This Sermon was preached the Rev. Nancy Vogele on July 23, 2017, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel reading was Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat
The first summer I was in our house back in 2001, all I did in the garden was weed. Along one edge of the property there were these brambles. At first I ripped them up, but then I saw that they’d grow almost immediately back, within days. So I investigated further and realized that I was just ripping up the shoots and not touching the root. To get the root, I had to dig down two shovel depths and there I could feel this long root. So I put the shovel in a new place where I thought this root was continuing and dug down two shovel depths. It was there, too. I ended up loosening the dirt around the weed root all the way down the fence line. It became a game to see how much of the root system I could dig up in one piece. At one point, I had dug up a piece almost 10 feet long.
And despite my vigorous and thorough weeding, that bramble continued to come back for several years.
Now, there are two kinds of weeding I mainly do:
– The first is to dig up the invasive plants than come in via my neighbor’s yard. And the second is weeding crab grass. I spent an hour, yesterday, painstakingly weeding crab grass. If you just pull it up, you hear this ripping sound. That’s the sound of most of the roots staying in the soil and laughing at you. Why? Because the crab grass is just going to grow right back. You have to find a way to loosen up the soil in order to be able to remove as much of those roots as you can.
I bless the day I learned about this handy little tool called the Cape Cod Weeder. It is a wonder-weeder and every gardener I have given one to swears by it, too. It makes weeding so much easier and effective. Worth every penny I spent on it!
I looked up the definition of “weed” in the dictionary and I got: “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.”
That’s exactly what happened in this morning’s Gospel lesson. The slaves of the householder know someone sowed weeds in with the wheat and want to know if their master wants them to pull them up. They are, after all, competing with the wheat for the soil’s nutrients.
But the master says, no. “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” In other words, “Let ‘em be. Don’t do anything.”
Nothing?! Why on earth would you do nothing? Don’t you understand? The weeds are competing with the wheat. They’re choking the wheat. You have to do something.
But this wasn’t any old weed. This was darnel – a tenacious weed that looked just like wheat so you couldn’t tell them apart.
Over the years, especially in the beginning of my gardening, in my zeal to weed, I also pulled up many a sweet little plant, thinking – in my ignorance – that they were weeds. They weren’t. And I couldn’t undo what I had done.
Anyone else ever done that in your garden? Or in other areas of your life?
Moreover, as darnel grew, its roots completely intertwined with the root system of the wheat so that, even if you could somehow tell the difference between them, you couldn’t pull one up without pulling up the other. Fiendishly ingenious, isn’t it?
I have had weeds in my garden like that. It’s like a Sophie’s Choice: you want to dig up the weed but you run a very high risk of stressing the nice plant out so much that it, too, dies.
Again, sound familiar?
And so the owner wisely says, “Let them be. Do nothing for now for, in trying to be helpful, you may end up doing more harm than the enemy who planted the weeds in the first place. ” There will be time at the harvest to separate the weeds from the wheat – but that time has not yet come.
Do nothing…for you may end up doing more harm than good…
That is so hard because I want my garden to be weed free – now.
I want my life to be weed free.
I want to take on evil in our society and root it out.
But in your zeal to improve your garden (or your life or society), you may end up doing more harm than good…
Reminds me of the medical phrase, “First do no harm.” This phrase reminds the health care provider that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. “First do no harm” is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit (from a Wikipedia article on the phrase).
Given that problems are more complex than we first realize, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.
William Sloane Coffin asserted: “The worst thing we can do with a dilemma is to resolve it prematurely because we haven’t the courage to live with uncertainty.”
Yes, there are dilemmas that need addressing, there are things we need to work on in our lives, there is evil in this world, but can we humbly have some patience so that in wanting to do good, we don’t end up doing more harm?
A Presbyterian pastor wrote that this parable
“becomes a profound exposé of the nature of evil. More to Jesus’ point, it becomes a profound depiction of what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is like a carefully cultivated field of wheat, where one discovers that, alongside of that which is intended, there is a parallel reality of systemic imitation that threatens to undo it. And while one’s natural reaction is to “rid the world of evil,” the reality is that evil’s root system is so intertwined with the kingdom that the unintended consequences of such actions are devastating. In fact, one completes the enemy’s work by trying to separate the wheat and the weeds prematurely.
In the end, [he continues,] there is hope. The weeds do not destroy the wheat and the parable concludes with some of Matthew’s familiar [end time] imagery. The false kingdom is destroyed and the true kingdom is gathered in. But, until that time of utter clarity comes, the kingdom of God keeps its complex, intertwined relationship with the parallel imitative kingdom that the enemy has sown. (D. Mark Davis, Pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.)
Or as the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote almost 2500 years ago:
“Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?”
I am sad that there are weeds that got sown among the beautiful wheat. But that is the mystery of the kingdom. Every garden, no matter how vigilant the gardener, has some weeds. And, in my very vigilance, I have pulled out some beautiful little plants, much to my dismay, thinking that they were “just weeds.” They weren’t and I couldn’t undo what I had done. So I am more careful now. When in doubt, I let them grow and grow and grow until I am sure what they are. It’s more messy but I’ve saved some wonderful poppies and tomatillo plants and wild flowers and cosmos and many other “volunteers.” And you know what else I’ve discovered? When I stopped being so vigilant about ripping up what I thought were weeds, I was able to start delighting in my garden. It is beautiful – even with some weeds.
There is work to do – there always is…but there is much beauty, too. May we have the patience and compassion to wait for clarity, may we find the courage to live with uncertainty – not to avoid the work God has given us to do, but to make sure that when we do it, we accomplish the good God intends. Amen.