The Good, Bad, and the In-Between

Unity Lutheran Church
19 July 2020 + Lectionary 16A
Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

Another Sunday, another gospel text about gardening … which means it’s time for everyone’s new favorite game … “Flower or Weed?”!

[slides of weeds that look like flowers …
and flowers that look like weeds]

It just goes to show you: Things are not always as they appear.

We have a tendency to want to label people and things, don’t we? To put them in neat categories … as this thing OR that … weed OR flower … good OR bad … as though things can only be one or the other, with no space for the “in-between.”

But Jesus seems to push back against that kind of thinking in this parable. The servants are quick to identify the weeds among the wheat … but the householder urges patience. Wait … don’t uproot them just yet

Matthew’s gospel is an anxious gospel. Alongside the parable of the wedding banquet where those who are invited don’t show up and those who aren’t invited are pulled in from the streets, and the parable of the ten bridesmaids where half brought enough oil for their lamps and the others didn’t, this parable takes its place in a gospel filled with wonderings about who does and doesn’t belong. Such parables speak to a divided community with a very real anxiety over who the “true” followers of Jesus are.

Who belongs, who doesn’t … who’s in, who’s out … divided communities … Matthew’s gospel feels acutely relevant, doesn’t it?

We like to know where we stand. Our human tendency to compete seems to drive this desire, not just to label, but to know we’re somehow different or better than another group: “Well, we’re not those kinds of Christians … We vote with the right party … We believe the right things.”

We want to know who belongs where and, by extension, who doesn’t belong. And in our rush to uproot what and whom we think don’t belong, we end up doing more harm than good to everyone in the process.

What happens when we divide ourselves? We become more deeply entrenched. There is less common ground, a larger gap between “us” and “them,” between our side and their side. And it’s harder to reach across differences and to have real and meaningful dialogue with each other.

In this parable, the servants are quick to identify the weeds and the wheat. But I wonder: Who gets to decide what the weeds and the wheat are? I’ll bet that answer would change depending on who gets asked. Would anyone willingly and readily identify themselves with the weeds?

Not to say that there aren’t “weeds” in the mix at all. We have only to turn on the news to realize evil pervades our daily reality.

This parable doesn’t deny the reality of evil. There is judgment here, to be sure. Instead, this parable calls us to examine the weeds among the wheat, not distinct from each other, as though they can be easily separated. It’s our human nature. Simultaneously weed and wheat, saint and sinner. None of us is perfect. None of us gets it perfectly right all the time.

Then notice how the weeds show up … “while everybody was asleep.”

As our world grapples with the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and other acts of violence against people of color, I’ve noticed a pattern: There’s always protests. And then, after time, there’s always a lull. Most of us go back to sleep … until the next incident of blatant racism…

But the reality of racism never goes away, least of all for people of color. What will it take to wake us up … and keep us awake? What will it take to uproot the evil weeds of racism and white supremacy from our midst?

And what of judgment? For the weeds, the parable ultimately ends with fire. But what does fire do? It refines. Very rarely does any real change come about without a great deal of kicking and screaming. Or to put it in Matthew’s terms, weeping and gnashing of teeth. The work of anti-racism is hard, and it’s uncomfortable, but, dear church, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable … for the sake of our partners, for the sake of our neighbors of color, for the sake of our hurting world.

It’s not going to be easy. But it is necessary work … the work of the kingdom of heaven, building God’s reign on earth, the way of living together as the beloved community, as God yearns for us to experience.

This parable gives us a place to start:

Wait. Don’t be so quick to judge or label.
Slow down, and pause.
Lean in, and listen. (We don’t always have to be the ones talking!)
Leave room for the in-between spaces.
Be open to grace.
Be open to change and being changed.

We might just be surprised by the encounters and the experiences we’ll have. Glimpses of the kingdom of God, as we pray, on earth as it is in heaven.

Photo by Jan Ledermann on Unsplash

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