Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
It’s tempting to see the world as divided into two camps. Mark Twain once said, “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” Amen to that. A man named James Thorpe said – “The world is divided into two types of people: those who love to talk, and those who have to listen.” My apologies to those of you in the pews. Dear Abby also weighed in. She said: “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ – and those who say, ‘Here I am!’ ” Other’s see the world as divided into “Givers” and “Takers”, the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” Still more see us divided into the “Good” and the “Bad”; “Conservative and Liberal”; “Winners” and “Losers”; “Weeds” or “Wheat”; And finally, we have Robert Benchley’s Law of Distinction, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t. (opening idea taken from Delmar Chilton, The Lectionary Lab)
Having spent my life steeped in the tradition of The Episcopal Church, I am firmly rooted in the latter. Episcopalians, you see, are more inclined to see the world in various shades of gray rather than a stark black or white. It’s how we roll. However, this distinctive way of approaching theology can make readings such as today’s parable of the Weeds and the Wheat challenging.
Challenging—unless you can begin to see the weeds and the wheat—not so much as two separate categories of people; but as two elements, within the same person, struggling for control. In other words, as children of God, good seed has been sown in our spirit; however, like it or not, we also possess what I like to refer to as “weedy” tendencies. On this particular theory, I have the Bible to back me up.
Let’s look at the Old Testament lesson for today. You may remember Jacob. Just last week he was busy bilking his brother Esau out of his inheritance for a measly bowl of stew. This week—behold--he is a man of vision. Jacob is the Father of twelve sons, who will, in time, become the twelve tribes of Israel”. All of this is true. This also is true. If Jacob came to my home for dinner, I’d be tempted to count the silver after he left. Jacob is neither a saint nor a complete sinner. He defies classification as either Weed or Wheat. He is both. This is one reason I am such a fan of the Bible. The forefathers and foremothers of our faith are not one-dimensional characters. The Bible wasn’t written by a publicist, making an attempt to put forth an individual’s best side for posterity—what we see, instead, are individuals who are multi-faceted. They are just as inclined to fail as they are to succeed. There’s Moses, a murderer; yet also one of the greatest prophets of our faith who led the Hebrew people through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness. There’s Joseph, a braggart who is also an interpreter of dreams; Peter, the “rock” of our faith, who denies Christ in the moment of decision; thereby racking up for himself one of the most spectacular failures in all of Holy Writ. There is David, a man after God’s own heart, yet an adulterer. Yet, they hold this in common—each are beloved by God.
Understanding that we hold within ourselves both weedy and productive plant-like tendencies is important. It’s particularly important for us, because the world in which we live is becoming more profoundly bi-polar. We are divided into camps which are becoming ever more extreme in their positions. From politics to matters of faith, the points on which we are able to converge seem to be shrinking at an increasingly alarming rate. This is why people of faith need to be assertive in challenging the perception that people fall into one of two categories: “Weed” or “Wheat”. In truth, we, who are made in the image of the Divine, are far more complex than a simplistic assertion of a two-category perception of humanity. And I suggest to you—if we are courageous enough to challenge our polarized culture as it relates to matters of faith, odds are good that it will transfer to a shift in our, fragmented society as well.
Look again at the Gospel lesson for today. Here we are told that there is a farmer who sows good seed in his field. Alas, an enemy comes in the night and sows weeds among the wheat. The servants approach the farmer and suggest what seems to be a reasonable solution—intensive weeding. The farmer, however, is having none of it. The wheat, you see, is so precious in the eyes of the farmer, that none of it will be lost. The weeds and the wheat will simply grow together until the time of threshing. The hope, of course, is that the good wheat will overcome the weeds.
Think of it this way: It just might be that a person’s soul resembles the rankest garden outside of Eden. Even so, God continues to hold out hope for the wheat. And what’s more—the Gospel tells us that there’s no doubt that wheat is there. What it comes down to is a matter of what we, as people of God, choose to cultivate. Are you going to nourish the wheat in your spirit—or are you going to feed the weed?
This morning, we have before us the joyful task of baptizing Taegan Horan and ushering her into the family of God. Think of Taegan as a newly cultivated field. In her spirit, as in our own, God has sown seeds of righteousness. There is great hope for this child and the possibility of a wonderful harvest of the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yet Taegan, like ourselves, must also learn to deal with the weeds. In the portion of our service referred to as the “Examination of the Candidate for Holy Baptism”, those who love Taegan most are asked to renounce (on her behalf) “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God:; “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God”; and “all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.” Here’s the thing about evil and a life of faith (or, “weeds” and “wheat”, if you prefer). When we turn to Jesus….when we place our trust in our Savior’s grace and love…when we follow and obey him as our Lord—evil doesn’t stand a chance. If taught to recognize evil when we see it, if given the confidence to place our trust in God’s goodness to overcome what is wrong in the world, and if strengthened to bear witness to the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, we are assured that a good harvest will be had—not simply for ourselves (or even just for Taegan), but for a world hungering for grace, blessing and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.