A Reflection on Matthew 13: 24-43
We’ve moved so swiftly, in the Sunday readings, from sowing seeds last week to pulling weeds this coming Sunday.
But it takes much longer, I want to say to no one in particular, because I do love to garden, but I no longer grow things from seed, haven’t done that since my childhood.
My father, who loved gardening, would take me with him on an early spring day, to the hardware store where a tall rack of Burpee’s seeds was on display near the front door. We’d pick several, I by the pictures of the flowers on the front of the packet, he from his experience and his likes.
And at home we’d take ice cube trays, fill each small space with some dirt and one seed. Then we’d set them on a table by the cellar windows, and wait.
Those weeks seemed ever so long to me, but at last, when the earth was warm enough, we’d take the sprouted seeds out and plant them. And then we’d watch and weed. The flowers had an advantage, because they were already sprouts, while the seeds had to grow themselves from start out of the ground. By golly, they’d give those flowers a run for soil and sun, coming from behind to grow faster, larger, higher. You’ve got to hand it to weeds, how they survive and thrive.
Jesus’ stories make a mess of the whole thing, really, with that mad farmer strowing seeds willy-nilly on hard ground and rocks, on paths and, by accident it seems, on plowed ground. Matthew, who loves allegories, tells us Jesus likens the varying grounds on which the seeds fall to our worse and better natures. But then, Jesus retells the parable, bringing in the weeds!
They’re planted by enemies, he says, and I can tell you gardeners everywhere feel that way about weeds. How dare they! Those pestilent invaders!
But when the servants ask if they should pull the weeds out, the farmer says No.
Leave them, he says, lest in pulling out the weeds you will pull out the wheat as well. Wait for the harvest, and then the wheat will be gathered into barns and the weeds will be gathered to be burned.
And this being Matthew’s gospel, there’s an allegorical interpretation of all this as well. The field is the world, the good seed is those who are going to heaven, and the weeds are sons of the devil. The harvest is the ‘close of the age’. And the reapers are the angels.
In a way, it is lovely. And also, more than a bit vicious. Very much an either/or kind of morality tale, and not very much like a parable, which always turns the world’s wisdom upside down, and always leaves you wondering what on earth it does mean.
The part that impresses me is the advice to leave the weeds in the field.
This is not what I do in my garden, because I know they can beat my flowers, and make the whole thing look a fright.
Jesus, I am sure without wondering, is uninterested in the tidy border gardens I take such pains to grow. But I believe he, and the primordial Creator who made them, care a great deal about the lives of begonias and hostas, day lilies and all those things that ‘toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’
This summer in America we are consumed by questions about weeds, whether and when and how to pull them. Republicans are consumed by the task of pulling out the Affordable Health Care Act, root and branch. And Democrats, echoing the fears and cries of low income people across the nation, are begging them to wait so as not to rip up millions of lives in the process.
Democrats are consumed by the task of uprooting election hacking, and in particular collusion in this between the Russians and the White House, which may have found their hacking useful. Three investigations are underway, and there is an endless media monitoring.Many Americans care greatly about this, and also, a significant number do not care about it at all. And on both sides of both of these arguments, labels of righteousness and the devil’s own work are being applied.
I write a lot about health care, and to me, Jesus’ repeated emphasis on healing, and especially healing hopeless cases, argues for national health care as a Christian priority. I really cannot see how Christians can argue against such a social mandate.
But, though I am persuaded there is no innocence in the White House when it comes to collusion with the Russians in the past election, I do wonder, often, whether the US is innocent in this regard.
Long ago I read a book by the journalist Jonathan Kwitny, called Endless Enemies, which detailed fifty years of US undercover interventions in other countries governments, supporting cruel dictators, putting shahs in power, tearing down fledgling democracies that tipped a bit to the left, pitting tribes and religious groups against each other. And it is only a few years ago that the US was caught wire-tapping heads of state in Europe, in particular the cell phones of Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron.
I hate the discoveries of Fake News stories that were planted on our social media by Russian hackers and became an indistinguishable part of the news stream. And I am disgusted by the President calling every news story critical of him Fake News.
But are we doing planting Fake News in other countries, too? There is really no reason to believe we are not, given our history.
We need a national focus by experts on developing a firewall to protect our communications. But even more, we need to ask what are we growing here, besides a harvest of distrust of one another?
And we need to ask, what were the seedlings we tenderly started and then set out in the world? Lies and falsehoods? Or plantings of true concern?
What harvest do we want, and who will reap it? I see no angels working in these fields now.
As for the sorting of what we are between heaven and fire, it is harder and harder to distinguish nowadays.
Jesus may not care a fig about the neatness of American elections, but he does care about the suffering of people everywhere, on both sides of every border, rural and urban, ghetto and suburb, inside and outside these United States. And Jesus cares about the harvest of hope, joy and peace, to be grown and shared among us all.
Those who responded to Trump’s repeated claims that we have been robbed, still feel impoverished and ill used. And, they have given us a President who has no dignity, no sense of leadership, no values for relationships, private or public, and no wisdom that anyone can hear.
And those who did not hear or respond to all that anguish and bitterness that Trump knew was there, lost this election. And they have yet to own their deafness and repent of it, and of how much they have cost us.
Phil Donahue has reminded us, in his rare June interview on CNN, that only 19% of Americans elected Trump, and that our real problem is apathy. If we cannot awaken more of a sense that this country serves its people, our system will not survive, and hacking will not be what brings it down.
The earth is in deep trouble. We know that. Also, the people who are the field of this nation are in trouble, too. The harvest we need to watch and tend is in the field, and it is the field that needs our tending. We need to ask what we are growing, here in America, and around the world.
Image: Jared Kushner, wikipedia.com