When we hear Jesus’ parables about planting and harvesting, which he spoke about frequently throughout his ministry, we must note that Jesus used metaphor and stories with which, people of an agrarian society, would be familiar. In today’s gospel, we hear a well-known parable about a field that had both wheat and the weeds (sometimes called tares). Jesus explains that in this particular beautiful crop of wheat, unexpected, unwelcomed, and unhelpful weeds sprouted up alongside a life-sustaining grain.
Some scholars have asserted that the weeds Jesus mentioned in the parable could have been a plant called “Darnel” (Lolium temulentum), which is a ryegrass that looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth. Jesus taught that in this field an enemy sowed the darnel, and his intentions were mostly likely focused on ruining the crop. The field workers noticed the weeds were taking over and wanted to pull up the weeds. The wise landowner however, told them to wait until the weeds started to grow more and became distinguishable from the grain, and then they could weed the field, collect the darnel, and then burn it up.
Jesus explained later to his disciples that this parable, this metaphor was really nuancing how at “end of the age,” God’s will deal with righteous folks, with evildoers and with those things that cause sin. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear this parable, especially the part about that the landowner dividing wheat from weeds and then burns up the weeds I feel somewhat anxious, and here is why.
There are times when I think I act like a solid grain of righteous wheat, but there are other times when I am an unsullied grain of darnel rye grass weed. All of us can and are saint and sinner. All of us tend to be both wheat and weed. Life as a Christian is an unending cycle of ups and downs, of falling down and getting back up. None of us are perfect, and all of us fall short or miss the mark.
Sometimes, we go further and judge others. We desire to be the reapers of the field. We are like anxious field workers, who want to go out and do God’s job of reaping and sorting. We like to compare the sins of our sisters and brothers in our midst, and we try to determine who is the wheat and who are the weeds in the field.
The parable teaches us that sorting out the people in the field of life is not our job. The master of the house told the servants that he would send the reapers to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Yet sometimes, we in the church want to extricate the so-called weeds from our midst, burning them out of the community, in order that the we wheat grains might flourish. But what if, we truly are both wheat and weed.
That might be a little frightening when you think about that fiery furnace part of the parable. What happens to those weeds that are to be bundled up and thrown into the fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? Is Jesus saying that God will sort us out and burn up those who are not righteous? Is Jesus talking merely about some form of eternal punishment, or could there be an alternative explanation to this part of the parable?
Back in first century Palestine, when wheat was ripe for harvest, it was collected, ground up, made into dough, and then placed in brick ovens (furnaces), and baked into delicious bread; the sustenance of life. These ovens required fuel to burn and many times, it was darnel (rye grass) that was bound up and used as a fuel to keep the ovens lit. You see, when it comes to baking the sustaining, life-giving, food of life, it takes both wheat and weed.
Maybe another way to look at this parable is like this, “in God’s Kingdom, all of us have a purpose, and all of us participate in the work of God.” Nothing is wasted; not even weeds. Take a step back for a moment and consider the story that Jesus told, in this way. Jesus taught us about life in God’s Kingdom. Jesus attempted to help us understand the community system of interaction of everyday things like a wheat field. Jesus taught us about community, about how we as groups of people live life in community.
The purpose of a wheat field is to provide the raw materials to create an end product, which is bread or the fuel of life. It takes wheat to make edible dough, and it takes weeds to create the fire that bakes the bread. Also, the garden system requires the work of planters, tenders of the crop, reapers, and bakers. You know what, community is like that. Church is a variety of folks who are all at different stages of spiritual growth, with assorted gifts, with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and purposes to make a community of faith. Church is a group of people who at some times struggle through life as fine wheat and at other times, wrestles through each day as weeds. We are both sinners and saints.
Some of us would like to believe we are walking an unblemished, high quality faith journey with no sin and no problems. Folks, that’s just not reality for we frail and fallible humans. We all miss the mark, we all are both weeds and wheat, Saint and Sinner, and that I believe, is the beauty of living under God’s reign in the Body of Christ. God is the reaper of the field and the judge, but that is not something to fear, but something with which, to find comfort. God is the God of grace. God’s nature is as lover of creation, sustainer of life, and redeemer of the broken. We can be assured that God’s grace and purpose will be worked in and through all of us, both wheat and weed alike. Remember, God promises us that he makes all things new.
In Christ, we are a new people, we are city on a hill, and we are a light that cannot be hidden under a bushel basket. We are fed, taught, and brought together, so that we can go out and become a beacon of sustenance for the world. We are a mixed bushel basket of wheat and weeds, but by God’s grace, we live together and transform beautifully into a life-giving community of love. The Church is a community that goes into the world and proclaims the Good News of God in Christ, even in the midst of our brokenness. That’s us, the church, God’s “field of dreams” – weeds, wheat, and all.