A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on August 7, 2011.
Matthew 13:3-7, 18-22
3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.* 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
There isn’t a shortage of religious writings and teachings, sacred places, or people who hold religious beliefs. But for all the sacred writings, places, and people who claim a religious affiliation or belief, the world remains a mess.
Let me put it more bluntly and directly for those who, like me, are Christians. Despite all the talk, songs, writings, and everything else connected with Christianity in so many communities, there seems to be a deficit of divine grace, truth, joy, hope, peace, and love. Many politicians who legalized slavery, denied women the right to vote, backed racial segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa, and stood by as Adolf Hitler practiced genocide in Europe were Christians. That’s probably the case for many people responsible for the financial scandals that have led to so much unnecessary suffering.
In the Parable of the Sower Jesus explained that God’s grace and truth is extravagantly and indiscriminately planted in our lives. But divine grace and truth never takes root in people who live with pedestrian morality. For others, God’s grace and truth takes root at such a shallow level that they have no strength to endure the hardships associated with it. People who are not rooted in divine grace and truth and people who are only shallow rooted in it can’t and won’t mature in it enough to be fruitful.
But Jesus offered another explanation for the grace and truth deficit in the world. At Matthew 11:7 he said, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” Jesus explained the meaning of that part of the Parable at verse 22 in these words: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 22 in The Message this way: “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.” Jesus explained that some people have weeds that prevent God’s grace and truth from doing anything useful.
These are people in whom God’s grace and truth is well-rooted and grown long enough to mature. But they’re allowed other stuff to grow in their lives. They’re conflicted. They’re sincere but un-fruitful because the weeds are strangling their productivity for God.
In gardening, a weed is any vegetation that the gardener doesn’t intend to harvest. Unless and until you remove them, weeds will strangle what you’ve planted. Good farmers constantly fight weeds.
We can see the moral and ethical impact of weeds at every turn. Some people have been well-nurtured in God’s grace and truth. They “grew up in the church,” so to speak. But they became associated with others whose lives weren’t guided by grace and truth. In time, those relationships became the defining standard by which the people who “grew up in the church” lived. Those other relationships took time, energy, commitment, that could have and should have been devoted to divine love, joy, truth, justice, peace, and hope.
This portion of the Parable cuts wide and deep. No person is “weed-proof,” just as no plot of ground is “weed-proof.” In fact, good ground for a crop is also good ground for weeds. If we’re rooted and growing for God, the issue isn’t whether there are weeds showing up and trying to take over. No, the issue is what we’re doing about them.
In the very first Psalm, the first things we learn about the person who is fruitful for God involve what is not present. Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. If a person, relationship, or thing contradicts or competes with God’s grace and truth, it’s a weed. As the weeds grow, God’s grace and truth in our living gets strangled to the point that we can’t be loving, just, peaceful, hopeful, generous, and sacrificial for God.
Some people act like weeds. Some ideas work like weeds. And some behaviors function like weeds. The Doobie Brothers music group had an album titled What Were Once Habits Have Become Vices. You and I can recall things that at one time seemed innocent but which over time came to threaten God’s grace and truth in our living. Fruitful living for God requires constant alertness about “weed-like” things, relationships, and people.
Weeds always show up close to what has been planted so expect weed-like people, things, and relationships to show up close in your living. Watch out for them in family and other intimate relationships. Expect them in work and study.
Sometimes people in the faith community affect us like weeds. Jesus included Peter among his closest followers and Peter was the first among them to acknowledge Jesus as God’s Messiah. But Jesus told Peter to get out of his face when Peter tried to talk him out of sacrificing his life for God’s redemptive purpose (Matthew 16:13-23).
Religious people function like weeds whenever they influence us away from where God is leading. Martin Luther King, Jr. seemed to understand this in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail written to religious leaders in Alabama who urged him to stop protesting racial segregation.
Weeds explain why religious people have often been cheerleaders—if not ringleaders—for injustice, hate, greed, and war. Christian preachers blessed schemes in the United States that stole land from Native Americans the same way some clerics in Israel are supporting and advocating land theft from Palestinians. Every religion suffers from weed-like people who misunderstand or distort divine truth to gain power, wealth, fame, or something else.
According to Jesus, weeds involve “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth… .“This explains why so much that is wrong and so little that is right gets done by people who profess to be religious.
- Worldly ambition and the lure of popularity and wealth explain why politicians would rather cut spending to help needy people than raise taxes on rich people and corporations.
- Worldly ambition and the lure of greed and self-privilege are why people who carry Bibles to church each week act in unloving ways towards strangers, people who are poor, and other vulnerable people.
- Worldly ambition and greed for self-pleasure, power, and privilege are why there are so many churches but so little grace and peace in our communities.
- These weeds are why there are so many religious books, authors, and other materials in our houses, yet so little of God’s truth in our living.
The good news is that weeds can be removed. We decide whether weeds will be allowed in our lives and how much they grow. We decide whether to root them out. God won’t leave us alone to deal with the weeds, but God won’t remove them. That’s our duty.
In the final analysis, whether we become fruitful for God depends on whether we love God more than we love the weeds of wealth, fame, popularity, power, privilege, and self-interest. Do we love justice enough to cut out the weeds that oppress others? Do we love peace enough to cut out the weeds of greed, hate, and fear responsible for most private and public conflicts, including wars? Do we love God’s truth enough to cut out ignorance, intellectual laziness, and moral clumsiness? Do we really want God’s will to be done in our living or would we prefer to grow weeds?
God can’t use our weeds to restore the world. God doesn’t need our weeds to heal the world. God doesn’t want our weeds in the way of God’s will in the world. Do we want what God wants, or do we want our weeds?
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.