see with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of our hearts and we act with hope when we begin to transform our world into the vision that God has given us so that God’s love can be born and new life can flourish. So let us go forth in hope of what God is doing within us and through us and through this world.