It’s also a parable, which is an invitation to play with different possible interpretations. We’ll do that in a minute, and I’ll invite you to share any thoughts you have. But first I want to look quickly at our other readings.
In Genesis, we hear about Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven. God speaks to Jacob in the dream, promising him land and descendants, promising that all nations will be blessed in and through his line, promising that God would accompany Jacob on his journey and eventually bring Jacob home. It’s a dramatic dream!
My favorite line comes towards the end of the passage, after Jacob wakes up. Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
Jacob had been blind to the presence of God all around him. But God breaks through Jacob’s blindness. God enables Jacob to see. To his surprise, Jacob learns to see God right where he is.
Now, Jacob is a complex character. But for our purposes this morning, Jacob is an example of those who see God all around them even now. That’s what I am going to call the “Jacob vision.”
In our reading from Romans, Paul has the Jacob vision.
But as we move through the passage, we see that Paul isn’t satisfied. Paul longs for more. Paul looks forward to “the glory about to be revealed to us.” Paul talks about all of creation waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”
Paul knows that God is with him. But Paul also knows that for now he can only see God in a mirror, dimly. Paul longs for the day when he will see God face to face (1 Cor 13:12).
My favorite line from our Romans reading also comes near the end. Paul says, “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Last Sunday was Nicholas’ birthday, so, as we do on every birthday, we went through his baby pictures. We have a beautiful picture of Carrie holding Nicholas shortly after his birth. She looks peaceful and happy, and she was peaceful and happy. But not so long before that picture was taken, she was groaning, and not inwardly! In the midst of her labor pains, she was waiting with a very, very eager longing!
Paul is saying that we, and all of creation, are sometimes like that, in an agony of pain and expectation and hope. This is not the Jacob vision of God with us. This is what I will call the “Paul longing”: longing for God who we cannot feel in the moment, longing for the kind of relationship with God that we can only hope for right now.
So we have the Jacob vision of God with us now and the Paul longing for God who will be with us more powerfully sometime in the future.
Back to Jesus’ parable.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.” When the weeds sprouted, the man’s servants asked if they should pull them. The man says not to. He says, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” Then the reapers will separate the wheat from the weeds.
Like last week, that is all the crowd hears, and my guess is, they were puzzled. Certainly the disciples were because they again ask Jesus for an explanation.
What Jesus gives them reflects the Paul longing.
Jesus tells them, the good seed are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the evil one. For now, we—assuming we are children of the kingdom!—we are stuck with the children of the evil one. But, the day will come when God’s kingdom will be established, and “the righteous—us, we hope!—will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
There is good news in that. It is a powerful expression of Christian hope, and it must have had a powerful appeal in an oppressed community living under foreign occupation. For now, they were stuck with the weeds—they had to put up with the Romans. For now, they could only wait with eager longing. But some day, they would be free because God was on their side.
That’s good. But we can play with other interpretations, too. What might God be saying to us from the perspective of the Jacob vision? If we think about the parable not in terms of second coming and final judgment, but rather in terms of God with us even now? What can this parable teach us about the life we live as God’s people right now?
The first thing that would have struck Jesus’ hearers was surely the odd farming technique. Farmers don’t normally let weeds grow alongside their crops. The hook in this parable, the thing that would have startled Jesus’ audience and grabbed their attention, is the decision to let the wheat and the weeds grow together. What might that tell us?....
Ancient interpreters saw this as a lesson about the nature of the Church. Churches tend to be a messy mix of wheat and weeds, saints and sinners.
Our parable, particularly in light of the Jacob vision, reminds us that God works with our messy Churches, warts and all. We can look forward to a time when the Church will be pure. But in the meantime, we come together to find God, and we welcome whoever shows up. Indeed, we take it a step farther. We go out to the world in Jesus’ name, inviting sinners and would-be saints to join us in our journey deeper into the knowledge and love of God. And God is with us through it all. Despite our messiness, despite all the weeds, the wheat in us keeps growing. Thanks be to God!
We can say exactly the same thing for ourselves as individual Christians. I am definitely not a saint. I am not exactly a sinner either. I am a complicated mix, with a few saintly impulses and plenty of sinful impulses, and sometimes I do OK and other times I am not so good. I have wheat and weed in me. Most of us do.
And, unfortunately, the weeds will probably be there until the day I die. But, reading our parable with Jacob vision, there is good news. Alongside those weeds in me that I can’t get rid of is a little bit of wheat that God won’t let die.
God plants the wheat in our lives, and God is making sure it grows over time. And someday God will pluck up whatever weeds are left. But for now, we can be grateful to God for keeping the wheat in us alive.
And so, on this seventh Sunday after Pentecost, I thank God for the Paul longing in us that keeps us seeking God, looking forward to the day when we will see God face to face without any weeds to stand in our way.
And I thank God for the Jacob vision that reminds us that God is with us in our messy world, our messy Church, and our messy lives, helping the wheat in us to grow despite all our weeds.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.