Planting a Seed
July 23, 2017
Several years ago, I completed my chaplain residency and was unemployed. I was frustrated, scared, anxious and uncertain about what the future was going to be. I had a difficult and painful past and still healing from that experience. All of this had taken control of my mind and spirit.
So, one day I went to my seminary, where across campus, was a labyrinth, a circular walking path that allows you intentional focus on the spiritual practices of prayer, discernment, and contemplation.
It was a beautiful day and I went to the labyrinth, thinking I could settle my mind a bit. So much was going through it, I needed intentional focus to get out of the focus I was in, and find some clarity. The grass was just beginning to turn green again, though there were still specks of brown. People were walking along the track but there was nobody at the labyrinth. And I was happy about that. It meant I could take all the time I needed and have no interruptions. It was just me, walking along the path, having an internal conversation with God and nobody was going to be around to interrupt.
Much to my surprise, I was wrong. What I hadn’t noticed was a family over in the distance, walking their dog. And they had a little girl too, about five years old. I didn’t see them at first, but off in the distance, I could hear them. As one who loves children, their voices tend to catch my attention pretty quickly and her voice was no exception. Here I am trying hard to concentrate as I had just entered the labyrinth a few minutes ago and in the distance I heard in this child’s voice exclaim, “I’m going over there!” It was just the right pitch of voice, that I knew when she meant “over there” she meant, right here.
My head had been down, focused on this gravel path, the intricate turns and details. I didn’t want to miss a step. Well, I looked up after I heard her voice and here comes this precious girl, running and skipping across the field. Her blond locks were flowing and she was smiling as bright as the sun. She was every bit of an adventurous child who went wherever the spirit led her and she ran full speed into the labyrinth. As her parents got closer, I heard the father ask, “Do you need help,” and without a doubt in her mind the little girl said, “I know what to do.”
Picture this moment. Here is this precious child of God, full of spirit and joy, runningand skipping all around the labyrinth. She never got in my way. She was good about that, but something told me to step out and just watch what she does and so I did. It was beautiful. She used every bit of that pathway to run, skip, and jump. She popped out of the circle when she noticed the buttercups on the side. She came to me, a stranger, and told me the story I grew up with, the one where if you hold the buttercup under your chin and there is a yellow reflection that shows you like butter. And we had a connection. We both liked butter. She told me her name and I told her mine. Then she gave the flowers to me and went back on the labyrinth.
Her mother apologized for the interruption and the more I watched, the more I realized that it wasn’t an interruption at all. It was an answer to the very prayer I couldn’t verbalize with all the commotion going on inside my head. I happened to have my camera with me. I asked the parents if they would mind if I took some photographs of her. Just as I got my camera out, that little girl stopped running and took a seat right in the center of the labyrinth. Her world stopped for just a moment, to give her time to reflect on all she had seen and heard on her present journey.
She sat Indian style, played with gravel a bit. Then she stretched out her legs, laid down to look up at the sky, rose back up, right back into her Indian style position, and looked off into the distance. It was a reflective moment for both of us.
I just told you a parable of sorts, a loose definition of “parable” – a story relating to life and how interruptions, how twists in the plans you make, actually make things better. Parables break into our assumptions and help us to realize how life isn’t always what it seems. Parables are meant to teach us lessons.
Today, we learn about the Parable of the Weeds. it’s the Gospel lesson found in Matthew. What lesson is Jesus teaching us today?
Barbara Reid, New Testament professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, gives five characteristics about parables:
- they use every day images, inviting the reader/listener to see something with a different view
- parables most often have a twist or unexpected ending
- there are multiple layers of meaning within the parable. just as i learned with this parable, there are many, many different lessons in these few verses.
- parables are open ended…giving us an opportunity to identify with different characters at different times.
- parables challenge our world view, they challenge our understanding of God
And without a doubt, i have learned this week that the Parable of the Weed meets every expectation of those characteristics.
Knowing there are many lessons to learn in these few verses, layers to peel away, let me simply plant some seeds and see where we go.
The Parable of the Weed represents Matthew very well. Matthew is known to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven, focusing on Jesus’s teachings, focusing on what the followers were to learn, and what Jesus’s mission was on earth, before he died.
When he references the Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew is referring to God’s kingdom, right here on this earth. For Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is important, so important, that his version of the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” With Jesus’s use of parables, he introduces them with the phrase “ The kingdom of heaven is like…..” The listener is immediately pulled in with an introduction that Jesus is about to share what the kingdom of heaven should be like on this earth with God as the king,….not the disciples, not the pastor, not you, not me, not Herod, not anybody else. It is life on earth, with God’s justice, God’s will and God’s grace.
In this parable, the kingdom has good and evil. The kingdom is planted with weeds and wheat. One question raised in this parable, “what do you do with the weed? what do you do with evil?”
Evil hurts. Evil is hateful, mean, judgmental, and all around wrong. As a trauma and emergency room chaplain, I see it every single day. Gang fights, drug wars, assaults, drunk driving, text driving, drive by shootings, overdoses; all of which are stemming from some sort of anger, jealousy, bitterness, and retaliation. Evil can also be a painful mistake as it manifests from a reaction to pain, shock and hurt.
As a chaplain, I want to put a stop to it. I want to put a stop to all the violence. I want to go out there and scream at the top of my lungs, stop the shootings, the killing, the fights, the drugs….stop it all. I want to be like the slaves in the parable. As soon as I see the weeds, I have to pull them up as fast as I can. I want to yell and scream and tell them how wrong they are, how they are evil, how they are sinful, how they are going to hell. I want to be the judge and jury for the evil that I see every single day.
