the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 16 Canon Jim Irvine
 ...for in gathering the weeds
you would uproot the wheat along with them


The servants asked, ‘…do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest…’

Matthew 13.28ff. NRSV


As much as I enjoy hearing a good joke, some jokes are funnier than others. And some jokes are not funny at all. Like any good story, the success of a joke relies on the skill of the person telling the joke, as well as on the insight of the person listening.

And I’ve noticed that a joke explained garners no laughter at all.

The explanation somehow diminishes and limits the story. Definition gives it shape, but that shape limits the story and prevents new insight from discovery.

Jesus’ parables are a lot like that.

And today’s gospel is a good example.

It’s the familiar story of the wheat and the weeds.

While we know the story, I suspect that we know the explanation even better. So well, in fact, it may even have prevented us from hearing the story.

Since Jesus did not explain most of his parables, my suspicion is that his pattern was not to have explained them. At all. It seems odd that so many explanations would be forgotten and so few would be remembered by the evangelists. Written decades after the telling, there may well be more of Matthew’s pen than Jesus’ words in the explanation. The explanation is clear and represents the story in a way that is easy and quick to grasp. But it limits our perception of the story.

Seems clear enough: we’re the good seed. We’re the children of the Kingdom. We are not weeds. We are right, and the others, well, they are wrong. That’s it.

But such a self-serving interpretation reduces the story of the wheat and the weeds to being little more than a story about us. It side steps the central theme of Jesus’ teaching: the proclamation of the Kingdom.

The scene is easy enough to imagine: good seed, as well as bad seed germinate in a field and the suggestion is made to remove the weeds. Their removal would have to be done by hand since a scythe or sickle would cut down good healthy plants as well. Jesus observed that in pulling the weeds, "you would uproot the wheat along with them."

The wheat and the weeds would be allowed to grow together, until the harvest.

Neither judgement nor intervention would prevail.

Jesus’ laissez-faire approach is incredibly pastoral and reflects profound insight. Judgement and intervention, even in the Name of Righteousness, threatens the fragility of the plant more than the weeds whose roots are intertwined! There are good plants, and there are weeds. And the character of that life is fragile.

Like faith.

The fragility does not find translation in the explanation, a curious omission in light of Jesus’ telling of the parable to those who gathered around him.

As wheat, as weeds, we are present together in a Kingdom. As wheat, as weeds, we grow together in a Kingdom. And in a Kingdom we discover something of the nature of the King in his recognition of our vulnerability and fragility in the struggle for life.

That is good news: to learn of our acceptance without instilling fear, to begin to accept within ourselves a fragility of faith responding to ensured nurturing.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999