Choosing to be a Christian is choosing a hard life. This is clear all of the way through the Bible. People approach Jesus, hear what he has to say, and then promptly leave, or challenge him, or tell him that he’s got it wrong, or that he’s going to cause trouble, or they are so irritated by what he has to say that they up and crucify him. To be a Christian is to align ourselves with Christ in these stories. There are many ways to be in this world, but we Christians have chosen Christ’s way of being. And it is anything but easy.
Today’s Gospel passage gives us the parable about wheat and weeds, or wheat and tares as it is sometimes called. The directions in the parable are surprising to most of us, because we’re to let the weeds grow alongside the wheat, only separating them out at the harvest, lest the weeding disrupt the growth of good wheat. This, Jesus says, is how judgement in the kingdom of heaven will take place, with angels and God separating the wheat from the tares after they have grown and been collected in.
This parable does not make life as a Christian any easier. It would be so helpful if Jesus said that there were easy ways to distinguish and disentangle the wheat from the tares, the good from the bad. It would be so helpful if there were a nice, clear, two column sheet of dos and do-nots, especially if the evaluation rubric were printed on the back. We’d all know how we were doing when it came time for God to start writing report cards. Unfortunately for us, that does not appear to be how the kingdom of heaven works nor how we are meant to approach this life.
It is helpful for us to know that, in ancient Judea, there was a species of weed that loved to grow in wheat fields and which, for the first several stages of growth, looked exactly like wheat. Unfortunately, its seeds could not be used as wheat, so it was found to be an undesirable intruder in the fields. It was not until the seed heads began to appear that the plants could be told apart. Unfortunately, by then, as with most species of grasses, their root systems were deeply entwined and one plant could not be pulled without uprooting all of its neighbours. The only practical way to separate the weeds out was to wait patiently until harvest, allowing the weeds to grow fat alongside the wheat. Only on their last day would judgements be made about which were worth keeping and which should be cast aside.
It is important to recognize and remember that it is God and angels who are doing the separating and judging. Of the many requests God makes of humanity, the many ways God desires to cooperate with humanity, participating in judgement is not among them. This is a wise, and I am sure intentional, omission on God’s part.
We have seen again and again in many ways what happens when humanity convinces itself that we are the ones meant to do the judging. Our desire for clear, clean, simple rules lead us to erect walls and effect separations where they are inappropriate. Clear and simple rules which almost universally affirm the righteousness of the rule-maker and deride those who differ. Relationships are severed because the other person is wrong. Important wisdom is lost because it is in the wrong language or presented in the wrong way. Some people are worth less than others because they look wrong or speak wrong or love wrong or dress wrong or sing and dance wrong. Some people are weeds who, in our judgement, need to be pulled and cast aside. Some weeds need to be exterminated.
This is, so often, the path of human judgement and we see it on display all around us every single day. Sometimes these claims are made outright. That a particular group of people are the weeds responsible for the difficulty that good, honest stalks of wheat are having, just trying to grow in their field. Weeds that ought to be pulled and discarded. Interned in camps or exterminated. Other times we are more polite about it. This is a favourite of Canadians. We don’t call for extermination outright, but we do consistently elect politicians, pass laws, and create policies that ensure that some of our neighbours will remain oppressed in poverty, illness, malnutrition, and addiction. This is also human judgement.
There are very good reasons God has not asked us to participate in judgement. We would all do well to remind ourselves of that regularly. God is not interested in our perceptions of the worth of others, our ideas about purity or the rules we make up about good and bad. God is not interested in having us try to shape the world in an image that is good to us. God has given creation and all of its parts a shape that is good and very good to God. God is interested in how we conform to the ways of the kingdom of heaven. God is interested in our growth, not our purity.
God is not interested in whether or not the field is entirely wheat, or whether it is ridden with weeds. These will be collected and sorted one day. God is interested in how the field grows. Is it good and healthy, producing fat seed heads with a bountiful harvest? Have the plants and soil cooperated, working together for their intended purposes? If we recall the parable of the sower, each of us is like a field where God is the farmer. We each have many kinds of soil and many kinds of seeds land, taking root. God is not interested in whether or not the soil can weed itself or maintain a pure crop. God is interested in how well things grow in the soil. Growing is our job. Weeding is God’s job.
Choosing to be a Christian is a hard life. Choosing to follow Christ means going to the places Christ goes and participating in the hard work that Christ does. It means, rather than avoiding the messy situations for fear of polluting ourselves, we dive into the middle to help those mired in the mess. To be a Christian is not to be part of the spiritually privileged, separated from the world and passing judgement on the world’s mess. Rather, it means to be a person who has accepted that we are called to be in the middle of all of the mess. To quote Rowan Williams, “You don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud!”
Our call is to be in the thick of it, right here, in downtown Winnipeg. God has called us here to be signs of the kingdom of heaven. God has called us here to grow, to help each other grow, to help our neighbours grow. God doesn’t mind if we get dirty along the way, if the harvest has a few weeds in it. God will clean us up and sort it out. Being a Christian may be hard, but God has called us to work we can do and has kept the impossible tasks for God.
Thanks be to God.