July 23, 2023

"Wheat Worthy?”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 13:24-30

Whew! Matthew did it again. Or perhaps I should say Jesus did it again with another one of his challenging parables. This one, the second in the seed parables, like bitter medicine, is tough to swallow. While it may sound good – initially, if you sit with it for a while, and ponder the implications, it may be difficult to accept leaving you to wonder “am I wheat-worthy or is my life nothing more than a weed?” And, “what is my ultimate fate regardless of who or what I am?” 

The parable sets up an obvious dualism – there is a very clear sense of who is in and who is out. At least the workers seem to think so. They know wheat when they see it. They know that the profits from cultivation, harvesting, and sale of the grain will make their owner very happy. And if the owner is happy – their lives will be much better also. So, they want nothing do with weeds. Want us to get rid of them? No problem. We’ll take care of that right away. But -- surprisingly, the owner takes a different approach. 

“Let the wheat and weeds grow together lest when you pull up the weeds you will destroy the wheat as well.”

Hummm, not what you’d expect to hear from a farmer. I get the issue. But I understand the perspective of the slave workers all too well. They are quick to distinguish between that which is good – the wheat, and that which is worthless – maybe even harmful, and so they want to get rid of the weeds – and take care of the problem right away. 

Now, maybe you are much more understanding than I, but I know I am wired to distinguish and judge between good and evil, right and wrong, sacred and secular, saint and sinner – as soon as I see it. I’m fairly comfortable with my “inner judge.” It serves me well. And my dualistic worldview makes sense to me. Because, of course, I think I am always on the good side – the right side. And wouldn’t the world be a much better place if it wasn’t for THOSE others – those pesky weeds – who are always messing up the garden – creating inconsistencies in my life? 

But the owner has a very different perspective, and one that I need to pay attention to. Through his controversial words, Jesus invites me to ponder the nagging question, “is this a parable about judgment or not?” Or better still, “Is it my job to make these judgments or is that best left to God?” And finally, what is my responsibility for the weeds? [Pause]

Clearly, we are dealing here with something much more significant than the owner’s harvest. Jesus wants us think long and hard about our relationships between those we think of as “wheat-worthy” and those who we deem to be nothing more than weeds. Sometimes – in fact most times in this life – the two are relatively indistinguishable. And even if we think we know – who the weeds are – we might be wrong. 

God understands that reality and is able to wait patiently for that which is emerging to mature and show their true colors. It’s a holy patience that we humans may find quite challenging. [Pause]

Years ago, I happened upon a beautiful prayer written by French Jesuit priest, philosopher, and scientist Teilhard de Chardin. It was later given the title “Patient Trust.” I’d like to read it to you as, I believe, it complements the particular challenge offered by Jesus in this parable. It begins:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time. And so, I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete. Above all trust in the slow work of God. [Pause] The advice of Teilhard in his prayer and of Jesus in his parable is to play the long game. Snap judgments, quick decisions, and fast actions are not the way God operates nor does God want modern day disciples to do so either. I suppose you could say, when it comes to our relationship with others, we ought to live on “island time,” allowing ourselves to grow alongside of others at a slower and gentler pace (whether we see them as wheat or weeds) seeking to understand rather than to judge.

Judging is not our kuleana. Welcoming all, loving all, accepting all, that’s our work — our responsibility – and that is what is sorely needed … today. [Pause]

This past year I got hooked on Apple TV’s comedy-drama series Ted Lasso. If you are a fan, you know it contains some rather colorful language but also some fascinating theological motifs and life lessons that are portrayed in a very compelling way. 

Ted Lasso is hired to coach a fledgling football (what we would call soccer) team in the UK – a role he is neither trained nor prepared for. Appearing completely inept he jumps in with unbridled enthusiasm as he seeks to learn as much as he can as quickly as possible to coach a sport he knows very little about. 

One of my favorite episodes of the first season is when Ted, who appeared to not know how to play darts, is challenged by Rupert, his boss’ ex-husband and former owner of the team. Rupert, believing that Ted was a mediocre coach and his ex-wife, Rebecca Welton, an even worse owner, sees an opportunity to build his ego and regain control of his former team, by wagering a bet that he could beat Ted at darts. Ted accepted the challenge, with the condition that if he won Rupert must walk away and leave Rebecca to run the team however she saw fit.  

By the end of the game, it appeared that Ted was heading toward defeat. He casually asked the beloved barkeep, Mae, what he needed to win: “Two triple 20s and a bullseye,” she responded. Ted took a moment and in true Ted fashion, began to tell a story. In that moment we catch a more complex glimpse of Ted -- one who is much deeper than the catchphrases and cliches that seemed to flow constantly from his mouth. It’s here that he tells how he encountered the Walt Whitman quote “Be curious, not judgmental” on a walk with his son. And as he hit the two triple 20s, and the crowd around him waited in anticipation. We learn that if Rupert had stopped to ask questions and listened, he would have learned that Ted had played darts with his dad every Sunday until the day he died. Bullseye.

Be curious – not judgmental. 

It is so easy, so convenient, and often feels so good to judge -- to distinguish between red and blue, us and them, our religion and theirs, good and bad. We’re good a judging, distinguishing, categorizing, and labeling. And while that may work very well for spices and vegetables and whatever else needs organization, so that we can conveniently store them on shelves and forget about them, it is no way to relate to others – and it’s no way to live our faith. 

God invites us to live together and to grow together – until we mature and it’s time for harvest. We are invited to be curious – to ask questions – to learn from one another. And that takes time. God will judge in the end. That is not ours to do. 

“Let the weeds and the wheat grow together,” Jesus said. Think about that the next time someone does something that irks you, that causes you to look down on them. Open your eyes and see – be curious – maybe they are not weeds after all. 


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