October 19, 2014 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
We went to the greenhouse one Spring a couple of years ago.
Isn’t it funny how, after a long cold Winter, you go to the greenhouse and suddenly you imagine yourself growing all this stuff, as if gardening is fun?
Somehow, for me at least, by Spring I’ve forgotten how much work gardening is, and I think it’s all fun and games! Then by the fall I remember.
Anyways, I may have told you about this already, but last Spring, like every spring, we went to the greenhouse, and as we were walking around, I found the watermelons, and I thought it would be fun to try to grow watermelons again.
We had tried another year, we got one plant and it withered up and died before it could do anything.
So last year I thought I’d try three watermelon vines, as long as one survived I thought we’d be doing good.
I’m sure they were clearly labeled “Watermelon”.
We got those along with our other little starters, a few cucumber vines, some peppers, some tomatoes…well it turned out what was labeled “Watermelon” was in fact, more cucumbers.
I think we ended up with six cucumber vines that year.
And no Watermelons.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like cucumbers well enough…but you know, one cucumber goes a long way with me.
It’s the same with pickles. I like pickles…but a jar of pickles will last us most of a year.
All that to say, six cucumber vines when what I really wanted was just one nice, big, juicy watermelon…it was a little bit disappointing.
There’s nobody to blame for it, and even if there was, I’m not that interested in placing blame for our bumper cucumber crop.
These things happen. Plants get mislabeled..and our garden is more of a hobby than it is a livelihood.
We don’t depend on our garden for our income, or even for the majority of the food we eat.
In fact, I think we’d get by just fine if we plowed it under and put it back into grass.
That wouldn’t have been true of this first century farmer in the parable we’re looking at this morning.
This field was his livelihood.
So it would have been an ‘enemy’ in the truest sense of the word, for someone to sneak in under cover of darkness, and intentionally sow weeds among his wheat, and then slink away into the shadows again.
This was no innocent mistake. It was a malicious, targeted attack.
I did a little bit of research this week, and I learned that the weed in question, was probably a plant called “Darnel” (If I’m saying it right).
The farmers among us probably know a good deal more about this than I do, but apparently Darnel is a plant that looks very, very similar to wheat in the early stages of the plant’s life.
Once the plants are older and more mature, it’s easier to tell the difference, but the critical difference between the two plants is that Wheat, when it is mature and the kernels are ripe, is useful to us.
It’s good, it’s nourishing, we can use it to make flour or a number of other things.
Darnel, on the other hand, is actually poisonous to humans, and to animals. It will make you sick, so it’s not something you’d want getting mixed in with your flour.
This enemy had sown it among the valuable wheat, the ‘good’ seed that the farmer had paid good money for.
Well, as we heard, once the situation was discovered, which would have been after the sprouts had begun to grow, the landowner could have sent out his crews to painstakingly, plant by plant, comb through the field to try to get rid of the darnel and preserve the wheat.
This would have been difficult enough, even for trained eyes who knew exactly the difference between the two plants and knew what they were looking for.
But if you’re relying on general labor, people to do what we might call ‘grunt work’, there would be no way of knowing if they’d be out there making the right decisions.
There’s a good chance you’d end up losing a lot of your crop, plus losing a lot of time as your employees devote themselves to this nit-picky project.
The alternative is to let everything grow until the plants are mature enough to where the difference between them was more obvious.
At that point, you could trust that your labor could safely tell the difference between the weeds, and the wheat…between what is useful, and what isn’t…between that which will nourish life and provide for human need, and that which is poisonous and not fit for man nor beast.
You’d still lose part of your crop…after all, the weeds are going to choke out the wheat here and there.
But you’d probably lose less than trying to sort it all out on the spot.
See, the landowner, he knew what he was doing.
He had patience, and he was able to see the bigger picture.
He knew what was best for the general health of the overall crop, even though the enemy had compromised it like he had.
—We are the good seed.—
At least, that’s what Jesus says when he explains this parable to his disciples later on in the chapter.
“The good seed are the children of the Kingdom”, he says.
He goes on to explain that the weeds are the children of the evil one.
We’re uncomfortable with such language coming from the mouth of Jesus, it sounds so harsh, so judgmental.
After all, isn’t Christianity a whole religion that’s devoted to the idea that people can change, that all are welcome, and that personal transformation is not only possible, but expected?
