Because of the COVID-19 pandemic I’m spending a lot more time in my garden these days. Gardening is not exactly my thing, but there’s not a lot else to do, so why not? Every day I patrol my flower beds for weeds. Every day I pull weeds. Every day there seem to be more friggin’ weeds! They never stop. In the parable for the Gospel lesson for Pentecost 7 (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus uses weeds as a metaphor for “children of the evil one” (v. 38). It seems that the devil’s spawn are always popping up side-by-side with the children of the Kingdom. You just can’t get away from the weeds. Ever.
I read this tale Jesus tells as a reminder that we won’t be able to get away from the causes of sin while we’re hanging out on this side of eternity. Sin is with us like weeds. That’s why, if you’ve ever wondered, Lutherans baptize babies. You might think that an adorable three-month-old couldn’t possibly need to be washed of her/his sins; nevertheless, anyone born on this rock is going to need a good dose of God’s Weed Be Gone. That kiddo may look innocent, but just wait ‘til she/he hits age thirteen..! It’s like this: if you’re born on the beach, you’re going to get sandy. If you’re born on planet earth, you’re going to be sinful. There’s no getting around it.
The problem I have with this parable is it’s too easy to read it as an us versus them kind of thing. Yeah, we know we’re the children of the Kingdom. We go to church, we have “correct doctrine,” and we haven’t been jailed for any felonies lately. That makes us good folks, right? Those other people, however, are rotten, law-breaking, atheist dirtballs, and God’s going to see that they roast like Thanksgiving turkeys in eternal flames at the end of time. The question, of course, is how can we really tell them from us?
I mean, I know a whole bunch of people with whom I rather violently disagree. I think their politics or their ideas about Jesus are totally wrong-headed, and they get me just spitting mad whenever I even think about them. I hear on the news about atrocities committed by criminals or by acts of war, or even by police officers, and I want to call down the fires of damnation on the perpetrators of such acts. Unfortunately, I don’t get the luxury of condemning them to everlasting perdition. Truth be told, I don’t even know the whole story. When I think about it, some of the biggest jerks I know, once I got past initial disgust, turned out to be pretty okay people in many aspects of their lives. I’m pretty sure they probably thought exactly the same way about me.
So. What if “children of the Kingdom” or “children of the evil one” isn’t referring to individual people? In verse 41 Jesus says that at the end of the age the causes of sin will be collected and burned. What if these “children” are causes or spirits? Something to think about, maybe. Luther believed that everyone is made up of both “wheat” and “weeds.”[i] We can’t seem to separate the two natures. The weeds of sin grow up inextricably entwined with our desire for virtue.
The parable of the wheat and weeds urges us to forbearance and proclaims God’s patient mercy. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty darn glad God has been so patient with me. C.S. Lewis opined that everyone loves at least one person whose sins are utterly disturbing. That person is yourself. You know the weeds are growing inside you. You know that you’ve done or said things which you now deeply regret. But you also know that your heart is really in the right place, and you really want to do what is right and pleasing to God. Maybe if you can find love for a sinner like yourself, you can find it for other sinners, too.
I think there’s real good news here. It’s not just that bad folks get punished and good folks get rewarded. Forget that noise, because we don’t get to decide who is good or who is bad. The good news is that, at the close of the age, God will remove from us all causes of sin. All our weeds will be uprooted and we will be the good seed God intended us to be. Living in that hope and expectation can change our hearts, fill us with awe and gratitude, heal our relationships, an bring us peace in this world and the one to come.
God bless you, you perfectly imperfect one-day-to-be spotless garden of a saint! Please drop by again!
PS-For a video version of this post, click here.
[i] Simul justus et peccator is the Latin phrase most associated with Martin Luther. It means “at the same time justified and sinner.”