When I was a kid, I remember wondering why my father would walk around the yard pulling weeds before coming inside from work. And now, as a father and a homeowner, I now understand why he did this. It’s part therapy, part alone time, part yard maintenance, and part feeling of accomplishment especially on days when I feel like a failure.
There is something cathartic about pulling weeds. But I’ve noticed that for every one weed I pull three more spring up in its place. And about mid-way through the summer I throw my hands up and say, “Forget it. It’s not worth it.” So, if you see me pulling weeds this summer, I must be in need of some alone time!
I love today’s parable about the weeds and the wheat. Even though I am not a farmer, I know what it is like for weeds to grow up among the good stuff. I know what it is like to get overwhelmed by the number of weeds. I know what it is like to feel defeated because I just can’t keep up.
Even if you can’t relate to the agricultural assumptions made in this parable, I imagine you can relate to the feeling of defeat, the feeling of getting overwhelmed by the constant barrage of bad stuff springing up in a life that you’ve worked so hard to make good. I imagine there are days when you just want to throw your hands up and say, “Forget about it. It’s not worth it!”
At the end of the day, pulling weeds might make us feel accomplished. Pulling weeds might solve the problem temporarily. But our own efforts to combat the bad stuff in life is always incomplete. The weeds will always grow back and sometimes they grow back bigger and badder than before.
For this reason, the farmer in today’s lesson tells his servants not pull the weeds before the harvest. The farmer tells the servants to wait; the weeds will be separated from the wheat at harvest time where they will be burned with an unquenchable fire.
The parable reminds us that God’s way of dealing with the weeds is total and final while our ways are incomplete. God will deal with the weeds in a way where they can never come back. The parable hangs on the promise that God will clean up the mess, a mess that we tend to make worse when we try to take matters into our own hands.
Today’s parable is a teaching on how the people of God are called to be in a world where weeds threaten to destroy the good harvest. How do we, as followers of Jesus, contend with evil in a world that God declares as good? How can we be faithful to God in a world that is grown over with weeds?
And just because we shouldn’t pull the weeds doesn’t mean we are supposed to go and find another yard that is perfectly manicured with lilies and roses. Nobody’s yard is perfect, anyway! So, if we can’t pull the weeds and if we can’t find another yard, what is our response?
Like the servants in today’s parable, our first instinct is to figure out how the weeds got there in the first place. Where does evil come from in a world that God declares “very good”? Because if we know how evil got there, if we get to the root of the problem, then surely, we will know how to stop the problem from happening again?
We as mortal beings have come up with a lot of temporary answers to the problem of evil. We’ve tried really hard to get to the root of the problem. We have democratic governments, medicines, weapons, and technologies that are designed to keep violence and disease and war and death at bay. We have come up with some very sophisticated weed killers but none of them last – none of them can totally solve our problems.
Laws that we thought were good for us turn out to be bad for someone else. Medicines that treat one symptom cause unforeseen side-effects and may even mask another problem. Weapons that were made to offer protection are often used to destroy. Technologies that promise better communication also promote isolation in the worst way.
While many of these solutions are born out of a desire to do good, like the servants’ desire to do good for the famer by offering to pull the weeds, our solutions are incomplete and are prone to create more problems.
Biblical scholar and Bishop N.T. Wright proposes that the new problem of evil isn’t wondering how evil can exist in a world where God is good. Rather, the new problem asks, “how can evil exist in a world where we have come up with all sorts of solutions to keep evil at bay?” How can weeds keep popping up when we have constructed a lot of sophisticated weed killers?
Wright argues that we must admit three things before we can deal with evil in a Christian way. First, we must concede that the best governments even the ones rooted in democracy are imperfect. Second, we can’t pretend that the devil or forces of evil don’t exist in this world. Lastly, the line between good and evil isn’t us v. them but a line that is drawn down the middle of us all. Sure, you can’t compare Bin Laden to the guy who robbed the 7 – 11.
But when we separate good people from bad people, we underestimate the pervasiveness of evil and tempt ourselves into believing we can do something to rid the world of evil. If the answer to evil was that easy, God would have executed his justice long ago. And Lord knows, if God were to eradicate evil today, then I’m not sure any of us would make it.
At this point you might be wondering, what can I do about evil? Yes, I know we can pray about it. But what can we do it about? What is our faithful Christian response? The short answer – our response is one of hope.
Our response is one that trusts that God will separate the weeds from the wheat at harvest time. Our response is one that believes evil will not have the final word. Our response proclaims the truth that St. Paul proclaims in today's epistle - the sufferings of the present time aren't worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us. Our response believes that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a hell fire of destruction but the children of God shining like the sun.
Instead of trying to put out the fires, instead of trying to pull up the weeds, we are called to live trusting that evil, in all its ugly forms, is only temporary and live toward the reality that is permanent – a reality filled with light and life.
When we live according to the promise of God’s eternal truth, our lives then become centered on God – the source of all goodness. And when our lives are centered on God, then we will shine like the sun.
But when we live our lives trying to combat evil and death, then we ourselves get tangled up in evil and death until we become empty and lifeless. When our lives are defined by trying to rid the world of evil, then we become the evil we are trying so hard to fight.
In the end, we are called to have faith that God is taking care of evil and death. God has the whole world in his hands. And the good news is that we have reason to hope that God has taken care of evil and death through Jesus – the crucified One who is risen from the dead – the One who lives beyond the worst kind of evil this world has ever seen.
We are called to let God be God. And when we let God be God, then we can focus more on being the people God made us to be. When we let God be God, we are free to focus on living into our true vocation, we are free to focus on being the children of God who shine like the sun. When we let God be God, when we are influenced by the eternal promises of God, we, the children of God, shine so brightly that evil becomes only a footnote in the story of salvation won for us in Jesus Christ. Amen.