Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
7th Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 16
It’s been called the mile-a-minute vine, and other things that I cannot say in church. Yes, I am talking about Kudzu, the vine that ate the South. It came to the United States through the Japanese government, which had constructed a beautiful plant exhibit for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and this vine captured the attention of American gardeners. We can thank our government for the plethora of Kudzu. During the depression of the 1930’s, hundreds of workers for the Soil Conservation Service planted kudzu for the purpose of erosion control. And it grew. And it grew. And it grew. While the Japanese brought Kudzu to our country, they left its natural enemy at home. In 1972, the USDA declared kudzu to be a weed. Herbicides have actually been found to help it grow. Our only hope is goats. Goats find Kudzu as delicious as a hot fudge Sundae made with coffee ice cream, topped with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.
Jesus taught us that wise people build their house on a solid foundation, and foolish ones build it on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus was a much better construction engineer than he was a master gardener. “Keep the weeds!” Jesus says in our parable this morning. Keep the weeds?
Just as there are only two kinds of engineers, civil and uncivil, there seems to be only two kinds of people, wheat or weeds. To the overzealous weeders, Jesus says leave the weeds alone! I will take care of them! Jesus says the weeds will be collected, and they will be thrown in the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our sense of justice gets great satisfaction out of hearing this. We love to think that our enemies will get their due in the end. An eye for an eye, after all. Don’t you just love eschatological vengeance?
Those pesky weeds! Maybe Jesus’ parable makes us feel good, not just because “they will get theirs in the end,” but also because we think of ourselves as wheat. Or maybe this parable scares us to death because we think we are the weeds. Wheat or weeds, – sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. You know, while some see Kudzu as an uncontrollable menace, others find the good in it. A woman named Nancy Basket makes paper from Kudzu, and then turns the paper into beautiful works of art. Diane Hoots’ company manufactures delicious Kudzu blossom jelly and syrup. Henry Edwards makes Kudzu hay when the sun shines. Regina Hines has discovered that Kudzu’s rubber-like vines can be woven into unique and functional baskets. Medical researchers are working with a drug extracted from the kudzu root which may help in the treatment of alcoholism.
I read this parable of the wheat and the tares, which seems to say that there are good people, and there are evil people, and the evil people will be thrown into the furnace, and I cannot help but wonder, was Jesus just having an off day when he told this story? Or maybe there is another way to look at weeds among the wheat. Wheat or weeds? There is good and bad in everyone. We are, as Luther frames it, simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously both sinner and saint.
Think about Peter, Jesus’ disciple, the one to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” [Matthew 16.23]. And yet the one whom Jesus called Satan and a stumbling block, he also called the rock, the one who would be foundational for building the church. Then there’s Judas. Jesus washed his feet knowing Judas would betray him with a kiss. There is Paul, who used to be known as Saul – the Jew who persecuted Christians. God used him to further God’s church. The same Paul who declares in his letter to the Romans, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” [7.15], is the same Paul who planted churches across the Mediterranean world the way Johnny Appleseed planted trees.
Weeds are not that cut and dry, pardon the pun. Weeds can be useful in ways we do not understand. We live among both wheat and weeds, but both wheat and weeds also live in us. God knows this about us, ever since Adam and Eve and the whole naked missing apple incident. There will always be weeds in the wheat field.
God never promised us that we would become so good or so wise that that weeds would find somewhere else to grow instead of in and around us. Whether we like it or not, God made both wheat and weeds, growing together in the field, and Jesus tells us, Live with it. Trust God to take care of it, in God’s time. Things happen in our world and in our lives that are beyond our power to prevent, and beyond our power to fix. But nothing is beyond God’s power. Through Christ’s life, his death, and his resurrection, God reaches his hand down into the muck and mire of our lives, forgives us, and purifies us, and makes us holy. What God does for us, God also does for our weedy neighbor. Through Christ, none of us is beyond God’s redemption.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin