Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
1st Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8
2nd Reading: Romans 8:12-25
After reading this Gospel reading, I have to reverse my decision from last week. I was going to pull up the volunteer tomato from my yard, which was crowding my kale, but now I think I should leave it In. “Let both of them grow together,” the master tells the slaves. However, maybe it isn’t that great of a plan to shape your gardening plans and advice from Jesus’ Parables. After all, they aren’t about plants, or are they?
I have here, this week a showy milkweed plant. This plant has the word “weed” right in it. It has a lot of traits of weeds. It grows and spreads quickly, both by seeds and rhizomes. It is low maintenance, not very picky. For years milkweed was called a noxious plant, that must be eradicated. People removed the plants. They were sprayed and destroyed until very few were left. Then we all became aware that the milkweed plant is the only place a Monarch butterfly will lay its eggs, the only food monarch caterpillars can eat. So with the decline of such a magnificent butterfly, we begin to realize that a weed to us, an annoyance and troublemaker, is home to someone else, and someone we might even care about.
This particular milkweed plant was placed in the yard of a member of this church and this plant began to spread and spread and started to take over, so these kind people offered it to us at church. We’ve been talking since the beginning of the garden group of putting in some showy milkweed here on the church property, so when it was offered, I said yes. Why not bring in a plant that will attract butterflies, and maybe take over some of this bare ground that just keeps producing weeds that we have to keep pulling. The milkweed may even be able to choke out my arch-nemesis weed, the horsetail.
Whether something is a weed or not is in the eye of the beholder. I remember as a kid being baffled by what my mom and grandma told me were weeds. Delicate little blue and salmon colored flowers that grew in the yard that made beautiful little bouquets for my Barbies, dandelions that we would give our mom to show her how much we loved her and whose seeds we would blow and make wishes as we observed them floating like little fairies, little yellow flowers we would hold up to our chins to make sure we liked butter, and on and on.
As kids, we scoffed at the other flowers. They needed all this special attention and care. They had to be babied: they had to be watered, they had to weeded, they had to be deadheaded, they had to be fertilized. They were wimps! Who wanted to do all that work, when you had these perfectly good weeds everywhere, providing beautiful flowers?
In the eyes of some, I’m sure Jesus would have been considered a weed. He was born to an unwed mother, came from Nazareth, of all places. This weed was popping up where none would be expected. He was a wiley weed, resilient, a little thorny, not conforming to popular views of beauty, and decorum. He wouldn’t stand in his row, he wouldn’t flower when he was supposed to, and all those pests kept buzzing around him, like women, and tax collectors, the homeless, and sick. Jesus was seen by some as a weed, but we know he is God’s own Son.
In the readings from Romans, it says, “The Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” It isn’t just people that wait for redemption, for healing, for unity with God. All creation does. And not just the roses and the cedars, but the so-called weeds. God created them, too, and not just to make extra work for us. But they do what God created them to do. They convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Their roots break up rocks and aggregates of soil. They shade the ground. They provide food and homes for animals and insects. Some of them fix nitrogen in the soil so that other plants can grow. God created them and God created them good. We can’t put them in categories like “bad” just because they are inconvenient to us. The weeds are waiting with eager longing, too, to take their rightful place in the balance of God’s good creation, in the new life that God is bringing, in the Kingdom itself. Maybe the master says, “Let both of them grow until the harvest,” because God knows their use. Maybe God sees what we can’t see. A diverse landscape is how it has been naturally in creation. It was us humans who had the gall to try to make all one plant grow in an area, to support our own growing population. We forget that is unnatural and even at times unhealthy for the earth to be forced to grow things for our convenience. To the other animals, maybe we are the weeds, an inconvenience, an evil to other species trying to survive, let alone experience abundant life that God is bringing to them in the peaceable Kingdom.
One weird thing happening in the Parable is that the weeds are sewn. I have to tell you that weed seeds don’t have to be sewn. They are occasionally when someone blows on the head of a dandelion that’s gone to seed, but in the vast majority of cases, they seed themselves. In any handful of soil, if you look at it under a microscope, you’ll find hundreds of weed seeds already waiting in the soil. Maybe this parable points to our tendency to want to blame someone for the bad things that we perceive are happening to us. One thing to keep in mind is that isn’t always about us, it often isn’t personal, when things that are inconvenient to us happen. And it often isn’t evil. Often it is someone else trying to get through life with the tools they have, we’re just growing so close together, we forget we’re part of a field.
Weeds aren’t all bad! We know this because the Kingdom of Heaven will be compared to one, the Mustard seed, in our Gospel reading for next week. What is a weed that grows out of control and takes over, is also a tree sheltering many birds. Maybe this parable can help us to see the shades of gray instead of everything being either good or bad, black or white. Take the perspective of the weed for a moment! In fact, Christians have a lot of weedy traits, since we try to follow Jesus. Christianity has spread like weeds and grows in unlikely places, despite efforts to root it out. Weeds are described in the book “Weeds: In Defense of Natures Most Unloved Plants” as “gregarious, adventurous, prolific and profane.” Doesn’t that sound like Christianity at its best? The church is must be all those things, because Jesus was and is and the church is the body of Christ!
I am glad that God says to wait and let the weeds grow and when the time comes the angels will do the sorting. For one thing, I have been known to mix up a weed and a good plant, both in my garden and in life. I think I have someone figured out and placed in a category and they surprise me. This way, I don’t have to decide, because I am just growing here in this field with the rest of you and I can’t see very far from my vantage point. This way I can just concentrate on being the best of whatever I am that I am. If I am a wheat, stalk, may I bear much fruit and not take more than my share of nutrients and water and sun. If I am a weed, remember I didn’t decide to be, this is who I am and I have been created good like the rest of you, and may I play my part providing homes for our friends the insects, breaking up the soil, and keeping things from getting too boring and homogenous around here.
This milkweed plant will soon be planted. What was rejected will be accepted and invited. It will take root and grow and spread. And it is my hope that through this once denied and betrayed plant, new life will come, transformation will come. Maybe next spring butterflies will lay their eggs there, caterpillars will devour this plant, make cocoons, and be transformed into to something beautiful, that reminds us of the resurrection, and our own capacity for transformation. The stone that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone. The plant that the gardeners have rejected has become the prized plant in the garden. There is hope for weeds like us, that God can and will bring new life, and that worms will somehow soar, that people will be transformed, that we will grow together and let God do the sorting, that God will be merciful and bring eternal abundant life to all of Creation and once again declare us good.