Pentecost 6, 20 July 2014
Matthew 13 INI
Last week we looked at one of Jesus’ stories and found that you’ve got to spot the weird thing in it. So it is again today. Some jerk’s vandalized the farmer’s field. It’s full of weeds. At first we think the workers are right: get those things out. A couple weeks ago my garden dried out enough that I could pull the weeds. It was such a relief – not just for me, but for the plants. Those weeds do compete with the good plants and the plants get beat up. My tomatoes looked pretty puny for this time of year, partly because the grass and other junk looked so robust.
But the farmer says No, let them alone. What? Well, he’s right, you can pull up the good plants when you pull the weeds. Not only are the roots all mixed together, but the type of weed involved here looks a lot like wheat in the early going. You still wonder, of course, if the weeds will choke out the wheat entirely and leave you with nothing but a prairie restoration project instead of a crop.
But here again Jesus says, Relax. There will be a harvest. Don’t worry, trust the seed. Trust the plants. Trust the Good Lord not to let the crop fail. Ignore those weeds. Even though it drives you nuts. And it will drive us nuts. When you’re a farmer your life depends on your crops. But we too have our sources of deep anxiety that can drive us nuts. We worry about the economy, and crime, and public safety. We worry about our culture and values. We worry about our children. And when we worry, we tend to focus on particular sources of danger and try to get rid of them. We want to get rid of those weeds. And the more we worry about them, the greater the danger that we will also damage the wheat.
Jesus saw that back then too, and worried about how judgmental people were, and how much they hated outsiders. He must appreciate that story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about the doctor who married an absolute knockout of a wife. She was beautiful in every way that it was possible for a person to be beautiful. The only thing that wasn’t perfect about her was a mole she had. So, being a doctor, he decided to make her perfect by surgically removing that mole.
Well, moles have roots. They go in a way, and this rascal had pretty deep ones. He followed it and followed it without knowing that the mole was in fact connected to her heart – as all our imperfections are, aren’t they? In the end he got the mole, but stopped her heart and killed her.
Hawthorne saw that deadly perfectionism in the Puritan culture that he grew up in. Jesus saw it also in the legalism of his day. In our world I’m guessing we don’t see it as much in moral perfectionism as performance perfectionism. We live in an aggressively competitive culture. It’s all about winning, excelling and being ever more successful and productive. Your value as a human being depends on your numbers and your useful-ness. That is how people get used and worn out.
But it can also produce the opposite result as a reaction. Certain people just stop caring. They decide to blow up the standards. But perhaps it is not really because they are worthless weeds that we would love to get rid of. Perhaps the hypercompetitive environment merely makes them feel like losers. And if that is what I am, that is what I will be. And flaunt it. Right in your face. Oh, and by the way, I will blow up the whole system that tells me that I am a loser, a weed in the field. That helps explain some class clowns. It helps explain some kids who feel power the most when it is the power to drive their parents crazy. It helps explain why
some kids who get bullied a lot end up taking revenge.
We see this even more terribly on a global scale. The world is full of people who think that the main thing wrong with the world is somebody else, and if we could only get those weeds pulled out of the field the world would be beautiful. Some Israelis and Palestinians feel that way about each other. Some Muslims and Christians feel that way about each other. Our politics have fallen into this same kind of mutual hostility, contempt and distrust. Our immigration policy struggles under some of this kind of thinking. The trouble is, the more you are exposed to that type of anger and hostility from the other side the easier it becomes to get dragged into feeling the same way. In fact, the more we fixate on our enemies, the more we tend to become like them. And why not? We become whatever we pay attention to.
The end, of course, is scapegoat thinking. Every problem out there is caused by some person, so let’s find out who the guilty one is and lock him up, beat him up, control him somehow or even kill him. These weeds are the greatest threat to our survival, so let’s get rid of them. Clean up the field, make it pure and wholesome.
Jesus is warning us that this kind of thinking ruins the world. Our hatred of the weeds makes us enemies of life. He is not calling on us to pretend the weeds are not a problem – they are, and God will deal with them in the end. But we are called to do all we can to strengthen healthy life, to live in the joy, peace and purpose of the children of God, to care for the earth and its people, to be thankful; to heal and drive out demons, and let the world know that God dearly loves it.
Well, we know that his message did not get a resounding welcome back
then. There were numbers of people who considered him a dangerous hippy. We will continue to pull those weeds, they said. And his answer was, Well, I can’t stop you. But look. Consider me one of the weeds then. And they did. And not only did they pull him right out of their field: they threw that dangerous weed Jesus right on the manure pile called Calvary.
And ironically, that’s where he did us no end of good.