Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jesus and Gardening

Image source.
Matthew 13:24-43 can be divided up into 3 sections:
  1. The parable of the weeds (verses 24-30)
  2. The parables of the mustard seed and yeast (verses 31-35)
  3. Explanation of the parable of the weeds (verses 36-43)
So I'll talk about the middle section first. Jesus tells 2 short parables about the kingdom of heaven:

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."

"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."

O_O That is a LOT of flour.

First, what is "the kingdom of heaven"? Writers of the other gospels refer to it as "the kingdom of God." I believe it does not mean heaven, something far away that we go to when we die and we can't experience it before then- instead, "the kingdom of heaven" is God's work, God's kingdom on earth and in heaven.

So in these 2 parables, the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and like yeast, because it starts small but grows enormous, with an influence on everything. Just like God's kingdom on earth would start with Jesus, who was poor, never had any political power, etc, and grow huge. Sign me up.

The Parable of the Weeds

Here's my summary of the parable of the weeds: So, a guy planted wheat in his field. But at night, Johnny Appleseed's evil twin snuck in and planted weeds. The dude's servants were like, "so, do you want us to weed out the weeds?" and he was like, "no because you might accidentally pull up the good plants. Just let them grow like that and then at harvest time we'll pull up everything and separate it out then."

And here's a question to think about: Why does the bible record Jesus' explanations of some parables but not others?

Anyway, one cool thing I noticed was the servants' question in verse 27, "Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?" Sort of like "If God is good, why do bad things happen?" And if you wanted to find an answer in this parable, it would be 1) evil comes from the devil and 2) God doesn't stop it because he might have to screw up some of the good things. But the question of evil isn't really the main point of this parable, so don't assume that's a complete answer or anything.

Anyway, Jesus provides a key for what each thing in this parable is in verses 37-39, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels."

Jesus goes on to say that angels "will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

(I'll go ahead and file this bit of information under "Perfect Number is trying to figure out what the deal is with hell- she's totally not sure if she believes in it or not." Seems like Jesus is saying hell is real here- but also note that it's a distinction between "the righteous" and "all who do evil." So that kind of throws a wrench in the "saved by faith, not works" thing.)

So. Wheat is good people, weeds are bad people. That kind of makes me uncomfortable- you really can't divide people into "good people" vs "bad people", "us vs them." (And the idea that "good people" come from God and "bad people" come from the devil is just kind of... messed-up.)

But perhaps this parable also supports the idea that "you can't divide people into 'good people' vs 'bad people.'" The servants are NOT supposed to pull the weeds. They are NOT supposed to start making judgments on who is "good" and who is "bad", not until the end of the world.

Sometimes the wheat and weeds are hard to tell apart, and it is really NOT our job to judge who is and who is not a "real Christian."

Another really interesting thing: the interconnectedness of the weeds and wheat. The master tells his servants not to pick the weeds yet, because it might damage the wheat too. If we take the weeds and wheat to mean good and bad things (not just good and bad people), we can think about how "good" and "bad" causes and effects are very tangled together and impossible to separate.

Here's a hypothetical example: Let's suppose your dad was a soldier in World War II, and met your mom as a result. So there's something very bad- World War II- which led to something good- your birth. Would you say, "I'm glad World War II happened, otherwise I wouldn't be here"? Eh... I don't know... war is terrible, is anyone going to say they're "glad" it happened?

It's tricky to separate the bad from the good. If you start to think WWII is bad, so therefore everything that resulted from it is bad and shouldn't have happened, then you're not supposed to even exist... so how do you live your life?

Even my existence as a white American has roots in violence against Native Americans- killed or forced off their land. That was very bad and should NOT have happened.

And I've heard many personal stories of how people have lived through tragedies and good has come from it. Christians like to say, "God can redeem anything." Amen to that. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that those tragedies are not bad things that shouldn't have happened. And I would never ever tell someone "God did this bad thing to you so that this good thing could come out of it." God causes evil? No, I don't think so.

Good and bad are tangled together, just like the roots of the weeds and wheat.

Jesus started this parable by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like..." and that's what it's like- good things growing among bad. Good people and bad people living together (but like I said, I don't like labeling "good people" and "bad people").

The kingdom of heaven. It starts small and it grows, even in the midst of the weeds.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Types of Soil (Matthew 13:1-23)

Next post: Sell Everything (Matthew 13:44-58)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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