Jesus put before the crowd 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.’”
—from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Over time this has become one of my favorite parables of Jesus. I think it is because it contains one of my hardest-won spiritual truths—I’m not always the best at knowing what is wheat and what is a weed! And even if I can identify the weeds, pulling them up in my soul may unnecessarily uproot some things that need to stay put. And maybe I’m not the gardener, anyway!
Years ago, I read the now-classic text by Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs. It is still one of my favorite books, as it unpacks the wisdom of contemplative prayer. The central idea is that everything has something to teach us. When we pray, we need to try to hold it all before God. The good and the bad. The stressful and the relaxing. The happy and the sad. This is profoundly countercultural, especially in the West. We have been trained post-Enlightenment to identify with great accuracy and specificity what may be harmful, and then with surgical precision to excise it, leaving us with clean and healthy tissue, manuscripts, relationships, etc. The problem, of course, is when we imagine that the same tactics work well in the spiritual journey.
In the spiritual journey, we must continually learn that we have no experience untouched by God’s presence. To grow is to start to see God in all moments—the ones we choose and the ones that we’d just as soon never had happened. Which is why I love this parable. Good seed is sown, but we wake up in the morning and see a field (or the world) in a way we don’t want it to be. The weeds are so obvious sometimes, and is there anything more satisfying than getting in there and cleaning it all up?
The parable asks us to be a bit cautious. Maybe some of these weeds are necessary for a healthy ecosystem. Maybe growth is more important than risking the health of the root systems that appear to be intertwined. Maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do. Most importantly, it is an invitation to recognize ourselves and all our fellow travelers as a bit more complicated. We are neither all wheat nor all weeds. We are the patch of ground. If we trust God to be our gardener, we might be amazed by the fruit that can be born in the world.