In Matthew’s parables, we are offered different visions of God’s dream for humanity, but we struggle to hear what Jesus is revealing.
Proper 11A | Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The first time I knew that God was real, I was in seminary.
While some of you might think that’s crazy, I know some of you know what I’m talking about.
I was in one of my first Biblical studies classes at the beginning of that first semester and our professors are introducing the history and context and multiple authors and I had to fight back the tears because all the things I knew were true in my gut were confirmed. And standing in front of me were two of the most faithful human beings I have ever met and none of it fazed them.
With them, Scripture vibrated and came alive for me.
A later time, not the second, there were many times between the first and this one, God came alive again.
We were studying the Prophets and centering on Isaiah. And here it was, in the eye of a hurricane was this passage, this writer. We call her 2nd Isaiah. And she is a revolutionary.
Look at that second line:
I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
This prophet, writing in the midst of the Babylonian Exile, miles and miles from home is the first monotheist.
The Only God
We all know I’m a church nerd, so this might not geek you out as much as it does me, but this is how I have faith today and how I can stand up here this morning.
So the first incarnation of God was that our God was one god among many. Then God made a tribe and stuck with them. They didn’t deserve it. Really, it was a pretty bad idea given the fallout, but whatever. God was committed.
And then that God started to show how it was more powerful than the other gods and unique among the gods. God wasn’t just any other god or our people’s god, God was the bestest god of gods and Lord of lords: all-mighty.
And this prophet, despite all evidence to the contrary, because it sure looked like God had abandoned them and that the Babylonian gods had kicked their god’s butt, Isaiah has a revelation.
There are no other gods.
It isn’t that our god is the mightiest, it’s that there isn’t any other option. This god we now call God is it.
And this revelation comes to her in the midst of despair and anxiety. They’re living in a foreign land. The God who promised they could live at home forever has shipped them off to Babylon. The God who could only be worshipped through blood sacrifice in the temple…well that’s done. The Temple’s destroyed. They needed a new way to understand God.
And God was revealed in a new way.
We’re plagued with the same problem today. With our set understanding of God and the best way to worship her. Half of it set 1500 years ago, the other 500.
We get another example of this problem in Matthew.
If we flip back to chapter 12, we get a story which really sets up the problem we have with 13.
And that chapter begins with the disciples plucking the ears off of wheat on the Sabbath. They’re hungry and just picking food and the Pharisees come down hard on Jesus for this. Why? Because they classify this as harvesting. If they were peeling a banana, that wouldn’t count as working on the Sabbath, of course. But snapping the ear off a stalk as you walk through a field is harvesting.
Think about that charge for a second. Harvesting.
Maybe that’s what I should call it when my kids raid the fridge.
Then Jesus pokes the bear even more by healing on the Sabbath. Again, they seek to classify healing as work. Sort it into the work bin. Then they can sort Jesus into the heretic bin.
Our lesson from 13 about the wheat and the weeds is directly related to this moment. Because Jesus isn’t talking about any old weeds. These weeds may be darnel, a kind of ryegrass which is indecipherable from the wheat until they are fully grown. And that’s when they grow different ears. So Jesus’s image isn’t about leaving alone the easily discovered differences between us, but leaving all these plants alone which look exactly alike.
So this isn’t a parable about bamboo sprouting amid your tomato plants. These are plants whose difference is not known to you or me. Not to the Pharisees or the fishermen.
Because the only one who knows which ones are which is the farmer who planted them.
Until then the only way we can tell the difference is when they’ve grown ears.
Wheat, harvests, healing, Sabbath. It’s all in there so there’s a lot going on.
Wheat and Weeds Together
But this is where it gets really good.
We want this parable to be about how division is bad or else its up to God to sort us out at a time of tribulation, but it isn’t. Because the Jesus revealed throughout Matthew is constantly dividing the disciples from the pharisees, the crowds, and even their families.
So Jesus knows we’ll focus on the division here, even when we think we’re not supposed to. That’s why he has slaves ask a familiar question in the parable. The slaves wake up and come to the master confused.
Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?
They assume it must be the master’s fault that there are weeds. Who else could’ve done it?
They blame their master when bad things happen and then assume he’ll make them dig themselves out. But the master never says any of this. It’s all one big assumption.
So then what concern is it to them that there are weeds at all? Why does it matter? They’re assuming a whole lot about the situation.
And so do we. Assume about God and our neighbors. About right and wrong. Like the Pharisees, longing to sort each other in boxes long before God will get the chance.
And many of us will sort ourselves into the bad box. With the darnel to be burned. Because we don’t think we’re good enough. We’re not waiting around to let God have a say in that.
It’s time to change the script.
The question Jesus gives his disciples (including us) to wrestle with is how to find God when it isn’t clear. When the world would divide us and our faith would beg us to conform and worship in ways we can no longer. When we are exiled and lost and we can’t tell the wheat from the darnel — where is the truth? Who can I trust?
When all looks so broken, hopeless, and there can’t be a way out.
God comes in a new way, saying things even the most learned scholars would call heresy. God comes to us in love and mercy and to reveal something new about the Kin-dom.
A new thing, way, or pattern. A new vision of love or healing. God comes and shares that the Kin-dom divides us because the powerful fear it and the strong will fight it. And the angry will rage and rage against it. Because love is love without price. Given without division and across those boxes we put each other in.
A Kin-dom with a love currency and a sharing economy; a hopeful heart and merciful mind.
God will reveal the Kin-dom in little bite-sized pieces of love and atomic revelations which explode our hearts and expand our compassion.
Because that is what the Kin-dom is like. That’s who God is. The one god who reveals love is beyond our nature and our history and all the ways we divide ourselves. Who breaks the bonds and obliterates the boundaries so that we might be unbound. That we might live. That we all might live.