The parable in our gospel lesson today is a story about weeds – actually, one weed in particular, called the darnel. The darnel is a nasty weed, wrapping its roots around the roots of good wheat, totally indistinguishable from wheat until producing seed, and life-threatening if allowed to mix in with wheat once harvested.[i] Jesus tells the disciples that this menacing, evil, life-threatening weed is metaphorically planted in the field of the world. These evil weeds are planted, growing, and thriving side-by-side with the nutritious, filling, wholesome wheat, intimately intertwined, impossible to separate without destruction to both. And this, Jesus tells the disciples, is our world. In one short parable, we have the reality of the enemy or devil, the problem of evil in our lives, and an accounting or judgment at the end of life. Happy Sunday, huh?
In order to find some hint of grace in this parable, we first have to explore the bad news. The bad news in this parable is like a funnel of evil, which starts out with a wide, removed description of evil, and as the funnel narrows, the evil comes closer and closer to home. At the wide mouth of the funnel, we find the evil of the world. We see evil in the world everyday – as people are kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. We see evil as people are denied basic human rights, work in sweatshops, and are forced to flee from their lands. We see evil as people live without shelter, food, or medicines. And although we recognize the outcomes of evil, we get uncomfortable identifying “evil” because we hope for some hint of goodness in everyone and, secretly, we know that we too sometimes participate in the world’s evils.
Our funnel narrows as the master’s field becomes defined as not only the world, but also our church community. Here is where the notion of “evil” weeds becomes even more uncomfortable. Jesus experienced evil in the midst of his community, as individuals constantly sought to kill him. The early Church also experienced evil in the Church’s midst. And the evil within the Church is still with us today. There is no perfect church. I love this parish and the beautiful ways we care for and love one another – but I cannot claim that we are perfectly good. In fact, each us has at some point been like that nasty weed, capable of choking the nutrients and life-giving water out of true goodness among us – a reality that makes us uncomfortable, both with the idea of judging each other, and with the potential of being exposed ourselves.
Then comes the tightest, most compressed area of the funnel – the spout through which evil finally flows. The field in which evil is planted is also the field of ourselves. Paul articulated this evil in his letter to the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”[ii] Paul’s words perfectly capture the inner turmoil of being human. Imagining the weeds and the wheat growing up together in our own beings is not difficult. We are constantly an intertwined field of great deeds and hurtful wrongs. We pray that the good seed will yield fruit and the weeds will eventually be burned, but we know both weed and wheat are inside of us. And so, the funnel shows us that evil is in our world among us, in our faith community beside us, and in our very beings.
The grace is that the funnel also works in reverse. Grace spews out of the same funnel. When the servants ask the master about whether they should go ahead and pull out the weeds, the master tells them to wait, letting the two grow side by side, entangled and indistinguishable. This waiting time is the grace for our own selves. Recognizing that both good and evil are in ourselves, God gives us time: time to continue to nurture the good; time to avoid killing the good in our efforts to kill the evil in ourselves; and time to allow God’s grace to work in and through us, so that the goodness in us might be gathered into that barn. As God is patient with us, so we are to be patient with ourselves.
The same grace moves out of the funnel, out of ourselves, and into our Church. God gives us time as a faith community too. The gift of time gives us the opportunity to live into God’s grace – witnessing goodness to one another, so that the evil among us might be overwhelmed and eventually discarded. The gift of time for the Church also allows us to make amends for those times when we are the agents of evil in the church, confessing our faults weekly, repenting and returning to goodness. The gift of time for the church allows us to learn and grow in God’s goodness, to marvel in the mystery of God’s grace, and to prayerfully lift up the Church to God. God is patient with the Church just as God is patient with each of us.
Finally, the funnel of goodness spills over into the world through the gift of time. The gift of time allows us to work on spreading goodness in the world. We have time to give one more meal to a hungry person, to comfort one more grieving person, to advocate one more time for a just society. And we realize in this gift of time that we are not responsible for sorting out the weeds and the wheat. God will do that. We can only work to cultivate goodness in our lives, in our community, and in the world – and the rest is in God’s hands.
When we realize that each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed, of holy and unholy, of potentially fruitful and potentially destructive, we can then turn away from God’s work of judging, and turn toward our work of attending to that which increases the potential for holiness.[iii] In other words, the grace for us in this parable is that we can leave the judgment to God, and do our work of promoting goodness in ourselves, in our community, and in the world. This is our work. Let anyone with ears listen!
[i] Talitha J. Arnold, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 260.
[ii] Romans 7.19
[iii] Gary Peluso-Verdend, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 264.