"Living Together," Pastor Kinsey
Everywhere I drove in Iowa last week, on my vacation to a family wedding in Iowa City, I passed fields of corn. Beautiful, healthy looking corn, already quite mature and tall. The wedding took place a few miles outside of town in the bride’s home parish of “St Peter’s Catholic Church,” literally in the middle of acres and acres of corn! A new community center across the street had a beautiful view of the rolling hills of corn as we watched the sunset on Friday night.
Iowa is the corn capital of the US – followed closely by Illinois, of course. Part of the reason the corn I saw looks so healthy is, there are no weeds. No enemy of corn is able to take hold, because 93% of Iowa corn is GMO, genetically modified. You buy the seed from the corporation who match it with their own certified pesticide, and who spray it on your crops as it grows, and like magic, no weeds, no critters, will come near. Perfect crop every time!
And what about the 7% of Iowa farmers that don’t go the GMO route? Most are organic farmers. Organic farming recognizes that the plants, and weeds, grow together. And that weeds aren’t necessarily all bad. In fact, sometimes what we call weeds, used to be food, depending on what time, or what part of the world you live in. For example, what we call pigweed is known as amaranth in Asia, South America and the Caribbean, and is a nutritious and tender salad, a beloved soup, or a tasty sauté.
Which raises up the question, “What is a weed?” A standard definition is, that it’s a plant in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” For example, a soybean plant in a soybean field, is a crop, but a soybean plant in a cornfield, that’s a weed! So, in many situations, the so-called weeds are actually doing a lot of good. Weeds often have two or three times the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium as domesticated plants. This means they make good fertilizer when they break down. You just have to make sure you cut them down before they go to seed – which is a pretty labor intensive way to farm. (cf. www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-07/when-weed-weed)
And, if I read it right, this means that modern farming is not an equivalent to Jesus’ allegory of the wheat and the weeds – either GMO farming, or organic. The first one, doesn’t ever have to confront weeds, killing off the enemy before he can even introduce the weeds, and the other considers them wayward foreigners that have lost their way and cuts them down to recycle their inherent nutritious value.
Jesus assumes the weeds will be pulled, making it much too risky for the wheat, which could all too easily be pulled up at the same time. Only at harvest can you separate them and also assure that the wheat will be fully mature.
And, this assumption – that the wheat and weeds grow up and co-exist together – is what feeds the main point of the parable. That allegorically, the fields – or “the world,” as Jesus says – are full of good and bad, of children of the kingdom and children of the enemy. We all grow up together, for better or worse. The sun and rain fall equally on the good and the bad – that’s how the world is! Our world is a rich diversity of peoples. In fact, we all, to a greater or lesser degree, fulfill that description of people who are individually a mix of both good and bad, of being well-intentioned and misinformed, privileged and bullied, discriminated against and extremely motivated, nerdy and sports minded, have done something foolish and got a break, cheated to get ahead and helped a friend in need, put a rival out of business and donated to a worthy cause, and so on.
How do you separate out the wheat from the weeds when we all look so alike? which is just what biblical commentators have pointed out – that one of the most common weeds that invaded wheat fields back Jesus’ time was the darnel weed, which looked nearly identical to a stalk of wheat! And how easy it could be to cut down the wrong one!
Jesus himself, was tragically cut down, in the assumption that he was a weed, an enemy who had infiltrated the field of the Roman Empire. Jesus the Innocent One,
was crucified as an invader of the ‘kingdom of this world,’ ruled by strict hierarchy, with a merciless undemocratic iron fist, and by an endless machine of scapegoats that had been offered-up to keep the peace. Jesus offered himself up, on purpose, with the knowledge of the Father, to bust through that old kingdom “since the foundation of the world,” as Matthew describes it, and to open our eyes and ears to “the kingdom of heaven!” “Let anyone with ears listen!” as Jesus concluded our gospel reading today.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not meant to teach us about farming. Nor, on the other hand, is it to urge us to be complacent with the way things are – that since we can’t cut down the weeds now, we should just wait till the eschatological end of the age, when all those other bad apples will be righteously discarded in the furnace and, we’ll be saved. No, the apocalyptic nature of this parable about the kingdom of heaven is an allegory of how Jesus the Christ has broken into our world, and the kingdom of God is now available to us, today. This is about our lives now! And it has consequences. The good news is, we can choose today, for the kingdom of heaven.
The gospel writer is illuminating an alternative understanding of the world, one that would directly oppose the Roman Emperor’s kingdom of Jesus’ time. Our choice is, whose kingdom do we want to prevail? Whose empire do we want to participate in? (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3350)
The structure of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus brought, limits how we can respond. That is, we cannot conquer the enemy, using the enemy’s weapons of violence, bullying, and fear. We are constrained by the cross and resurrection to love, as we take aim for an equality of justice. But we are not constrained by the false structures of the kingdoms of this world whose purpose is to trick us into inaction. We are not simply wheat or weeds, but children created by God in God’s image. The structure of God’s kingdom is a life-giving one that can and will conquer the death-dealing of the enemy – that is our mission and ministry, even now.
Therefore we reject all structures that sacrifice the wheat, in the name of burning up the weeds before it is harvest time – like racism, in all its forms; and capitalism, when and wherever it put’s profits above people; sexism and gender-norms, whenever it denies people for who they are; and war, whenever it claims it can falsely make peace, especially as an offensive weapon.
When Jesus insists that we must live together, as wheat and the weeds, it is a prophetic word of wisdom that goes beyond our worldly knowledge of the way things work. Jesus offers us an opportunity in this Good News, to re-create ourselves and our world with each new day, each new Son-rise. This is the power of the resurrection in our world, and the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven.
So, let us grow strong together, that the harvest may be plentiful,
and the feast to come, unending!