Creekside Church
Sermon of July 19, 2020

"Wheat and Weeds"
Matthew 13:24-32

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! Today’s text, as you heard from Anne is from Matthew Chapter 13, a fairly long chapter which is entirely about parables: it includes a number of parables, as well as Jesus explaining why he is telling parables, and explaining some of the parables to his disciples. Give that context, it’s probably helpful to review what a parable is. A parable is a story -- usually a short story -- which teaches the listener or the reader something. Or it at least gives the listener or reader an opportunity to learn something: the learning is on the listener. That’s why Jesus often ends parables with the exhortation: let anyone with ears, listen! The factual accuracy of the story is not the point; sometimes they have talking animals as characters, like Aesop’s fables. Parables were a Jewish teaching tool, and we know of a few parables told by prophets in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most effective is when the prophet Nathan tells King David about a poor man who had a pet lamb which was taken and killed by a rich man. When David is enraged about the rich man’s behavior, Nathan says, “You are that man;” and David realizes that the reality of him taking Bathsheba, another man’s wife, is like the behavior of the rich man in Nathan’s parable.

We don’t usually hear about the results of parables. Our favorite New Testament prophet, Jesus Christ shared more than 35 parables, most of which are recorded in the gospels of Matthew, and Luke. They are all stories that feature things which would be common to the lives of Jesus’ listeners: making bread, a lost coin, a lost sheep, fishing, getting woken up late at night. Almost always, they reveal something about the character of God and kingdom of heaven. Sometimes this intent is unmistakable, as in the parables that Anne read, the first of which begins “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field . . .” and the second where Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . .” but Jesus doesn’t explain exactly how the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed; he tells a brief story about a mustard seed, and leaves the listener to figure it out. We’re going to work at some of that engagement of figuring it out this morning, but the beauty of parables is that there isn’t one singular correct answer: new things about the kingdom of heaven can be revealed to us as we bring different experiences to our understanding of the parables.

Both of our parables today are about plants; how they are planted and how they grow. At the beginning of Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about sowing seed on various kinds of soil. Jesus listeners were farmers and gardeners, so they would have understood some things immediately about stories about sowing and growing. I am not a gardener: I try to follow directions here at Creekside on some Tuesday mornings, but even I know some basic things about growing plants. First: the plant is always bigger than the seed. I can carry enough kernels of corn in a bucket to plant a small field, because that little kernel grows a 8 ft. plant, and that plant grows a lot more kernels. Right? That’s agriculture at its most basic level. Second: The size of the seed doesn’t necessarily predict the size of the plant. Kernels of corn aren’t very big; mustard seeds are even smaller, but a wild mustard plant can get a lot bigger than a corn stalk. Third: Based on these parables, God is a not following very good agricultural principles. That third one is fairly subjective, but for me, it’s the most interesting connection between these parables and the kingdom of heaven.

The parable at the beginning of chapter 13 talks about a sower -- not fabric, someone who distributes seeds -- going out and scattering seeds on a path, rocky ground, among thorns and on good soil. Only the seeds sown on good soil flourished. Jesus tells his disciples later that the sower is sharing the word of the kingdom. What’s he doing throwing God’s words out on bad soil, and among thorns? Isn’t that just a waste of good seed? Actually that sower is doing something which we are doing at Creekside right this minute: he is broadcasting -- throwing out the good seed indiscriminately -- just as we are broadcasting the words of God and our prayers this sermon to anyone within earshot of 106.7FM. Let anyone with ears listen! Of course our broadcast area is limited -- every broadcast area is--but anyone within that area can listen. Neither I nor anyone else decides whether you are good soil or rocky soil or worthy or unworthy. The words of the Son of Man, the invitation to believe in Jesus Christ, the salvation of the Messiah are for whoever has ears to hear. It’s up to us to broadcast it and up to those who have ears whether or not they listen.

And the first parable Anne read about the wheat and the weeds--anyone who has planted anything has had the experience of other stuff growing up -- things we didn’t plant and don’t want. This farmer planted wheat, and predictably weeds came up as well. Rather than rooting them out, the landowner directs his servants to let them grow up together, and at harvest time, harvest them separately and burn the weeds. I don’t know how practical this is agriculturally: to harvest weeds and wheat in the same field separately. I do know, partly because of Jesus’ explanation of this parable later in Chapter 13, that evil grows alongside of righteousness in this world: I believe that this is even more complicated than there being righteous people and evil people, but that each one of us has the capacity to be righteous and to be evil. Indeed, only Jesus Christ was entirely righteous and without sin. The rest of us are both wheat and weeds. What Jesus is trying to make clear, and this is especially important in Matthew’s gospel, is that although wheat and weeds are mixed together in this world, God will not tolerate evil in the kingdom of heaven. It will be rooted out and burned away. We are called to lives of righteousness, to be children of God, to be fruitful and productive. But inevitably, weeds will grow among us and within us, and we must confess and repent of that sin, or we cannot be part of the kingdom of heaven.

The final and shortest parable is probably familiar to many of you. It’s the parable of the Mustard Seed: you may have even seen jewelry with a little box or case which contains a mustard seed: I was going to bring one to show you, and then realized Why bother? You won’t be able to see it anyway: a mustard seed is a bit larger than a poppy seed: you can often find them floating in juice from pickles. A little bitty seed, but it grows into a huge shrub -- as big as a tree. It’s a wonderful image of growth, but here’s the thing: no one in their right mind would plant a mustard seed in the in the middle of a field. You can see wild mustard growing on roadsides and vacant lots around the United States: it gets about waist high and has bright yellow flowers. No one planted that mustard; nobody, as far as I know, ever plants it in a garden on purpose; it would be like having a section of your flower bed for dandelions. The mustard plant in Palestine is related, but even larger and woodier: it’s a big ungainly shrub that no one would want in the midst of your corn or wheat. But here it is, right in the middle of this parable, this crazy shrub squatting in the field and taking up space from all the well-behaved plants. Of course, the tiny seed which grows to be a huge shrub is part of the parable, but I think it’s significant that the plant which Jesus chose to represent the kingdom of Gods is not neat and orderly, it’s a little unruly and unpredictable. Oh yes, and one other thing: it’s hospitable. It provides safety and shelter for those who are vulnerable. Birds can’t stay in the air all the time -- they need a place on the ground which provides protection and is a safe place to build their nests and raise their young. The mustard shrub doesn’t choose which birds are welcome and which aren’t: it is a refuge for whatever birds need a shelter.

These parables may highlight different things about the kingdom of God--that God’s word should be broadcast; that the Son of Man is righteous and we are called to righteousness, that the kingdom of heaven is sprawling and welcoming -- but each of these stories gives us an opportunity to learn about God in the ordinary things which are part of our daily lives: sowing and growing, wheat and weeds, seeds and shrubs. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how we are like the kingdom of heaven in the ways we share the Word of God, grow in our faith, and welcome others. May the word of God grow in the soil of our lives to produce a harvest of righteousness. Let anyone with ears, hear! Amen.

 

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