A couple of weeks ago I travelled with eighteen high school students to South Central Los Angeles for an extraordinary week of service and learning. Throughout the week, we dispersed in teams to various parts of the city with hammers and paintbrushes and ladders, building, painting, and roofing at several different work sites. My team of six was, perhaps, more talented and motivated than the rest. We completed our tasks at our first work site far sooner than the others, and for that, we were chosen for a very special task: to weed a large, overgrown plot of land that would be used for an urban community garden.
Over the following two days, as we pulled weeds under the scorching sun, I returned in my mind again and again to the parable that Jesus told about the weeds in the field. When the servants of the field ask the master if they should pull the weeds so that the wheat can grow, the master replies, “No, let the weeds grow with the wheat. If you pull the weeds now, you might pull the wheat up with them.”
After pulling up a whole truck load of weeds that week, I have a deeper appreciation for Jesus’ parable. If it will make me a better Christian, I am perfectly fine with letting the weeds grow. No questions asked.
If you’ve ever tried your hand at gardening, you know that there’s no such thing as a weed-free environment. Weeds crop up unexpectedly, some with burrs and thorns, some with poisonous toxins. Some of the more imaginative weeds know how to disguise themselves to look remarkably similar to the good plants. And some weeds, as I learned a couple of weeks ago, have roots so deep that, when you attempt to unearth them, you uproot everything around them – even the good plants. The wise gardener knows when to pull a weed and when to leave it alone.
Speaking in parables one day, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a field in which the wheat and the weeds are allowed to grow together (Matthew 13). In the parable, the weeds symbolize the presence of evil, and Jesus suggests that in all of life’s fields, evil is always close at hand. Nevertheless, “In pulling out the weeds, “he says, “you run the risk of pulling out the good wheat along with it.” So he counsels us to be patient in our judgments and in our haste to eradicate the “weeds” of our world in our well-intentioned efforts to preserve the purity of “wheat.”
We are often convinced that we know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, the innocent and the guilty, but Jesus reminds us that sometimes our judgments and our actions, under the pretense of goodness and righteousness, cause a kind of collateral damage that does more harm than good. Jesus counsels us to trust that the day of harvest, when the weeds and the wheat will be separated, will surely come. In the meantime, we’ll have to accept that there will be weeds all around us.