What is our hope, if not that those children of the evil one can indeed become children of the Kingdom?
According to this parable, people have about as much chance of changing as darnel has of becoming wheat, right?
Jesus continues to offend our modern sensibilities, when he goes on to explain what will happen when the field is finally ripe and ready for the harvest.
He says, starting in verse 41, that “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers and they (that is, the angels) will throw them (that is, the causes of sin and the evildoers) into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Why, we might wonder, can’t all the plants just continue their life in the field together?
Why must we label one whole group as “Weeds”, and why must the farmer exclude them from the harvest?
Why, indeed, must our beloved Jesus insist that the landowner is none other than the Son of Man himself, and that the day will come when the harvest is separated, and each plant dealt with for what it has come to be?
…Well, could I suggest this morning that, as offensive as this story might be to us and our modern ears, it has more to do with the patience, the love, and the wisdom of God than it does the quick and decisive judgment that will be visited upon the unsuspecting field?
See, we tend to approach this story as landowners ourselves, or at least potential landowners.
For the vast majority of us sitting in this room, we either own a house and some land, or we’re in the process of securing ownership, or we perceive ownership as a genuine possibility at some point in the future.
It’s a goal we might have…something we might aspire to.
Ownership of property is an assumption most of us might make from a very early age, that eventually, if we play our cards right, we’ll own a piece of property for ourselves, and we’ll have all the responsibilities that go with it.
From what I know about first century economics, this wasn’t the case for most of the people Jesus was addressing; neither the crowds nor the disciples.
They might dream of owning some land, much the same way we might dream of being millionaires or professional athletes…but their assumptions were much different than our own.
We identify with the landowner who had a decision to make about whether to uproot the weeds or let them grow.
But in the first century, the people would have identified with the hired help.
The slaves. The servants…the grunts.
It wouldn’t have been their job to decide what to do with all these weeds…it was their job to listen to and carry out the will of the landowner, who knew that patience, wisdom, and hard work would pay off in the long haul.
See, God knows better than any of us, that two seeds, when planted side by side, they might look identical for the first several weeks or even months…but eventually each plant will mature.
There will come a time of ripe-ness, and it will be easy enough to see the plant for what it is at that point.
The greater harm, when it comes to Kingdom-growing, is in acting too soon, when the plants are too small, too young, too tender to stand up to the scrutiny required for a proper harvest.
According to Jesus, we’re not the landowner anyway. We’re the seeds.
And what good seed does…is grow, and hopefully produce more seed.
Ten, Twenty, a Hundred times what was sown.
So the question I have for you this morning is, what kind of seeds are you producing?
My watermelon vine a couple years ago, it withered up and died before it had the chance to produce anything.
My watermelons last year produced nothing but cucumbers! Not exactly a weed, but not exactly what I was hoping for, either.
What’s your fruit, as a seedling in God’s kingdom?
It’s easy to think that this faith thing is all just a bunch of words and being nice to people.
But the truth is, time moves along, and we are actively ripening, every single day.
Our growth might be imperceptible sometimes…but that’s how the kingdom comes and grows and matures.
It’s like a field, sown with seed.
Time will tell the harvesters what’s worth saving and what’s destined for the fire.
That’s not our job.
It’s our job to do what seed does…ripen, mature, grow…and produce more seed.
You are more yourself today than you were last week at this time, simply because you’ve had another week of practice at being a child of God, and growing in that direction!
So I’ll ask it again: What kind of seeds, what kind of fruit, are you producing?
You older people, into whom are you investing your time and energy? Who are you mentoring?
Who are the people who will carry on the likeness of the Christ whose image you bear?
You younger people, who are you looking to for guidance as you grow?
Who (not What), Who do you want to be when you grow up? Your life is heading somewhere…don’t let anyone tell you different, don’t let anyone tell you it’s just a matter of chance or simply following your dreams…every day you’re making decisions that are turning you into the person you’re becoming. Surround yourself, therefore, with people you want to be like.
We are Children of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are the good seed, bearing the image and the fullness of Christ as we grow more and more into his likeness.
It’s a patient work, this growing business. But it’s lasting work, as well.
But we do have a landowner who owns the field of this world, and He can be trusted with the outcome of this crop, for he is patient, loving, and wise.