One of the many, many, many ongoing projects around our 1940s-era home has been to reclaim the yard from years of neglect and questionable choices. Lots of hours were spent pruning bushes, felling tree-sized weeds, and digging out roots, until we had a few spots ready to plant new things. Two summers ago, we purchased five, teeny-tiny baby limelight hydrangea to begin a new bed. We prepared the soil, layered it with newspaper to slow weed growth, planted the baby plants, and covered it with mulch. Of course, as we all know, nothing really slows down the growth of weeds, and so, very quickly, the little hydrangea were simply 5 good plants amid a myriad of unwanted intruders. One Friday, before mowing the yard, I set out to weed the new, but nearly overgrown flower bed. I yanked and I pulled and I shook off dirt from disproportionately enormous root balls, carefully trying to discern good from evil. I was eighty percent successful. Somewhere, my radar was off. I didn’t know it, however, until the next spring, when four, not five, hydrangea came back to life. Despite what I thought was careful weeding on my part, 20% of our hydrangea investment went in the compost heap.
I think most of us can relate to the earnestness of the slaves in the parable of the wheat and weeds. Looking at America today, many, maybe even most of us, are chomping at the bit to get out there and start ripping out what we see as weeds in our society. Propagated on our insatiable hunger for instant gratification, watered by a steady stream of Facebook fake news and Twitter trolls, and fertilized by emotionally manipulative, advertising and profit driven 24-hour “news” networks, over the last decade, Americans have been cultivated into a society of eager weed eaters, ready to cancel anything and anyone over the slightest of disagreements. We’ve become adept at ripping out anything that doesn’t look right to us while ignoring the log that is tearing open our own hearts.
It is meet and right to want to fix injustices, and to do so quickly. What we learn from Jesus in this parable, however, is that though evil is real, insidious, and pervasive, easy fixes like “just tear out the weeds and leave the good wheat behind” often does more harm than good. When we take it upon ourselves to declare others as “weeds” and cast them into outer darkness, we run the risk of throwing Jesus out as well. When we take it upon ourselves to take the place of our God who is the Judge of All, we run the risk of justifying the evil in ourselves and declaring the weeds in our own hearts as good fruit.
This is not to say that we should excuse racist systems, bigoted actions, or damaging patterns of behavior. No, these must be named and addressed every time we see them, but in order for real and lasting change to take place, patience is required. Six hundred years of dehumanizing actions toward Native Americans can’t be rectified by changing the name of the professional football team in Washington DC. Four hundred years of injustice and violent oppression of our black siblings won’t be fixed simply by removing a racist trope from a syrup bottle. Two hundred years of environmental exploitation in the name of economic growth isn’t simply undone by Burger King feeding cows food that makes them less gassy. Sure, these things are steps along the journey toward wholeness, restoration, and redemption, but in this moment of reckoning for many of the systemic sins of our society, we should be wary of those who would peddle quick fixes and tempt us with miracle cures, lest we simply fall for yet another deception from the Evil One. Changing hearts is not work that is done in a couple of hours or weeks or even months.
When we are too hasty to act, not only do we succumb to the great American temptation of the instant gratification of a quick fix, but we also risk doing real damage to ourselves. In the parable, the householder warns against pulling the weeds lest the wheat be uprooted. This isn’t just about the householder wanting to secure his profit at harvest time, but the very real possibility that no wheat means that he and his family and slaves might starve. In 2020, as we look at the landscape of sin in our world, we should be cautious that our response doesn’t infect our hearts with the very sin we hope to weed out. As the Reverend Doctor Joy J. Moore suggests in her “Dear Working Preacher” column this week, in seeking destroy those with whom we disagree, we risk destroying ourselves through anger, rage, vitriol, and violence in the process. Until and unless we come to terms with the reality of evil in our world, our response to sin will too often devolve into hating our enemies rather than loving and praying for them as our Savior commands.
So, what should we do as we wait with eager longing? We should pray, as the Psalmist does, that God might teach us the truth. We should pray for the wisdom of Solomon and the Spirit of discernment. We should pray, as Jesus commanded us, for our enemies and those who persecute us and others. Praying not simply that God would change their hearts and make them more like who we think we are, but rather, praying for them in love that they might find hope and joy in God’s never-failing mercy. We should pray for the redemption of the world.
Built upon a foundation of fervent prayer, next we slowly begin to act by way of listening and learning. The goal isn’t simply to reinforce what you already believe, but to really listen to the stories of the oppressed and the marginalized like the one told in Between the World and Me, and to learn not just how evil at work in the world or in the other has brought about their suffering, but to listen, intent to learn how the evil at work within ourselves has caused others to live in pain, fear, or sorrow.
Through prayer and discernment, listening and learning, the next place we should find ourselves is seeking forgiveness through the confession of our sins. We cannot begin to address systemic sins until we are willing to confess and repent of the sin in our own lives. Through repentance and confession, we can be assured of God’s forgiveness and begin the process of restoring the relationships we have broken. Finally, after prayerful listening, discernment, and confession, we can begin to turn our attention toward those incessant weeds, not by violently ripping at them – risking damaging the wheat or leaving the root behind, but by working to nurture the good wheat; moving the world within our sphere of influence us toward justice by the way we talk, the way we vote, the way see our enemies, and the way we love our neighbors.
The redemption of the world is painfully slow work. Two thousand years after Jesus showed us the way, we still have such a long way to go, but even still we are called to live lives of hope, utilizing the same patience God offers us in our sinfulness, knowing that one day, through deliberate and persistent work, the Kingdom of God will arrive, the good wheat will produce an abundant harvest, and righteousness will shine like the sun. Amen.