July 19, 2020, Who Is the Enemy and What Did He Sow? Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000207
In the time of Jesus there was a law on the Roman books dealing with the crime of sowing weeds in the wheat field of another person. It was a particularly nasty and effective bit of revenge or sabotage against an enemy, because the particular weed that was sown, darnel, was a particularly nasty weed. Darnel is a grass in the rye family, and it looks quite a bit like wheat. It grows up in the midst of the wheat crop, and its roots get all entwined with the roots of the wheat, as roots do. And when it produces a head of grain, the grains of the darnel look a lot like the grains of wheat – with one big difference. The grains of the darnel are poisonous.
If the farmer pulled up the young weeds in the field when he found the darnel growing there in his wheat, the wheat plants would be pulled up along with the darnel and the whole crop would be lost. But if the darnel and the wheat grew up together and the grain heads ripened and the farmer went out to cut and thresh the grain, the crop would be worse than lost, it would be deadly. The only other solution for the victim of this crime, as Jesus points out in his story, would be to let the wheat and the darnel grow up, side by side, and then, at harvest time, to carefully and painstakingly separate the stalks of the wheat from the stalks of darnel. Then the wheat could be threshed and gathered into the storehouses, and the darnel could be destroyed by fire so it wouldn’t cause any more trouble.
“The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said, “may be compared to…” this whole sequence of events, beginning with the Master, who goes out into his field and sows good seeds. Jesus takes us all the way back to Genesis chapter 1, when God created light and land and trees and birds and fish and elephants and ladybugs and that most complex creature of all, man. And it was ALL good. Man was a good creation, male and female, designed in the image of God to watch over the rest of the creation as God’s ordained caretakers. It was all very good.
And then it all went horribly wrong. In the parable, under cover of darkness, while everybody was asleep, an enemy crept into the field and sowed bad seed in with the good. And that, Jesus said, is the state of things in the kingdom right about now. The good creation has been sown with all kinds of useless and poisonous stuff: hatred and jealousy and lust and greed and selfishness and violence and pride. And the thing is, it’s not at all neat and tidy and separate so we can rip it out easily, because the roots of all that bad seed are deeply and tightly intertwined with our very selves, with our fears and insecurities, and our need for love, and our loneliness and our hurts and our pain and our deepest desires.
In the parable, the workers go to the Master all upset about the weeds in his field, and they want to do something about it in the worst way. “Just give us the word and we’ll go out and rip every single weed out by the roots!” they say. But the Master answers them, “Absolutely not! If you go out there now and rip out those weeds, you’ll end up tearing up the wheat as well. No, let them both grow together, until the time for harvest comes.”
Now, that impulse we humans have to run out there and rip up the weeds – especially the other guy’s weeds – that is called judgment. And the Biblical teaching on people judging people is pretty clear: Don’t do it. “Judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus said. “Why is it that you always see the speck in your brother’s eye, when you don’t notice that there’s a giant log in your own eye?” To put it in terms of this parable, “Why are you so eager to go out there and rip up the weeds growing around your brother and all the time you don’t even notice you are being strangled by a thicket of weeds yourself?”
“We will all have to give an account of ourselves to God,” Paul wrote. “So let’s not pass judgment on one another anymore, but rather let’s decide never to put a stumbling block or a hindrance in the way of a brother or sister.”
And James wrote simply this: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
As the Master in the parable said, “Let the plants grow, until the harvest time comes.”
The true state of things, as it stands now, is that we live in a very weedy world. We are living through the worst crisis of our generation. Over a half million people have died so far in the pandemic, with no end in sight. Millions have lost their jobs. Children can’t go to school; special needs children have lost services that are crucial to their well-being, and parents are left feeling helpless and frustrated. Domestic abuse and depression are on the rise because people are isolated and afraid. And on top of all that, racial tensions are at an all-time high. And the human reaction to all of this is to find somebody to blame. The political landscape right now is a bloody battlefield of accusations and finger-pointing and condemnation.
When we see evil in the world – and we see it all around us, every day – we want to know who is to blame. We divide into our camps: left against right, liberal against conservative, white against black, Christian against Muslim, Americans against the world. We want to know who is the wheat and who is the darnel and we are pretty sure we know which is which.
But hear what the Master told his servants when they came to him to tell him his crop had been sabotaged. “It is an enemy who has done this.” In the midst of the battle we have all too often forgotten who the real enemy is. Paul famously told us to put on the whole armor of God against the evil in the world. But he warned us: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It is the enemy who is the spoiler of this good Kingdom. And that enemy is not your neighbor. Our enemy is hatred and selfishness and greed and racism and violence and fear and a lust for power.
I have no idea whether any real live first-century farmer ever bothered to go to all the effort it would have required to rescue a crop when his field had been sabotaged like that, separating thousands and thousands of plants, stalk by stalk. But I seriously doubt it. It is unthinkable that any real farmer would have the time or the manpower to go to all that trouble. It is much more likely that his enemy’s act of revenge would have been very successful in ruining his crop for the year – which is why it was against the law. And that makes it all the more striking when Jesus describes the work of the angels at the final “harvest” of the world – that they will painstakingly gather out of the kingdom of God every obstacle and every cause of sin, everything that works against his law and his people. And then, it will be like Jesus said when he told his disciples to gather up the baskets of fragments that were left after he fed the 5,000 – nothing will be lost. No one will be lost.
Then we will all shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, Jesus said. Then we will be like little children after a good bath, scrubbed and brushed and dressed in our spotless and happy best. Then we will be perfect, as our Father is perfect.
But for the time being, we need to be aware that the enemy is busier than ever right now, sowing his seeds in this world. And we need to know that the enemy is not the Democrats or the Republicans or the Russians or the Chinese or black people or white people or any other child of God on this earth. The seeds of the enemy are growing, and the seeds of the enemy, just like darnel, are both clever and poisonous. And they are all about one thing – spoiling what God has planted in his Kingdom. The enemy’s seeds are all about dividing God’s children from one another. They are all about making us afraid of one another. They are all about causing us not to trust one another. They are all about choking out love.
Let us resist all condemnation and divisiveness and suspicion, all the ways we attack one another and accuse one another and separate ourselves from one another. Let us refrain from everything that tears apart the roots of our common humanity, and of our unity in Christ. “Love one another,” our Lord commanded us. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
It is by this that all people will know that we are his disciples, if we have love for one another.