Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Peggy Gunness
Memphis, Tennessee
July 18, 1999
The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Wheat and Tares Growing Together?
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

This familiar parable is probably one that any of us who have been working in our gardens this summer can easily identify with. Weeds do indeed have a way of seeming to appear out of nowhere, and in our zeal to get rid of them, it seems that we often pull up a few fragile flowers as well. So let's keep this gardening experience in mind this morning as we try to hear what the Spirit is saying to us in the scripture we have just heard. What I hear in the parable is this:

Yes, there is wheat growing, and there also are tares.
There is good growing, and also there is evil.
There is hope, and there is despair.
There is building up, and there is tearing down.

And all of these exist side by side, mixed all together in great abundance everywhere - in the world at large, in the city of Memphis, even in the church and even in you and in me. All of us are a part of that great garden of God's creation, where both good seed and bad have been planted, and where even now they are growing together, even now they are bearing fruit. So I think we'd be wise to listen very carefully to what this parable is trying to say to us, and through it, to what the Spirit of God is calling us to understand.

But let me begin with a story. It's one I heard from Madeleine L'Engle a long time ago. She was speaking to the clergy of the Diocese of Massachusetts and at that point was talking about how the human body handles disease. And she told us about a conversation she had recently had with a friend of hers suffering from cancer. She said she asked the friend if he had a way of visualizing the interaction between the chemotherapy medication and the cancerous cells during his long periods of treatment. And he'd replied, yes, that he thinks of a mighty battle between them going on in his body, with the chemo army fighting ferociously to be victorious. "Well," she said, "he was quite excited about this war going on inside himself." But then, she gave him another way of thinking about it. She said, "Why don't you do this: Why don't you imagine that the chemo cells come up to the cancerous ones, bow to them and then embrace them, holding them long and tenderly until the cancer cells lose their anger, relax their grip and become quite whole and peaceful?"

How similar this is to what I believe is the critical statement in the parable. When the workers asked if they should pull the weeds from the garden, the master responded by saying,
"No, don't pull the weeds, because in gathering them you would uproot the wheat at the same time. So let them both grow together until the harvest."

Now, gardeners that we are, this is quite a new approach. So let's look a little more closely, and see what we discover.

First of all, I think this parable is saying something critical to us about the nature of our humanness itself. And what it's saying is this: that we human beings are a mixed bag - each one of us within ourselves and all of us put together. And I believe that this is true. I believe it because I have seen that, both individually and collectively, we are indeed capable of heartbreaking kindness towards one another, and also of heartbreaking evil as well. We are capable of building up, and capable of tearing down, capable of great love and capable of hatred. And that being so, our lives indeed are like a field where both wheat and tares are growing together in abundance, where each is thriving, and where each is bearing fruits which are either as sweet as nectar or as bitter as death itself. And when we try, we can see all of these fruits in abundance all around us all the time. So the parable is calling us to open our eyes and take notice, before it's too late and it's time for the harvest.

But then, on the other hand, to take it a step further, I think the parable isn't only describing something about human nature, but that it is saying something to us about the nature of God as well. And what I believe it is saying is this: that as the Master Gardener who chooses to allow both wheat and tares, both good and evil, to continue their growing along together, God is proclaiming the unerring hope that he has placed in the very being of the human race. God is proclaiming that just as we have hope in God, so God continues to have hope in us. Despite all our mistakes and all our misdeeds, despite all our "weediness," God isn't ready to give up on us yet. So wheat and tares, the potential for good and the potential for evil, are left to grow together in us until the end of the age, because it is in the nature of God to be hopeful and not to give up on the people created in his image.

So then, my fellow weeds and flowers, I ask you this: In this wild and wonderful world that you and I inhabit, and standing here as we do this morning holding in our hands the very real and urgent potential for both good and of evil, I ask you: If God still persists in maintaining hope in us, do we persist in maintaining hope in ourselves? Are we living making choices, setting goals, taking steps to shape the future, are we doing all of this as a people who are made strong by the presence of hope in our hearts, as a people willing to stake our lives on the good future that God has promised to those who believe? Do we behave day to day, in small ways and in large, as a people who trust in the power of good to overcome evil? Do we have the courage to live generously, giving abundantly of ourselves in order to address the magnitude of evils that assault this fragile earth and the diverse people who inhabit it? Can we do all that? Or are we more likely to circle our wagons in self-protection and to look inward to our own needs and those of people like us? Are we guided by hope? Or are we so hopeless that we want to pluck out the stranger, the ones unlike ourselves, to pluck them out like weeds, and save all the growing space for ourselves?

If that fearful life is ours, let us listen, then, carefully, to this parable. Because it is sounding a warning for us, that if we try to uproot the weeds and throw them away, we will uproot the wheat as well. And it is urgent that we try to preserve the life of both together, for if we don't, both will be destroyed together.

I think of the world and of human life as they are today. I think of the inequities in education, in health care, in housing, in employment. I think of the hope and of the hopelessness of the varied peoples of the earth. I think of the abundance which surrounds some, and of the scarcity which plagues others. Yet isn't this world the great Garden of Eden where wheat and tares are growing together even now? Yes, it is, and so it must always be. So how, then, can we heed the warning of the parable? How? I believe we must begin by grieving, by each and every member of this large and wondrous human family deeply grieving together, for it has been said that (borrowing from the words of Walter Brueggemann) ...any effective criticism of the way things are now, and thus any change towards what they might become, must begin first of all in the capacity of the human heart to grieve, because grief is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.

So what today's familiar parable does is issue to us an invitation to grieve, to grieve openly together in the very depths of our soul. To grieve because we can see all too clearly the injustices which prevail among the people of the world. To grieve and yet to hope, because we can see that if all of the people and pieces of God's creation are not encouraged to grow together in profuse abundance, all will die together in unnecessary scarcity. I am convinced that within each one of us - and even more, within all of us working together as one - there is a great capacity for justice, and that it is only our fear that keeps us from doing the work that justice requires of us. So what is urgent now, perhaps more than ever before, is that we dare to act according to this innate capacity for justice that dwells within each one of us, that we dare to act from the wellspring of strength and goodness that exists deep within us all. Perhaps this is the best way to get back to a place like Eden, where the diverse creatures of the earth grew in abundance, where the wheat and the thorn knew themselves to be companions, and where no one was threatened by the need or the gift of another, for all together were a part of the great tapestry of life. Oh, that it could be woven again, using the likes of us!

Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then 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; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!" (NRSV)

[back to top]




Copyright ©1999-2006