Leave the Weeds Alone
Americans spend 10 billion dollars annually on herbicides.(1) Avenger, Ortho, and Roundup, liquid poisons applied by the gallon and chemical toxins spread by the acre. Unlock our sheds, and you’ll see how committed we are to eradicating the undesirables multiplying underfoot.
That must be why so many churches have organized weeding committees. “They steal our nutrients,” the chairman argues, “blight our landscapes and get tangled up with us, the righteous waves of grain. The vote is unanimous. An uprooting must take place.”
But then Jesus- a savior born in the mud, who grew up carrying seed in his pocket, who died with a crown of tares atop his head- interrupts the meeting. Ignoring the agenda, he says, “Remember, you’re not in charge of the field. But the Master is, and he’s content to wait and patiently wait some more. In the meantime, let loose of your pruning hooks, shelve your sprayers, and extinguish your burn piles.”
Knowing that wheat was the preferred cereal for baking upmarket bread and the grain prized above all others, why does Jesus insist on letting the unwanted plants grow, refusing to have the weeds pulled up?
Matthew 13:24-30 He put before them another 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 and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, 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, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Because we’re not God, and we can’t tell the difference between plants.
If the Master is not in a rush, we shouldn’t be either.
The Church has spent far too much time judging people.
Kent Hardison runs a hot dog stand south of the Neuse River in Kinston, NC. Every day, he drove U.S. 258 to work, passing watermelon patches, Free Will Baptist Churches, Rottweiler kennels, and ammunition depots. One morning, through the windshield, he spotted a leafy green tangle creeping up a utility pole and across the electrical wires. Day after day, with each drive-by, he tracked the writhing vine’s climb as it grew into the shape of a person, arms outstretched, body suspended mid-air. Soon after, he saw other commuters slowing down to take in the sight, even stopping to take pictures. A few customers brought their excitement into his restaurant, discussing the possible miracle. It must be a canopy of God’s protection over our town. Word spread so quickly that journalists arrived, and the story made national headlines. The Free Press asked Kent for a comment. “I just thought it was my imagination,” he said, “I thought I was crazy the first time I saw it.” I grabbed my herbicide but ultimately released the trigger since “You can’t spray Jesus with Roundup.”(2)
Even though the federal government officially added the vine that ate the South to its list of noxious species in 1998,(3) Kudzu isn’t the only objectionable plant with redeeming qualities. Dandelions attract honeybees; Cloves invite earthworms; Milkweed offers butterflies a habitat. And tares, the despised flora, were bundled and burned to keep the unhoused warm on frigid Holy Land nights.
Surprisingly, look up the word “weed” in any gardening dictionary and notice there’s no entry. Nothing more than a construct for plants deemed pernicious. If there’s anything suspect in today’s parable, it’s the wheat, the crop of assumed virtue. Ironically, wheat is terribly high maintenance. It requires constant irrigation and heavy fertilizers, all for a minuscule yield. If planted season after season, wheat leaches nitrogen from the ground and destroys the soil’s fertility.
With his green thumb in the air, Jesus preaches to the crowds, informed by his intimate knowledge of botany. For the listeners, so secure in their superior rootstock, absolute about which seed is moral and which is depraved, he frustrates their conviction by going against the grain. Why not pull up the weeds? Because Jesus was a weed keeper who cultivated the plants dismissed and trampled upon by everyone else: gentiles, eunuchs, demoniacs, lepers, paralytics, hemorrhaging women, wayward sons, and the hungry masses. Or those labeled invasive.
“A weed,” says Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “is but an unloved flower!”(4)
While we may have the power, only God alone has the authority to judge at harvest time. Until then, may we, as the church, stall our weed whackers and disband our committees. It’s a misappropriation of the Gospel and not our responsibility. We are, however, obligated to begin with an assumption of created goodness, that every sister relegated to a crack in the concrete, every brother cast off in a roadside ditch, is favored in God’s Garden.
Just as the rogue horticulturalist shone like the sun on leaves searching for the light, who broke his body to nourish the unwanted ground of being, who poured out his life to slake the thirst of a parched people, may his fieldhands bypass the purity of the barn for the wild patch of growth where the undesirable and the objectionable finally blossom.
1 Pimentel, D. and Greiner, A.: 1997, ‘Environmental and socio-economic costs of pesticide use’, in D. Pimentel (ed.), Techniques for Reducing Pesticide Use: Environmental and Economic Benefits, Chichester, UK, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 51–78.
2 “Kudzu near Kinston said to look like Jesus on the cross.” The Winston-Salem Journal [Winston-Salem], June 30, 2011. https://journalnow.com/kudzu-near-kinston-said-to-look-like-jesus-on-cross/article_b6e8c7c7-d2cd-57da-ae9d-8ddc3e018dc5.html
3 Jewett, D.K.; Jiang, C.J.; Britton, K.O.; Sun, J.H.; Tang, J. 2003. Characterizing Specimens of Kudzu and Related Taxa with RAPD”s. Castanea, Vol. 68, No. 3, September 2003
4 Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Poems of Progress and New Thought Pastels (London: Gay & Hancock, 1911).