Weeding Lesson

SJF • Proper 11a 2011 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, where did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

A couple of weeks ago I was watching a documentary on the National Geographic Channel about what has become the largest cash crop in the state of California. You might be surprised to hear that in a state famous for its citrus fruit, its grapes and its lettuce, that the biggest cash crop is now something that was once considered a weed. That’s right, it’s ganja, also known as marijuana, or perhaps less well known simply by the name it was called for ages. Long before people decided to start smoking it they called it hemp.

Northern California had always been a major source for this weed, even when it was illegal. But with the moderate legalization for medical use, growing marijuana is now a major source of legal income in many small towns dotting the rural countryside of Northwestern California.

The TV documentary charted the history of America’s ignorance of, neglect of, use of, hostility towards, and now moderate adoption of this curious plant. For a long time it was simply regarded literally as a weed. It could be found growing throughout the country in sunny spots on vacant lots and by the roadsides. It had fallen out of its long established use for making rope and canvas — and I learned that the word canvas derives from the Latin name for the plant: cannabis! Many a seagoing vessel down through the years has set sail under the banner of Mad Mary Jane without knowing it!

Some time after people started using it as a drug in the US, however, the government decided to approach the issue much like the servants in the parable today — they decided it was time to uproot the plants and wipe out its use as a recreational drug. And huge amounts of money and resources have gone into the effort to eradicate this dreaded weed.

Then, of course, came the discovery that thus weed actually has— in addition to its practical use as a source of hemp-fiber for rope, paper, and cloth — a legitimate medicinal use in helping people undergoing chemotherapy to find some relief from the severe nausea associated with it, and to help restore their appetite for food. Medical marijuana is now legal (with some restrictions) in sixteen states (though not our own!) and in the District of Columbia.

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Now, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, this sermon isn’t really about marijuana! What it is about is the limitation on human knowledge, and the extent of human impatience. Marijuana, for all its usefulness as a source of fiber and in medicine, is still a dangerous drug — and like all drugs it can impair ones judgment and motor skills, and increase the appetite for food in people who need absolutely no encouragement! While it is clearly not the work of the devil, this weed isn’t wheat!

But the efforts of some completely to eradicate it are surely as misguided as the efforts of the servants in our parable — not that the modern zealots would have damaged any wheat in uprooting the weed, but they would have deprived those who actually benefit from the medicinal properties of the plant — that small comfort at a relatively low cost. I know that some of you here have suffered the rigors of chemotherapy, and I know that anything that can make that less burdensome is surely welcome.

But the message of the gospel today is, as so often with Jesus, Don’t be hasty to judge and take into your hands decisions best left to God. Don’t think you know everything. Recall that the stone the builders rejected is the one that became the cornerstone of the building. Even if what you do know is true — for surely the weeds were weeds, and the servants of the master knew that — still don’t be so hasty about putting your knowledge into action; there may be unintended consequences and collateral damage even to the most well-informed courses of action.

You see, the master, in addition to knowing weeds also knows his servants — the master knows that if they get themselves worked up in their excitement at getting rid of all those nasty weeds, they will inevitably damage the healthy wheat as well. The master has other workers better trained at this task — the reapers who will come at harvest time to do the work not only of harvest but of separation — to gather up all of the weeds first and bind them and cast them into the oven; but then to gather up the good grain and bring it safely into the barn.

And of course, just as this sermon is not about marijuana, so too Jesus assured his disciples that the parable was not about weeds and wheat: it is about the end times and the final judgment upon this world, when God will send his angels out to separate the children of the kingdom from the children of the evil one. This is no ordinary agriculture, but the ultimate fate of evildoing and righteousness, of evildoers and the righteous.

And lest we become too self-satisfied and too easily imagine ourselves, naturally, as among the righteous — as I reminded us last week, righteousness is not our natural capacity, but is itself a gift from God who adopts us as his own. If we are among the righteous, as I hope and pray — and trust — we are, it is not our own doing. We have no health in ourselves to help ourselves, no native righteousness, but only that which comes from God who is the source of all goodness and all righteousness. We are not God’s natural children — but children by adoption. And it is only by virtue of that adoption that we are able to cry out “Abba! Father!"

It is not that some of us are weeds and some of us are wheat, but that whatever it is that we are is determined by the one who makes use of us to his ends, and for his purposes. Just as even the weed of the vacant lot can be used for rope or cloth or even medicine— no human being is incapable of being adopted by God to serve God’s purposes and to be filled with God’s righteousness.

So let us not be eager to harvest or to judge, my brothers and sisters: let us leave that to God, and in the meantime spread the word that the adoption agency is open and that all are welcome to apply!+