By the Rev. Kate Spelman
In all honesty, this has not been a great week for me. Nothing’s wrong, and honestly, nothing in my life has changed from last week. It’s just that some weeks I feel almost OK about living through a pandemic… And sometimes I just don’t.
My wife can actually tell that I’m not doing well by the fact that I had found and printed a new meal planning worksheet, and already picked out most of what we’re going to be eating next week – including snacks! – by the time Wednesday rolled around. See, when I’m anxious or feeling pessimistic, I like to put things on calendars or planners or spreadsheets. I exert some control over the present by exerting some control over the future. Which is supposed to make me feel better.
That’s why I think it’s the work of the Spirit, and not just your rector’s vacation schedule, that brought me to this Matthew passage this week.
This is one of those parables about “the kingdom of heaven”: Jesus tells a story about a householder who plants good things in their field, but an enemy came and sowed bad things by night. The servants are aghast and offer to go through and rip out the weeds. But oddly enough the householder tells them not to. He says “that’s not a job for you, and not a job for today.” Things will be sorted out at the end of the harvest. Someone else will come and separate the weeds from the wheat.
Several verses later, in what most scholars agree is probably a later addition – that is, a passage written by the evangelist but probably not spoken by Jesus – we get a neat explanation of how this parable is about, well, church. Which we all know to be true – you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose… but you can’t pick who sits next to you at coffee hour or chats you in the Zoom.
I think though that this is a narrowing of the parable, which is meant to apply much more widely than just to the church. When Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like…”, he means “this is how God deals with all of creation.” As much as this applies to the church, it also applies to our world in general and to ourselves. Judgement belongs only to God, as it was in the beginning and evermore shall be.
I speak of the beginning of things, because I actually think that this parable is also a retelling of the very beginning of things. This bit of Matthew 13 retells the story of Genesis 1 – the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Because this is exactly what God is doing in the person of Jesus Christ – re-telling the entire story of creation. That’s why Paul, elsewhere, calls Jesus a new Adam, a new creation.
In Genesis 1, God planted nothing but good things, but then the enemy comes and sows the seeds of doubt in Adam and Eve’s hearts. Because here’s the big parallel – neither in the garden of Eden, nor in the householder’s field, were the servants of God without work to do.
Adam and Eve weren’t just relaxing in Eden. God had assigned them to be the stewards of creation. And that wheat won’t grow itself – the servants of the householder will still need to nurture the wheat to make sure it survives to harvest time. They will need to be stewards of this crop for it to survive long enough for the reapers to tell it apart from the weeds.
The trouble in Eden begins when Adam and Eve want to do more than what they are given to do. When their role as stewards isn’t enough, when they want the same kind of knowledge that God has, to have the knowledge and the judgement between good and evil. I believe it’s precisely that temptation that the servants face in this parable. They want to take on the role of judging between weeds and wheat. And they’re shut down there.
I don’t think this parable calls us to relax so much as refocus – to remember our roles as stewards of creation, but not owners. We are made to tend to what is in front of us, and indeed what is within us, without passing judgement on it or trying to sort out what will be revealed in God’s good time. And to find hope in the fact that all will happen in God’s good time.
See, if we believe that God controls the narrative maybe we can even look forward to the next chapter. Or even to the final one, where God’s righteous judgement is realized and our righteous work comes to completion.
Now, one major difference between the original story of creation, and this re-telling of the narrative in Matthew’s Gospel: we know how Genesis ends. (Spoiler alert – not well, in case you somehow missed that.) But we don’t know what these servants do after the parable ends.
I wonder what you think. Did they manage to tend the field, grumbling as they went about watering weeds and wheat? Or did they shrug and try to find the beauty in how they grew together? Maybe I’m just optimistic, and choose to believe that they did, and, maybe, even, that their lives and characters were enriched by it. That they learned to see beauty in how the two plants grew together.
But this parable is more than optimistic – it is hopeful.
This parable reflects the hope that Paul tells us is ours in Jesus Christ, the hope that all the world is being redeemed. That God is the author of this story, is telling this tale, and that when we turn the last page and close the book, we will see that this has been a love story all along – a romantic comedy, not a tragedy. It’s this hope that allows him to hear the groanings of creation, even if they sound like death gasps, are really the sounds of new and abundant life being birthed.
Paul’s hope is so much more than optimism, because it is grounded in trust. In the trust that, even though we cannot see or predict – let alone control! – the future – we can rest in the hope that it is in God’s hands.
And… if all of creation is being redeemed, I wonder: can we even believe that the weeds will be redeemed? Is it possible that on the last day, the weeds, even those planted around you right now, will have grown together with the wheat, and that both will bear fruit? That’s the annoying part of grace, it is so often the surprise or twist ending at the end of the story.
So by all means – I encourage all the healthy coping mechanisms you need. We all gotta eat, and I now have a meal plan. But I want to make sure – that when that coping mechanism fails, or is taken away from you – when you ask God for something more and God says, “not a job for you, not a job for today.” That when that happens, you are left with hope. Hope not just for today, but for today – hope that all of this, weeds and wheat, are in God’s hands. The hope that is ours in Christ, ours in our faith, promised to us in our baptism. Hope that the God of all creation is redeeming all of creation. Amen.