Don’t Pull Up the Weeds!
August 14, 2011
Grace, mercy and peace be to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus hits us hard today in his parable about the weeds among the wheat. Let them “grow together,” he says (Matthew 13:30)! Can you believe he says that? Why won’t he let us pull them up?
An Odd Parable
Surely this makes for an odd parable – being that it doesn’t do much for our lives on earth. It’s nothing like our two most favorite parables. Take for instance the one about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) – there the younger, wayward boy sees the error in his ways, repents, and is then welcomed home! And in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the man robbers leave for dead, is rescued, cared for, and brought back to health. But in our parable about the weeds and the wheat, nothing like that happens!
No, what we have in this parable actually worsen our lives in the world. For in it we’re told to live with our enemies (Matthew 13: 25, 38, 42) – to live with the weeds, instead of pulling them up and getting rid of them. It goes against the grain – saying not to pull up those disgusting weeds! Instead we are to learn how to live with them – with our enemies! – rather than attacking and killing them, or adversely, running away from them and hiding in seclusion. So you see that this parable stands against the long-standing anthropological dictum of “fight or flight.” It calls us instead to stay put – and put up with our enemies. We are to learn to live with them – the very ones who are against us, who want to hurt us, trip us up, ridicule us and show us no respect, criticize, castigate and threaten us. Now who would want to hang around people like that – to say nothing of learning from them and loving them, as our Lord Jesus also tells us to do (Matthew 5:11-12, 43-47)?!
One reason for this crazy, heavenly injunction, is that God wants to rule over us “in the midst of our foes” (Psalm 110:2). He doesn’t want to rule over our lives, guide and protect us, by clearing away all of the difficulties and giving us uninterrupted smooth sailing! No, not at all – and that, as you well know from your personal experience, is infuriating. We would much rather have a life free of all enemies and weeds. But our parable for today will have nothing of it! Let them grow together, the wheat along with the weeds, it thunders from on high – whether we like it or not!
And Martin Luther – our most eminent teacher [The Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 576] – even pushes this explanation from Psalm 110 further. In a retrospective, written seven years before his death, he explains how his enemies helped:
I myself am deeply indebted to my [opponents] that through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise (Luther’s Works 34:287).
And Luther adds elsewhere – and with some flair even – that we should “reverse the order completely and say: ‘Dear hangman,… you are furthering my cause with all that you… inflict on me,…. for you make my faith prouder and more glorious’” (LW 23:412)! And this comes about when we take our stand “resolutely against” our enemies as Luther points out in his 1528 sermon on this parable [Luther’s House Postils, ed. E. Klug (1996) 1:274].
But this isn’t because his enemies have become his friends – thinking that “the other,” who stands over against him, is now no longer so bad, since the firm boundary that once existed between good and evil has now eroded [contra Paul Sponheim, Faith and the Other (1993) pp. 3]! No, his enemies – and ours, for that matter – remain enemies, even though we get help from them when we put up with them, as Luther discovered. No, they remain our enemies because in this parable they don’t go to heaven with us but are hurled into the scorching fires of hell (Matthew 13:40-42)!
But even so, we still wish we didn’t have to put up with them at all – since they are so “exasperating” (LHP 1:275)! Aren’t there more pleasant ways to learn the lessons Luther learned? Well, I guess not! Because we are sinners – having fallen from God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and having gone astray like sheep (Isaiah 53:6) – we need the opposition from our enemies if we’re ever going to see the light! So while this parable tells us “not to root… out” the weeds, it doesn’t also say that we are to “leave [them] unchecked” (LHP 1:272)! Now if we were without any imperfections altogether, we wouldn’t need to let the weeds and wheat grow together – for then we could grow in grace easily. But alas that isn’t the case – and it never will be this side of the grave! For we are sinners and “the truth can never come to us except as an apparent adversary to what we are thinking, for we presume that we think the truth, and we wish to hear and see as truth only that which agrees with us and applauds us. But this cannot be” (LW 25:236).
And so Luther regards the devil and his weeds as fertilizer – if you can believe it! And he imagines God saying: “Devil,… you shall be… My manure for the fertilization of My vineyard” (LW 24:195). So while it is distressing that “there is an infinite number of ungodly within the church who… threaten [it] with ruin” (BC, p. 169), this is still our best hope for growth. Luther therefore says that “whoever wants to be a Christian will have to put up with his worst enemies calling themselves Christians” (LHP 1:268)!
Suffering With Christ
But this task still seems overwhelming – that we should learn from the distress our enemies bring upon us, and all the more that we should hope that there will still be some from among them yet “to be converted” – which then keeps us from being “precipitous” and pulling up the weeds too soon (LHP 1:275)! Left alone with this parable of the weeds, we would certainly make a shipwreck of our life with God (1 Timothy 1:19). But we are not alone – and this is the good news! For Christ is with us when we share in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13). And he suffered for us in order to ransom us with his “precious blood” (1 Peter 18-19) – that we might be free from the terrors of being punished forever in the fires of hell after we die (John 3:36; Romans 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Now we share in his sufferings, not only when we’re criticized for his way of living, since “the name ‘Christ’ is odious before the world” (LW 30:128), but also when we simply believe in him “with singleness of heart,” as Luther explains:
Since Jesus [came] to deliver us from sin and death, he had to take our place, to become a sacrifice for us, to bear… that wrath and curse under which we had fallen and lay…. These words… reason can never grasp…. They can only be understood when the [Spirit] accompanies them… and reveals them unto those who believe with singleness of heart…. Then they begin to taste the sweet savor [Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. Lenker (1988) 2:298].
Such a faith makes us suffer because his sweet savor cannot be grasped by reason – which we regard as “a sun and a kind of god [sol et numen]” for us to use in governing our lives (LW 34:137). But in matters of faith, reason is anything but a divine sun – for it “declines to see our wounds and sickness, and… to yearn for healing and consolation” (LW 22:458). Therefore Luther rightly – and notoriously – calls reason “the devil’s prostitute” (LW 40:175)!
But faith in this sweet savor can, unlike reason, save us – and also lead us into good works (Ephesians 2:10). For “Christ… suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Charles Sheldon’s novel on this verse, In His Steps (1896), has inspired many over the years. But even without it, we still would know that we are to imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). But two obstacles hold us back from imitating him.
The first is that Jesus is too exalted for us to follow him. But that excuse turns the best into the enemy of the good. No, just because we cannot perfectly follow Jesus (Philippians 3:12) – treating everyone as he did, and believing as he did – is no reason for saying that we can’t even try to move in the right direction. Luther, for one, knew this trying was good enough (LW 25:268)!
And the second obstacle is that we’ll end up boasting about whatever little gains we make – looking down our noses at others. And you know how that goes! But the Bible warns us against such pride and admonishes us to live humble, grateful lives – giving all the glory to God for any of our successes (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So don’t get tripped up. Hang in there and imitate the Lord Jesus. For while he is, most of all, our Savior, he also shed his blood for us that he might become our great Example as well. So call on God for power and wisdom, that you might follow in Christ’s steps – for by so doing you will also learn how to live with your enemies, and let the weeds grow together with the wheat. Amen.
(printed as preached but with some changes)