There's a great scene in the 1939 Ernst Lubisch comedy Ninotchka. Greta Garbo plays a Soviet envoy who has come to Paris on a diplomatic mission. The dour bureaucrat is greeted by three fellow communists at the train station who ask her, “What is the news from home, Comrade?” Garbo, with a brilliantly dead-pan comic delivery, responds, “Wonderful news, Comrades. The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Of course, the audience in 1939 understood this line as a darkly humorous jab at the violence of the USSR under Joseph Stalin. The dictator's recent “purges” had led to the execution or incarceration of countless Soviet citizens on the grounds that they did not adhere to the purity of Communist Party doctrine.
But is there ever anything really “pure” in this sinful world? The history of the Christian Church might be just as notorious as Stalin for trying to “pull the weeds.” Whether it was the Holy Inquisition or the mass defection from the ELCA following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, we Christians have usually done ourselves more harm than good when we've tried to separate the evil from the good.
Jesus' parable of the “Wheat and the Weeds” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), which serves as our Gospel lesson for the Sixth Sunday of Pentecost, must have been quite a shocker to the early church. It's pretty much accepted that Matthew's community was living under persecution. When the heat was on, some of those first Christians sucked it up, stood firm, and suffered the consequences of being part of an outlaw religion in the first century of the Common Era. Others may have equivocated a bit. I wouldn't doubt that the ones who suffered were pretty disappointed with the ones who chickened out. Nevertheless, the parable taught them that it was not their place to judge who did or did not belong to Christ's church. It's not our place, either.
I'd like to point out that, in my research, I noticed the smart old boys of the Jesus Seminar (those clever professors who are always trying to figure out which sayings in the gospels are legitimately the words of Jesus and which were added by the evangelists) don't believe that Jesus really gave the disciples the allegorical interpretation of this parable found in verses 36-43. They suggest that this explanation may have been added later to address the situation in Matthew's community since it doesn't appear anywhere else in the gospels. Okay. I'm cool with that. I think Matthew's interpretation is just as valid as any other. Basically, he's telling us that Jesus says it's not up to us—puny, myopic, mortals—to declare who or what is good or evil in this world. Such an explanation opens the parable up to a whole bunch of new allegorical situations.
Think about it: Can you “weed out” the good and evil times in your life? Would you really want to? When you consider all the crap you've been through, didn't it make you a wiser, more mature, and stronger human being? If you could avoid all of the hard times, difficult relationships, tough choices, and suffering—would you really be living? Wouldn't you be pulling the wheat out with the weeds?
Or think about the people God has placed in your life. I consider my own parents. To be honest, my “Greatest Generation” folks had a few flaws. Chiefly—and how shall I put this?—their views on race, particularly as pertaining to African Americans, were somewhat less enlightened than I would wish them to have been. Nevertheless, these were the people who took me to church, taught me the gospel, and raised me to be a responsible adult. I can't discount them in totality because of their deeply flawed opinions in one area—however wrong these opinions certainly were.
Sometimes, we just have to let the weeds grow with the wheat. We can't condemn an entire life because of a weak moment. We can't lock our hearts away because we fear being scorned or abused. We can't give up on the faith because some ignorant and arrogant people have called themselves Christians. It is a very lucky and merciful thing to realize that we are not called to be the gardeners of our own lives.
God bless you, my fellow weedy sinners. Thanks for dropping by!