Sermon based on the gospel, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
A blonde, a redhead, and a brunette were all lost in the desert. They found a lamp and rubbed it. A genie popped out and granted them each one wish. The redhead wished to be back home. Poof! She was back home. The brunette wished to be at home with her family. Poof! She was back home with her family. The blonde said, “Aww, I wish my friends were here.”
A blonde and a redhead have a ranch. They have just lost their bull. The women need to buy another, but only have $500. The redhead tells the blonde, “I will go to the market and see if I can find one for under that amount. If I can, I will send you a telegram.” She goes to the market and finds one for $499. Having only one dollar left, she goes to the telegraph office and finds out that it costs one dollar per word. She is stumped on how to tell the blonde to bring the truck and trailer. Finally, she tells the telegraph operator to send the word “comfortable.” Skeptical, the operator asks, “How will she know to come with the trailer from just that word?” The redhead replies, “She's a blonde so she reads slow: ‘Come for ta bull.’”
Those of course, are what are called “Blonde” jokes and if you haven’t noticed I resemble those jokes only in so far as I am blond. Being blond, over the years however has provided cover for those wanting share with me a blonde joke. To be honest I don’t care for them. Not because they don’t make me laugh, they do, particularly if they are clean and sharp. Rather I don’t like “blonde” jokes because like many jokes they make fun of a class of people in this case women. Blonde jokes are part of our misogynist, color coded, culture because it is not just blonde people but females who are the targets. Rather than taking individuals regardless of skin tone or hair color at their best, these jokes perpetuate a sexist, racist culture, stereotyping a class of people based on their appearance.
Nonetheless, perhaps to show me how far I have yet to go, blonde jokes came to mind when I reread today’s gospel. Why? Because of a small bit of trivia, I came across years ago and what that trivia points to.
Before we delve too deeply let us begin with some background. Today’s gospel commonly termed “The parable of the weeds” is otherwise known as the parable of the wheat and the tares, and follows immediately after another parable, the parable of the sower. This parable today however appears, to come from a source other than the other gospels. Was it from the author’s memory? The only parallel is in the Gospel of Thomas.
Well whatever the case, as you may have noticed, Chapter 13 of Matthew is made up of a string of parables, many, like this one, introduced by the Biblical Greek word alle, “another.” Beginning each parable with the word “another” tends to give the section a cohesive quality, and accentuates Jesus in the role of teacher, a very important theme in the Gospel of Matthew.
Well in today’s “another” parable, that of the weeds, Jesus starts off by saying that the kingdom of heaven was like a person who sowed good seed in a field, but “while the people slept, his enemy came.” The enemy sowed zizania --- otherwise known as tares, darnel, cockle, or, technically, lolium temulentum. It's a weed that, especially in its early stages, looks like wheat, but instead of producing edible grain, produces only bitter-tasting seeds.
The trivia that got me thinking however was that at maturity, the weight of the grain in the wheat bends the heads down. Since there's not much of anything in the heads of tares or darnels, the plant continues to stand straight. Darnel is, thusly, a plant of “air heads.” It looks pretty good, in other words, but there's nothing there! Now you may recognize why I thought of blonde jokes because a derogatory term used for blondes is “airheads.”
Of course, Jesus was not discussing “blondes,” or the 1st century equivalent whoever that may have been --- instead in this parable, the fruit of the good seed reveals the hollowness of the bad seed. The fruit of the good seed illuminated the failure of the weeds to produce fruit. The beginning leads to the second half of the parable. What do you do with “airheads” --- weeds that are empty?
The slaves of the householder, those closest to the actual operation of the farm we are told voice what many of us think. The slaves are the first to consider acting against the weeds. “Do you desire for us to go and gather these airheads?” Do you want us to respond to this initiative from the hostile enemy? How are we to fight back? What is Jesus' response: Do nothing! “No, lest when you gather the airheads, you might pluck up the wheat along with them.” In your zeal to root out the enemy, you're quite likely to tear up the whole field. Instead Jesus reminds us the listeners that “in God’s time of harvest,” the owner will instruct the reapers to gather the weeds in bundles to be burned.
This of course is not always as easy for us to let go as it may seem. For example, this parable is exactly what moral crusaders do not want to hear. Moral crusaders are on a mission, after all, to root out evil. As we know from the move in Austin to discriminate against the transgender community, based on some false moral view that they are protecting people in bathrooms, crusaders are dangerous. Moral crusaders are quite liable, into campaigns, to go into the field and start tearing up the whole farm. In their zeal, they are, unwittingly, and rather clueless, willing to rip out the good along with the bad.
In a sense Jesus is suggesting that good people trying to do good can do more real damage than bad people doing bad, ripping out the wheat trying to get at the weeds. Good people trying to do good not only results in poor legislation but more importantly it can result in doctrinal rigidity, inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, and concentration camps.
