Sunday, July 23, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The appraisers carefully examined the old paintings. The colors, lines, brush strokes all looked like an official Rembrandt painting; they were fairly certain that it was. But there were discolorations around the edges that were not on the original paintings. They looked as if someone had actually tried to make it look old. Now, they were uncertain as to its authenticity. There were many imitations that looked like the originals and they couldn’t be sure. Further testing had to be done. So the owners of the paintings had to wait to find out the paintings true identity.
This is was an actual episode from the PBS series Antiques Road Show. From time to time, I have the opportunity to watch it and this particular episode really intrigued me. Even the expert appraisers Leigh and Leslie Keno, were stumped and couldn’t tell if the paintings in question were real authentic Rembrandt paintings. Sometimes, it’s hard for even an expert to tell a fake from the real thing.
The parable in Matthew’s gospel today brings up the same problem. Sometimes even an expert farmer can’t at first tell the good wheat from the weeds. It’s hard to believe isn’t it? There should be a way, even if just a small one, to distinguish between what is good and bad. When Jesus told this parable He may have had the wheat-like weed called darnel in mind. It looks just like wheat and the only way you can tell it’s not is when it begins to grow. The seeds tell the truth about the plant. Until then, they can grow together, side by side, and no one can tell the difference. And if you try to pull out these wheat-like imposters, you might pull out the good wheat. So you have to wait until they’re grown. Our parable today says it’s not worth the risk of potentially getting rid of some of the good wheat.
But waiting isn’t easy. Patience really is a virtue that’s hard to do sometimes. The enemy knows this. Jesus said in the parable the enemy sowed these weeds in the field when everyone was asleep. And upon discovering what has happened, worry can creep in very fast. What if these bad weeds choke out the good wheat? Surely something has to be done to stop this! It could get out of hand. Everything could be lost. The whole crop could be ruined. A farmer pays a lot of money for good seed and to have someone come in the middle of the night and sow seeds to destroy it all would make any farmer enraged. They would want revenge! They would demand justice! And most likely they would go all out to find the culprit and make them pay! The wheat cannot coexist with weeds! What kind of a crop is that?
I think most of us would be pretty angry too. We’d probably keep a close eye on the crop. And as soon as things started to look a little off, as soon as we noticed things changing, we’d get in there and try and get rid of those weeds. The truth is we probably wouldn’t wait. We’d get in there fast and try and get rid of those weeds, because after all, if we examined things close enough we could probably tell, right?
It happens every day. We think we know the people who are good and the ones who are bad. It’s easy to judge a person based on the way he or she looks. A person whose lifestyle and beliefs don’t match ours is written off as bad. Maybe they drink a little too much, or smoke, or have some other vice that we feel is wrong. Maybe they hold a different political belief. Or a person who doesn’t have a church affiliation is often judged.
And we look up to the doctors who treat patients every day, but we don’t see that some of them don’t treat people who have no insurance or are homeless with the same amount of care. Or the executive dressed nicely is often seen as a respectable hard worker with a great paying job. But what about the insider trading that might be going on? And a person who goes to church every week must be a good Christian, even though we may not know their harmful actions during the week may be shocking. You see, it isn’t so easy to tell the good from the bad.
We do this in our conversations too. Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen.” He had to remind us of this both in last week’s gospel lesson and this week’s because listening is something we don’t always do well. It’s easy to make judgments even in our conversations. We make judgments based on what we think is the reason someone did something, which can lead us to become angry and even volatile. If we take a moment to listen, we might find that the individual’s reason for doing something was done out of genuine care and compassion. Listening is important to understand one another, and to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions labeling someone or something weed or wheat. Listening is important to hear where God is speaking in the midst of our conversations.
And that’s the point of today’s parable. We are all weeds and wheat, sinners and saints. We all do things that are wrong. We all sin. And the evil happens while we are asleep, while we are oblivious to what is really going on. The seeds of evil and injustice are systemic and pervasive and they happen so often that it is a part of our culture and we aren’t even aware anymore of what is really happening. We watch the news and hear opinions instead of actual newscasts. They are slanted to skew what is really happening. The weeds of racism, violence, and greed are such a part of our culture, that we can’t even see the truth anymore. We look in magazines and watch television and the weeds of materialism and sexism are everywhere and we just blindly accept that this is the way life is and that we can’t do anything about it. So we avoid challenging those people and things that are harmful instead of speaking Jesus’ words of truth that demand justice and repentance.
The weeds are indeed trying to choke out the good wheat. But we are all weeds and we are all wheat. Like the words of cartoonist, Walt Kelly, who invented the comic strip Pogo many years ago, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” He said this in response to the environmental crisis back in 1970, and his words still ring true today. It’s easy to see the enemy in someone else. It’s harder to look in the mirror and see who we really are, and that the problem may be staring back at us.
Where is the good news then? Why did Jesus say to not do anything about getting rid of these bad weeds? Because He knew that we all have the potential to be weeds or wheat. We all have the potential to do good or bad. But Jesus came to redeem all of us, the whole crop! We aren’t the one’s responsible for judging. We aren’t the ones ultimately responsible for destroying evil. That is up to God. And God has already accomplished this through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We may suffer now, but as St Paul says in Romans 8, we wait with hope, with an eager expectation, knowing that God is with us and the final victory over evil belongs to God.
And knowing this, we are empowered to be a part of taking care of all people because Jesus said how we treat others is how we treat him. And we are responsible for holding one another accountable – not to change each other – but to treat each other with respect and compassion. We all have the potential to grow into healthy wheat. We can’t cut anyone down prematurely because not one of God’s children must be lost. What if St. Paul was destroyed early on in his life when he was killing Christians with a vengeance? He did everything he could to stop Christianity from spreading, but God took that weed and transformed him into one of the biggest witnesses for the sake of the gospel. If God can do that for Paul, God can do that for all of us. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to become what we were created to be. God can take the seeds sown by evil and transform them into agents of grace.
Look at the dandelion weed. People put pesticides on them and try to kill them, but are they really destructive weeds? Dandelions are potent healing herbs used for treating many ailments such as liver disease. They may appear harmful, but in reality they can save someone’s life. Things aren’t always as they appear to be. We have to look closer, listen more carefully, and see things through God’s eyes of love and not our own.
Leigh and Leslie Keno, the appraisers from Antiques Road Show, had to examine the paintings carefully in order to see if they were real Rembrandt paintings or just really good imitations. They looked real, but examining them closely they saw strange discolorations and markings they didn’t usually see in a Rembrandt. It now looked like they were looking at an imitation, but it’s a good thing they didn’t give up, because they were in fact, real authentic Rembrandt paintings worth a fortune. They had been stuck up in an attic and dismissed for a long time, but they didn’t give up on them. And God does not give up on us. God looks deeper and more carefully into our hearts than anyone else. God sees our potential and is willing to wait it out because it’s not worth any of us getting pulled up before we mature.
We are all weeds and wheat, sinners and saints, imitations and authentic masterpieces and God loves us all. It’s out of that great love that we are transformed by God’s amazing grace into authentic priceless beloved children of God. And we are transformed to be a blessing to others. Amen!