“WHY DO BAD WEEDS HAPPEN TO GOOD WHEAT?”
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
March 5, 2017
Utopia is pretty attractive, isn’t it? A utopia is a place where laws, society and culture are perfect and it has been a dream of humanity for centuries. We are always after that perfect place. Right after Tasha and I got married, we went to a utopia, a place called New Harmony, Indiana, because when you think utopia, you think Indiana. By the time we got there, New Harmony was no longer a utopia, but that’s how it started. Way back in the early 1800’s a group of intrepid visionaries carved out a small community in the western wilderness of America where everything would be perfect. They wanted a place where everyone would be equal, where laws would be fair, and where science and commerce could be freely practiced and explored. It sounded like a pretty good idea. If there were such a place somewhere in this world today, we would all be lining up to go.
Utopias represent that desire within us to make things perfect. Almost all of us have some perfectionist tendencies. We dream of a life, a place, a community, where everything would be like we believe it should be. In fact, I think we often conjure up for ourselves perfect little utopias in our heads all the time. If we can just do this, if we can just go there, if we can just accomplish that, then everything will be perfect. We do this for a myriad of reasons, but at the core of it, we conjure utopias because we are dissatisfied with the reality of our world and our life. We dream of a place or situation where things are perfect because we wish to escape the imperfection that is all around us.
As people gathered around Jesus in the very first moments of his ministry, they understood utopia was at hand. In Jesus they recognized someone who could heal the sick, had compassion for the poor and attacked the social institutions which kept so many people in bondage and oppression. They followed him everywhere. They listened in rapt attention as he spoke. They conjured in their minds, you know they did, a world in which Jesus’ teachings were the foundation of a more perfect world.
Following the resurrection, I am certain the adherents of the early church believed they had found a utopia in this new movement called Christianity. They had found a faith which was completely unique in the ancient world, one which emphasized equality, the sharing or resources and a collective mission. When the first churches gathered, we can imagine they did so with abundant joy, having carved out for themselves a place of harmony in the midst of a chaotic and dangerous world. They knew they had an opportunity, even in Jesus’s bodily absence, to craft the perfect expression of faith, and that belief has passed through the years. When people look for a utopia, they look to the Church. People always believe that if we are going to find perfection here and craft our utopia, we will do so with a collection of believers.
The dream of utopia is always alive in the world. And it is always, always a lie. It is a lie in our own individual lives and it is a lie in our communities. Perfection is not here for us to have. We can see Jesus undermining the entire concept of utopia here in this parable. Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not just something to come, it is something which is here, which Jesus ushered into the world. He is describing it as a place where much good has been sown by a benevolent master who wants peace and prosperity in the world. But in the midst of that good, the wheat, there has been another who has been sowing, the enemy. And the enemy has a different goal. The goal of the enemy is to destroy the good work of the sower by mixing weeds in with the wheat. Jesus is naming a truth here, in everything there is good and there is bad. Nothing can be perfect. And you know that he is right, because nothing in the history of the world has been perfect.
That community I told you about, New Harmony, was a great idea. It had a visionary leader. It had money behind it. It had a clear plan and did some amazing things. It had the first free public library in America. It had free school for men and women, a radical thing in those days, and a civic drama club. But do you know how long it lasted? Two years. All that work, all that vision, all that effort and it lasted two years. One historian wrote that the community of New Harmony had attracted, “crackpots, free-loaders and adventurers who made the community’s success unlikely.” Well, duh. No matter where the wheat grows in this world, the weeds grow with it.
And so it has been in the Church for all these years too. Since its inception, the Church in this world has been an amazing place which has done incredible work, but it has also been a place which has seen evil every bit as frightening as anything seen in the world. The Church has weeds and it has wheat. And the Church has been at its worst, in my opinion, when it has sought to make itself perfect and purge the weeds. Jesus warned about this too. You remember that? The servants wanted to go and pull the weeds, but Jesus said what? He said no. Don’t do that. When you pull out the weeds you also uproot the wheat and that is not worth it. And do you see the problem? If you look at history you will see it for sure. When the Church tries to purify itself, that purity becomes its mission and it undoes all the good within it. People turn against one another. Doctrines become sharper and more rigid. Behavior is scrutinized and paranoia takes hold. Even when the intentions are their most pure, the process of separating the wheat from the weeds inevitably fails, and we are left, as many of the great theologians of the Church have pointed out, having torn up all the wheat with the weeds.
Jesus says “don’t do it”. And then he made a promise. That at the end, when the world is remade, there will be a final and permanent separation. Then, on that day, finally, the weeds will be separated from the wheat and there will be real and true harmony.
People often attack the Church because it has bad people inside it. Well, of course it does. The weeds and the wheat have always been mixed together and they always will be and there is little we can do about it. Is this to say that we should just sit back in the Church and accommodate any sort of evil or malice which arises in our midst? Of course not. But it is also to say that we should be very wary of trying to purify the Church. That is not our job. That job belongs to Jesus.
And when we try to take it, we betray something important, we don’t trust Jesus. We don’t. When we try to control everything, we are saying that the slaves know better than the master. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. This is it. During Jesus’ life it was visible in his ministry and now we see it in the Church, and the Kingdom of Heaven has weeds. We should just be honest about it, and we can’t get them out. There is no way for us to do it. So we do the best we can while making sure that the wheat continues to grow. That is all we can do. Every utopia ever created has failed, so we don’t need to try to make one. Instead we need to trust; trust that we have the faith and strength to get through whatever challenges lie ahead, and trust that righteousness will win out in this world through Jesus Christ. I have great news for you today. You aren’t perfect. Your Church is not perfect. That is great, because that means that maybe, just maybe, we can sit back for a moment an enjoy the fact that you and I, for all our imperfections, are living right now in the Kingdom of Heaven. And that Kingdom is entrusted only to Jesus Christ. Amen.