Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let It Grow

While you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.

                        Matthew 13.29-30

Efficiency Issues

It’s common to approach any new endeavor—from starting a relationship, family, or job to lesser tasks like redecorating or taking a trip—with a glance over the shoulder to avoid mistakes we’ve made or seen in others. We note early signs of trouble and vow to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. We want things to go more easily and efficiently this time. So we begin on full alert, combing through every detail to root out spoilers. It’s a sensible approach. It sounds sensible at least. But itemizing potential efficiency issues about anything before seeing how it goes can prove more foolish than we think.

Jesus’s parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13.24-30) lays out three good reasons why this is. First, we may not realize something’s gone awry for a while. By the time we’re aware of it, it’s already taken hold and requires careful thought to manage it constructively. Second, we may look at trouble without seeing it. Many harmful situations, ideas, habits, and people resemble healthy ones. If our eagerness to root out trouble as soon as possible overtakes us, we risk suspicions about good things planted in our lives. We may nip the wrong buds. And finally, once we do identify problems springing up around us, moving too hastily to remove them very well may endanger stability and growth in other areas of our lives. Jesus says tolerating weeds is wiser—and, in the long run, more efficient—than destroying good wheat with preemptive zeal. When we find trouble sows its seeds uncomfortably close to our good seed, it’s best to let it grow. Time for removal will come. But we take care not to sacrifice what feeds us by pulling up what drains us.

Gradually Awakening

Here’s how the story goes. A farmer plants his field with good seed. While he and his farmhands sleep, however, his enemy spreads bad seed with the good. It’s a nasty, premeditated scheme to ruin the farmer. The enemy’s seed disguises itself as wheat until it reaches maturity. Without seeing what it produces, the farmer can’t distinguish it from the healthy grain. As the field ripens, the farmer begins gradually awakening to the furtive trick played on him while he slept. His servants ask if they should tear out the weeds when they become noticeable. The farmer tells them to hold off, “because while you’re pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.” For the time being, it’s enough to know the weeds are there. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” he says. “At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13.30)

The Keys of the Kingdom

Jesus prefaces the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” (v24) This explicitly fixes it as a metaphor for conserving the productivity of God’s love and grace in the world. The farmer’s reluctance to disturb the growing wheat prior to harvest points to a final reckoning. The weeds will be burned in bundles and the wheat gathered into the farmer’s barn. On this level, the story is prophetic—a simple explanation of God’s plan to redeem those who produce nourishing grain and cast off others whose appearance of goodness is exposed by failure to produce. Reading it this way imparts two essential truths. One: Appearances will mislead us. Many who look and grow like wheat sprout from bad seed. They’re weeds sown among us to drain valuable resources and destabilize our roots. When they ripen to reveal they’re useless, people may look at our field and presume it’s all weeds. It’s possible the good we accomplish will go unnoticed until the harvest. Two: Harvest determines their fate. It’s not for us to expose impostor weeds. Our job is to grow and bear fruit, to be pleasing to God and counted worthy to be kept.

The principles of Christ’s kingdom theology aren’t confined to the hereafter. He teaches them so we can live by them now, which leads us to glean a pragmatic, personally applicable lesson from the story. In Matthew 16.19, Jesus tells us: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”—of the kingdom, not to it, meaning if it’s true there it’s true here. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The weeds in our lives must grow until we’re sure what they are and confident removing them won’t destroy the good we grow. When it’s safe, we can pull, bind, and toss them into the fire. It’s the most efficient, effective method we have, because once that’s done, they’re gone for good; the harm they cause goes with them. If we act too soon, we may cause more damage than necessary, uprooting healthy grain we need to store for future nourishment. Knowing how to manage trouble includes understanding why and when we should let it grow.

We may not recognize weeds until they fail to produce. Rather than hurry to eliminate trouble, it's often wiser to let it grow for the sake of the good thriving around it.

(Tomorrow: One Wise Ass)


Annette said...

The parable (and your great explanation of it) reminds me of how we (hopefully) get wiser as we grow older. We get to a point where we recognize the weeds and it's our job to get rid of them - burning them is a wonderful analogy. If we don't, they can overtake us.

As I've studied this parable, another point that pops into my head is the fact that the farmer was sleeping. To me, it's also a tale of warning to be ever vigilant and not led harmful seeds be sown in our lives. If we "sleep", then we have to wait until everything matures. This cuts into the total weight of the harvest.

On another note, since I've been at the "lake", I'm late in finding out about Walt's job. I'm so glad to hear you are both taking it as a blessing. Your attitude is an example to us all!

Thank you for this post!

Tim said...

Dear, sweet Annette, as you're in your honeymoon phase, the "lake" (i.e. "Lake You") is where you need to be! But I'm also glad to see you back and insightful as ever.

What an excellent point you make about being asleep. Vigilance to forestall trouble is by far a better tack to take than having to let it grow so we can weed it out properly and safely later on. Hmmm. There's another post in that... Thank you.

Walt's doing fine. We had a few big bumps over the weekend--they guy's had a job since he was 15 and now that he's "37, with 11 years' experience" (as he says), it's a big adjustment for him.

But God is as good as ever. After W came off the ledge so to speak, the crisis only made his faith stronger. And last night he and his classmates served up their most smashing performance to date. Those in the audience who knew what Walt just experienced sat in awe, with a number of them saying afterward, "See? All this is happening to clear a new path for you. You should be so happy--the timing couldn't be more perfect."

I've been saying this all along, and he believes it. Hearing it from others right after a show, though, bolstered his faith all the more. (As the Bible says, "Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses...")

Thanks so much for your wisdom and care, Annette. They're a blessing to us all.

Joy and happiness always--and congratulations on your new union to such a terrific guy! We send prayers and best wishes for a richly wonderful life together.

Big love,