The tagline Capital One, where my credit card comes from, asks: “What’s in your wallet?” The implication is that their credit card should be there. What we carry in our physical wallets can tell a lot about who we are as a person. Where we live, where and how we spend our money, organizations to which we belong:can all be determined by what is in our wallet.
Similarly, in the parable of the weeds, it seems that Jesus is asking the crowd: What’s in your spiritual wallet? There is a choice to be made, and Jesus’ teaching in this chapter serves as an advertisement for the kingdom of God.
Last week we heard another parable from Matthew about seeds and soil- good seed planted in good or poor soil. This second ‘seeds’ parable in Matthew talks not about the soil, but about the seeds that plant themselves in us-both good and bad. In Matthew, the good seeds come from God’s Kingdom, the bad seeds come from Caesar’s Empire.
When Jesus, the Son of God, the prophet of God, the very Word of God- started preaching there in Galilee, that was the very Kingdom of God breaking in on Caesar’s turf. So what we need to know is that this Gospel, this parable, is a political statement, directly oppose the political powers of his time. As such, clear lines needed to be drawn. Which kingdom will prevail? Whose empire will we participate in?
God calls us to choose our allegiance — to God or to the emperor. Listen to Jesus speaking to the crowds: (Matthew 13:24) “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.” Immediately, the crowd is alerted to the fact that there is opposition to the kingdom of heaven; there is an enemy who seeks to do harm.
But to be honest, this “us vs. them”, “good vs. evil” language makes me a bit uncomfortable. It’s that kind of black and white thinking that makes ISIS kill whole villages, women, children and all. “It’s either God’s way or the highway,” they say, “and we’re the ones walking in God’s way.”
I don’t know about you, but I experience the world a lot greyer than that. Just within my own heart, there are those bad seeds growing right next to the good seeds. Arrogance growing next to humility. Foolishness growing next to wisdom. In our communities, in our economics, in our politics: there are those bad seeds growing right next to the good ones, and it doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum we lean towards.
Jesus also says, “By their fruits you shall know them.” We all have a desire to bring good into the world. Where we disagree is “what is good” and “what’s the best way to get there.” Ask an ISIS member if they’re fighting for the good; they’ll say that they are absolutely fighting for the good. God is on their side. They are laying their lives on the line for heaven.
And you and I probably think the same things about ourselves: that we are living our lives in a moral, honest way that we hope will honor God and bring good into the world. And we have all these seeds of ideas and plans and strategies to achieve what we think is The Good.
Psalm 139 is my favorite psalm… except for the very end. “How I wish You would kill all cruel and heartless people, and protect me from them! They always rebel and speak evil of You. Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? Do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with a perfect hatred, and I count them as my enemies…” And then the last, searing bit of cluelessness: “Look deep into me, O God, and know my heart. Test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
The second Pres Bush saved Iraq from Saddam Hussein, who was gassing the Kurds. He thought he was doing a good thing. But he completely destabilized the area and al Qaida arose, and then ISIS, and we have been fighting for 15 years now in the longest war the US has ever fought.
Is that what Pres. Bush intended? Of course not. He thought he was going to rid the world of a tyrant and ensure American interests, and that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Tearing out the bad seed, as in Jesus’ parable, just resulted in the destruction of the good seed as well. And the world is not a better place for it.
I was delighted when Pres. Obama took us out of Iraq in 2011… but then arose ISIS, and we lost most of Iraq back to them. We just regained Mosul- yeah! And we’re sending troops back in again, and there’s no end in sight. Is that what Pres. Obama intended? Of course not.
Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is wise? Who is foolish? Who’s to know???
It doesn’t do us any good to divide the world up like that. All I know is that I’d better have a little humility when I start spouting off about what is the best way to achieve world peace or the common good.
Jesus had an interesting take on this problem. In the parable, He teaches, (Matthew 13:30) “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn”
The owner of the field understands that the weeds and wheat must grow together since the destruction of one can lead to the demise of the other. Likewise, our tendency to split our world into two is not useful. We are in this world together, whether this world is the planet, our country, our community, or our congregation, we must grow together and allow God to do the separating in God’s own time. Go splitting up the world and trying to eliminate the bad ones just leads to the unraveling of us all.
Does this mean we should never call out evil? Should we have let Saddam gas the Kurds, even though getting rid of him has led us to this horrific terrorist morass that we’re in today? I wish I were smarter; I wish I were more wise to be able to look into the future to see the effects of our actions. I mean, Jesus very clearly calls for us to choose: the Kingdom of God, or the Empire of Caesar. The way of life, or the way of death.
Yes, we are to act. But in this complex world, perhaps we are called to act with humility, knowing that what we think is godly and wise… might lead to unexpected consequences.
And so, dear friends, for myself: I will try to keep myself from divisive arrogance. I will keep writing my legislators and voicing what I believe are moral and well-thought opinions. But I’m also going to pray for them, and pray for myself, that we would all be led on the path that brings us all closer to what God would have us be. Because one way or the other, we’re all in this together.
In the name of the one who loves us all, the good and the bad, and will never let any of us go: even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
REFERENCES: The ideas of this sermon are largely derived from Dr. Jennifer Kaaland in Workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Matt 13 for July 23, 2017;
Scripture for July 16, 2017 MATTHEW 13:24-30
Jesus told the disciples a parable: “God’s Kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, an enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up too. The farmhands came to the farmer and asked, ‘That was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ The farmer replied, “It must have been some enemy that did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘So, do you want us to pull out the thistles?’ The farmer replied, ‘No, if you pull up the thistles, you’ll pull out the wheat as well. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then we’ll pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat for the barn.’”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.