Yet what are we to make of this gospel in our lives, trying to live lives as disciples, producing good fruit, other than from now on you will be remembering this as the parable of airheads? In my view, a helpful learning is not only that God will deal with the problem of evil in God’s time and there will be a solution to the problem of evil, it is God's work. But also notice that Jesus not only flatly says “no” to the idea of tearing out weeds. But then Jesus says, “Forgive them to grow together until the harvest.” The NRSV has “leave” here--but the most frequent meaning of is “forgive.”
Evil is to be dealt with by human beings in this parable through forgiving. We all have our “weed side” of course --- that part of us which may look good, but doesn't produce fruit. This part will be burned away, leaving only that which is built on Christ.
Thankfully, our propensity to judge others will be burned away. Our sucking up to hierarchical authority will be burned away. Our subversion of God's kingdom through gender inequality will be burned away. Our trying to see ourselves as better than others will be burned away. Our moralistic fervor will be burned away. Our self-righteous attempt at self-inflation will be burned away. Praise God!
Of course, this does not mean that we shouldn’t for example, rightfully point out the errors of our legislators for example, but we need to be careful that we do not place ourselves as somehow on the moralistic “right” side as well.
Thankfully, we have further details to provide some balance, in that we are told that Jesus left the crowds and went into the house, which, incidentally, may have been his own residence in Capernaum. In the house, the disciples want an explanation for the “parable of the weeds,” which shows, right there, that they didn't get it.
In the parable of the sower which precedes this one, God is clearly the sower, and God sows the Word everywhere, just as Enedina our Pastoral Associate reminded all of us with seeds last week. Today, in this parable, Jesus is the sower, and Jesus is sowing “good seed.” This good seed is the children of the family. Children of the family produce fruit.
Notice that the “good seed” is never threatened in the parable, not even the burning is a hazard. No matter how many weeds are planted in the field, no matter how many become airheads in moralistic campaigns. No doubt whatsoever is expressed about the good seeds' ability to germinate and prosper. In fact, and this is the key point, it was the very produce of the “good seed” that illuminated the failure of the weeds in the first place. In other words, good fruit is what distinguishes itself from the empty fruit. Results have meaning.
Jesus is generating disciples who produce a wide range of fruit. He calls them all “children of the kingdom” who live out the ways of the kingdom, the way of the family --- open table fellowship, gender equality, non-hierarchical living, inherent worth of every human being, and opposition to oppression. Those who don't follow this way of the kingdom on the other hand, are instead pressed by the weeds of hardship and difficulty. They suffer the empty mass of hierarchy, scarcity, and divisions.
What do we do in the meantime, besides the helpful reminder that God will ultimately deal with evil, and that forgiveness is one aspect of our life together?
Well consider this: we can be hypocrites. When am I being good fruit or when am I being evil? Maybe you have heard before that the word hypocrite was the early word for actor. An actor is someone who portrays a life that is not their life. Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t be concerned about the moral emptiness, the weedy seediness in our communities --- of course we should be. We are to resist evil. No, Jesus is saying that it’s hypocrisy, acting what isn’t real in our own life. If we portray that we are concerned about good fruit, are primarily interested only in tearing out the weeds while closing an eye to our own living we can be complicit “airheads.”
Why is that? Because disciples, concerned about the problem of brokenness in this world, will be concerned about our own as well as others. In the process of genuinely struggling with the reality of our brokenness, the reality of guilt, and the reality of confession, and the reality of forgiveness between us and God, we then have a humble way of addressing others.
Without a doubt, Jesus calls us to work with each other, speaking the truth in love, encouraging and admonishing. We have a responsibility for each other, and this creation, and if we see empty seediness under the guise of good seed we have to speak up --- Jesus says that too. But it’s our attitude, our motivation that determines if we are discipling in love for the other person, or if we are just being judgmental airheads.
There’s a story about a mom who was in one of the rooms of her home when suddenly she heard a scream from where her three year old son and one year old daughter were playing. She ran there and asked: “What happened?” The boy tearfully and angrily told her that his sister had pulled his hair. Well, his mother felt bad and tried to explain to the older boy that it really wasn’t his sister’s intention to hurt him. She was just one year old and she doesn’t know that it hurts to have your hair pulled like that.
Feeling she had done a good thing in helping her son understand the circumstances rather than just getting mad at his sister, and hoping they were okay again, the mom returned to her work. Within a couple of minutes she heard another scream, but this time it was her daughter. She ran to the room and asked what had happened. Hardly looking up from his toys her son quietly said: “now she knows.”
If we know what it feels like to be judged wrongly or with little care or sensitivity, or if we know what it feels like to be the brunt of someone’s moral crusade, then we know hurt. It also means we know what not to do with others.
But that’s not the main point of the illustration. Rather as loved by God, as forgiven, and called, we get up daily, sensitive to the refining fire we are going through with the assurance that God will deal with evil. In this love, we grow in strength and follow the Spirit, so that we are less in tune with airheads, and more in tune with a fruitful life. That’s the discipleship to which Jesus calls you and me to. It is more challenging but that’s mature discipleship. Amen.