Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
Last week, we heard what is commonly called the Parable of the Sower, and this week, we hear the Parable of the Weeds, or the Parable of the Tares as the King James puts it. Despite having attended a fairly rural, Texas high school whose biggest student club was the Future Farmers of America, I’m a Johnson County boy at heart and don’t know a thing about farming. Thankfully, others have written about some of the farming issues involved in this parable which begins with Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
The weeds here are thought to be a specific plant called bearded darnel. This plant looks identical to wheat above ground, but below, it wraps itself around the wheat, intertwining itself into the root system, taking away nutrients and moisture from the wheat. It is a deceptive little plant. Rather than producing seeds that are nutritious like wheat, darnel seeds are toxic to humans and cause anything from hallucination to death. In Jesus’ time, sowing darnel in a field for the purposes of revenge was illegal, meaning it must have happened often enough to warrant such a law!
In this parable, Jesus uses this noxious weed to illustrate evil. “An enemy” intentionally sowed these weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands discover this, they propose to the farmer that they go and gather the weeds. Like me, these farmhands weren’t up-to-speed on their horticulture. If they had been, they’d have known that doing so would result in the wheat coming out of the ground at the same time, destroying the crop.
All too often, you and I become preoccupied with who is in and who is out. Like the farmhands, we think that we have what it takes spiritually, mentally, emotionally to separate the wheat from the tares. But as in the parable, trying to separate the wheat from the darnel hurts both plants. This phenomenon also happens in the Church today when we try to separate the “real Christians” from those who have a different stance than we do on a particular issue. In trying to weed out those who are impure, or even the heretic, we do damage to the faithful as well. Beyond the church, our world is full of dichotomies, and it seems increasingly so, perhaps especially in politics. What is the solution to this tendency to divide the world in two? The farmer instructs the farmhands to let both the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest when all will be revealed. For at the harvest, the wheat and darnel bloom differently, and it becomes obvious which is which. And even then, it won’t be up to us to decide who is in and who is out. Jesus tells us in the second part of the reading that the Son of Man will send his angels to do this work. Then, and now, it is our job to trust that God will sort through the wheat and the tares in a way that only God can do. No matter how similar they look, no matter how intertwined the root systems are, God will send his angels with the appropriate knowledge and skill to separate the tares out without damaging the wheat.
While this parable is explicitly about the kingdom of heaven and thus the “last things”, I can’t help but think that my own life is often like the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and wheat intertwined in my heart, soul, and mind. Paul said it this way: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” When someone begins to come to private confession regularly for the first time, it usually only takes two or three confessions before he or she says to me something like, “Father, I keep confessing the same sins over and over. Is that normal?” Yes. Yes, it is. All of us are plagued with the temptation to commit specific sins over the courses of our lives, each of us influenced by both nature and nurture, and no matter how holy we become, it’s unlikely that our pet sins will change over time. Usually the next question is, “Since I keep confessing the same sins, why am I confessing them over and over again?” Not to force an analogy into this parable, but perhaps the grace the penitent receives from God through absolution is like the water and nutrients the plants in the field receive for sustenance. When we repent from our sins and intend to amend our lives, we only do so by God’s grace. While we can’t stop sinning completely on this side of the veil, we certainly can learn to trust God more and more in the midst of the sin and chaos in our hearts and in this world, holding fast to the hope that at the Last Day, God will send the reaper to bring in the harvest.
We hold fast today to that hope – the hope that the weeds will one day be uprooted and destroyed. As St. Paul said in the second reading, all of creation waits “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We wait for it with patience, letting both the wheat and the tares grow together, trusting that no matter what the Enemy sows around us, God will fulfill our hope of a bountiful harvest at the Last Day.
 Romans 7:15b
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!