“Gathering up the Harvest” Colchester Federated Church, July 19, 2020, (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (**Virtual Worship)

A Christian minister I admire a great deal is Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She’s the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver and she’s famous for being covered in tattoos, saying what she means in the church world (with some curse words thrown in for good measure), and founding a community that’s a church for the island of misfit toys if you will.  Nadia is what some would describe as a Jesus loving sinner-saint who has relied on the grace of God to minister to messed up people in a messed up world.  Her authenticity is something to behold especially when Christians are too often caught up in teaching perfection and judgment.

Nadia has written a few books where she speaks about her theology and the ministries that have occurred at House for All Sinners and Saints.  In Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People she reflects on her congregation celebrating All Saints Day.  Nadia writes, “And anyway, it has been my experience that what makes us saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners . . . I have come to realize that all the saints I’ve known have been accidental ones—people who inadvertently stumbled into redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile.”[1]  She believes (as do I) that God works through ordinary, flawed people to bring about redemption in our world.

God uses sinners and saints (and saintly sinners come to that) to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Which brings us to this morning’s parable about the weeds and wheat.  It seems difficult to take to heart at first because it appears to be about “us” versus “them.”  It plays into this perception that Christians are super judgmental.  We are the wheat (saints) and those terrible unbelievers are the weeds (sinners) among us ruining everything.  But what if there’s a different way to see this story? 

Many New Testament scholars aren’t convinced that the “interpretation” section of the parable (verses 36-43) comes from Jesus himself.  Or some scholars think that these words come from Jesus with heavy edits from Matthew.[2]  That section of the parable that outlines that the sower is Jesus, the field is the world, the good seed is the children of the kingdom, the weeds are the children of the evil one, the enemy is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels?  Yeah, New Testament scholars are pretty sure that was Matthew explaining Jesus’ parable.  Matthew was a big fan of the idea that sinners would get thrown into the outer darkness where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Matthew uses that phrase six times in his Gospel, though it’s only found in one other place in the entire New Testament.[3] 

Remember that we have four Gospels.  Each Gospel contains sayings of Jesus and stories about Jesus.  Each Gospel writer brought their own perspective to these sayings and stories because Jesus didn’t write a Gospel about himself.  That’s why it’s important to know the historical context and the perspectives of the Gospel writers.  So that we can figure out what’s authentic to Jesus and what represents the way that the author tells us about Jesus from their perspective.

Here’s what I mean—if we looked outside on the same scene and each of us would explain what we see, our explanations wouldn’t be the same.  Because we’re different people who see the world differently and that will come out in how we describe what we see.  It’s the same with the Gospel writers.  They could look at the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and emphasize different aspects.  They explained Jesus’ story in various ways.  Our four Gospels aren’t exactly the same because the authors’ literary styles and theologies came through in how they shared Jesus’ sayings and stories with us. 

It ends up that the hyper judgmental section of this parable has Matthew and his theology written all over it.  As opposed to Jesus himself saying that people will be thrown into the furnace of fire “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[4]  Instead, the words we can more confidently trace to Jesus emphasize patience.

Because here’s what would happen in real life—these weeds were a troublesome plant whose Latin name is lolium temulentum.  These weeds that grew among the wheat were difficult for the farmer to deal with because they are similar in appearance to the wheat and can only be identified when they are ripe.  If this weed is harvested with the wheat and the two plants are milled together to make flour, the flour ends up spoiled.[5]

In this parable, Jesus teaches that the weeds and the wheat are supposed to grow together.  Just let them be for now.  At harvest time reapers come along to gather the weeds and wheat separately.  So yes, there’s a “saints and sinners” moment in this parable.  However, judgment isn’t for us.  If there’s a judgment that happens, it happens on God’s time and on God’s terms.  Perhaps God gets to judge, and therefore we don’t.  New Testament scholar Arland Hultgren explains, “If indeed the kingdom is coming into being, or is imminent, it seems that the ingathering of persons into ‘a holy people’ should be taking place, and sinners should be driven out.  The teaching of this parable is that, no, the followers of Jesus are a mixed group, and they will be that way up to the end.”[6]

The truth is that Christians are a mixture of weeds and wheat/saints and sinners.  Let’s face it, good people sometimes do bad things.  So it’s not simple to label people as weeds or wheat anyway.  The weeds and wheat grow together in the same field in the parable.  Maybe the point is that “good” and “bad” look alike.  Or that people are neither totally good wheat nor totally bad weeds.  We’re all a mixture of saint and sinner, and every Christian community is a mixture.  Maybe that’s the point! 

In the end, God cares for all of us, calling us to be our best selves and to love God and love our neighbors especially in these chaotic pandemic days.  Because in the Church we are perfectly imperfect.  We’re following in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ—a man who hung out with sinners, tax collectors, and all sorts of shady characters that other people wouldn’t give the time of day.  We are weeds and wheat/sinners and saints—perfectly imperfect.  Thanks be to God for offering us grace and loving us through it all anyway.  Amen.

[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People, 7.
[2] Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, 292-303.
[3] Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus, 298.
[4] Matthew 13:42, NRSV.
[5] Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus, 296.
[6] Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus, 300.