Monday, July 24, 2023

Wheat & Weeds


Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 

Proper 11 / Year A

An aerospace engineer designed a revolutionary new aircraft which promised to be a great critical and commercial success, save for one problem.  Every time the plane got in the air the wings broke off at the fuselage.  Attempts to correct the weakness failed time and again and the designer was baffled.  Finally, when all seemed lost, a janitor spoke up, “I know how to fix it.  Drill a line of small holes across the wings at the place where they snap off.”  Since nothing else had worked the engineer decided to give it a try.  He drilled the holes and the plane flew perfectly.  After the test flight the engineer asked the janitor how he knew this would work.  “If life teaches us one thing it is this,” answered the janitor, “nothing ever tears along the dotted line.”

In a nutshell this is what the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is all about.  Why don’t things go the way they are supposed to go?  Why do bad things happen in a field sown with good intentions?  Why does the paper never tear along the dotted line?  Why are there weeds?

Jesus makes one clear point in the parable: in this world there is resistance to good.  Want proof?  Just ask Joshua Tanner, a freshman disc jockey at college radio station.  The school took exception to the rap music he was playing sent him a letter.  It stated Tanner could no longer play his music because it was “too spiritually explicit.”  You heard me right.  It seems Tanner was censured for playing Christian rap music.  There is resistance to good. 

But let’s be honest about one thing.  Too many people use this resistance in order to explain away problems of their own making.  A sign in a New York office proclaims, “If you want to kick the behind of the person responsible for most of your troubles you wouldn’t be able to sit down for weeks!”  As we heard a few weeks ago, St. Paul wrote, “The good I want to do, I don’t do.  And what I do not want to do, I do.”  Jack Paar used to say, “My life seems to be one long obstacle course with me as the chief obstacle.”  Several years ago I transplanted what I thought were wildflowers into the beds around my house.  Turns out they are little more than an invasive perennial that doesn’t play nice with other plants.  The servant asks the master, “How did the weeds get into the field?”  Well, sometimes we put them there ourselves. 

Whether it stems from resistance to good or simply is a byproduct of our own devices, life presents us with many difficulties, but the only factor which will determine if they will grind us down or polish us up is what we make of them.  The philosopher Jean Vieujean once said, “There is much in us, but it often takes some obstacle, accident, or hardship to reveal it.”  Aldous Huxley observed, “Experience is not what happens to a person; it is what a person does with what happens to him.”  St. Paul wrote, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed.”

There are two options you can take when weeds sprout up in your garden.  There are two paths to go down when you face adversity.  One is typified by the old Jew who had seen everything from the inhumanity of the concentration camps to present day anti-Semitism.  “O Lord,” he prayed in the synagogue, “isn’t it true we are your chosen people?”  A voice boomed back from heaven, “Yes, the Jews are my chosen people.”  “Well then,” moaned the old man, “isn’t it time you chose somebody else?”  This is a path which finds no wheat among weeds in life.  The other path notes before any bottle of medicine can be used for good, the instructions indicate it first must be well-shaken.  Immanuel Kant said a dove might consider wind resistance to be a problem, but without it flight would be impossible.  From this perspective we realize the only path to glory goes not around the weeds, but through them.

The path of adversity can be of great benefit and though life may buffet us with the worst it can offer, we always have the power to choose how we will respond; be it positively or negatively.  A psychologist did a study on two brothers who grew up in a home ruled by an abusive and alcoholic father.  As adults, one of the brothers became just like his dad while the other turned out the exact opposite.  The psychologist privately asked each one why he turned out as he did.  Even though their lives had gone in dramatically different directions, each had the same answer: “What else would you expect with a father like mine?”  It is not what happens to you in life but how you react to it which makes all the difference.

John Claypool was a Baptist preacher before finding his way into the Episcopal Church.  He says of his life everything came easy to him.  He was successful in his ministry.  He had a beautiful wife and great marriage.  They had several happy, well-adjusted children.  Then, without warning, his little girl was diagnosed with Leukemia, a horrible disease which eventually took her life.  Claypool’s world took a cruel and devastating turn.  This is what he said from the pulpit:

“We do not get all the answers and then live life in light of our understanding.  We must rather plunge into life – meeting what we have to meet and experiencing what we have to experience – and in light of our living try to understand.”

These are the words of a person who understands both the wheat and the weeds and why Jesus says to let them grow up together.  When John Claypool wrote a book about his life he gave it the title Tracks of a Fellow Struggler.

I submit it is only possible to live this way in the light of the Gospel.  If Jesus had not claimed to be the Lord of the wheat and the weeds, if our God was not sovereign over the fields of our existence, if there was no point to which befalls us, then why go on?  Thanks be to God all of life, when offered humbly to God, is redeemable.  Thanks be to God the trials and tribulations of the world can never overcome us if we allow the Lord of life to walk with us.  And thanks be to God someday the wheat I plant will be harvested and the weeds – no matter what their origin – will be removed.