But, as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, I know I can’t. In my role and position as a chaplain, I know I can’t do that. This parable reminds me that Jesus doesn’t want it done either.
There is your twist in the parable. When the slaves were about to jump in and pull all the weeds, the Master said “NO”. The Master tells the slaves NOT to pull the weeds because if they pull the weeds, they will pull the wheat. The risks of pulling the weeds outweighs the benefits. The Master instructed them, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest….”
I didn’t know until preparing for this sermon that the weed in question, is what’s called a “Lolium temulentum” or a “darnel”. Darnel is a grass that looks exactly like wheat, until it fully matures. So if they pull at the weeds too soon, in their frenzy to clear them out, the slaves would have indeed been pulling out the wheat. The Master….and Jesus, remind us, it’s not our duty to pull the weeds out.
This was a valuable lesson for me as a chaplain. You see, the patients that I care for, the patients that i help to heal…..some of them are gang members, some are the ones doing the shooting, the assaulting, the selling of drugs. The patients that i see, were the ones driving after drinking or texting while driving and caused a horrific, sometimes, fatal collisions. What sort of chaplain would I be, if I didn’t take care of them in the same way I take care of all my other patients? What sort of Christian would I be, if I judged any patient with the same frenzy and reaction as the slaves were doing in this parable? I wouldn’t be living out my call as chaplain, in the way that God asked me to. I would not be living out my promise as a follower of Christ if I ignored the patient in that bed because i judged them as evil.
How they got there, it’s not my place to judge. How I treat them, is my duty to follow and the promise that I made.
Remember the Boston bombings that happened during the Boston Marathon? There were two bombers. One died and one went to the hospital. There was an incredibly humbling article about the nurses in that hospital, the very nurses that took care of the bomber. That bomber was their patient. In the article, it was mentioned that the nurses were given the chance to say no, when assigned that patient. Not one nurse said no. Every single nurse accepted the call, their duty to take care of all their patients, including the Boston bomber. Was it incredibly difficult? I can say with certainty, it absolutely was. It was one of the hardest things they had to do but it was their job, their calling..it was the promise they made.
How that bomber got there, was not a nurses’ place to judge. How they treated the patient was their duty to follow and the promise they made when they became nurses.
I recognize not everybody works in a hospital but everybody lives in this country. Everybody lives in this world. I recognize that everybody in the Christian Church is learning the same lessons that this parable is teaching us today.
We are living in a world that this practice of weed pulling is taking place every single day. Individuals, groups, leaders, political parties and yes, churches are trying to extract the very people and the very groups they consider evil; wishing to rid their world and their communities of the evildoers, the sinners, the extremists, the hate groups, the bad people and the people who don’t believe as we do. We want to rid the people who don’t see the world like we do.
But we can’t. It’s not our place to do so. It’s not our right. It’s not our judgment call. What if we did all of this weed pulling before we knew what/who we were extracting? What if we extracted all the groups we didn’t like, before realizing that we pulled out the people who did nothing wrong?
With my patients, I realized that I had a promise to keep in how I treat and care for the patients. I remembered that there are people behind the them; their families and friends – all of whom have been impacted by these actions, whether they knew it or not. I met the patients behind the circumstances, when they realized the mistakes they made and the actions they took. I met the patients when they realized the consequences they would be facing when they leave the hospital. For some, their actions were genuine mistakes, one moment they wished they could take back. I met those patients. Whether it was the families or the patients, they didn’t need a punishment from me. They didn’t need any more pain and judgement. They needed grace.
Today, instead of allowing God to take care of the evil (as defined by God), we are taking it upon ourselves to do so. We are pulling before the seeds have had a chance grow, to mature, to work through the plowing, trimming and watering. We are pulling the seeds before we let God do God’s work. We are pulling at the weeds and taking the control and final judgment out of God’s hands. We are pulling out the groups and communities, not wanting to see that we are pulling out the good as we frantically pull at the bad.
We are pulling at the weeds not remembering that we also have to face our final harvest when we come face to face God.
The past couple of years have done some major damage to my heart, mind and spirit. With the election, the politics, the arguments about healthcare, gun control, right and wrong, left and right, republican and democrat, voter fraud and building walls; my heart, mind and spirit are struggling. I am hurting and I let some of that hurt get the best of me and who I am.
When I first got here, I met some great people and we became close friends. It was in the comfort of that friendship that when asked about my faith, my beliefs and my political views, I thought it was safe to share what I believed. Turned out, I was wrong. My guess is that they assumed I would believe the same way they did. Those friends, when they realized i believed differently than they did politically, when I viewed scripture differently than they did, when I looked at people and circumstances differently than they did; they said I was wrong for believing what I believed. They questioned my Christian faith. They questioned my education. They questioned my calling as a chaplain. When I wouldn’t change my beliefs, they would no longer be my friends. I allowed their rush to judgement towards me impact my heart, mind and spirit and i found myself doing the same to others. I found myself treating others the way these “friends” treated me.
This parable is a reminder that good and bad exist. They always have and they always will. This parable is a reminder that justice and injustice exists, too. This parable is a reminder that people are going to see different view points and they are going to feel differently about them. This parable is a reminder that in the midst of the bad, there is good; in the midst of the good, there is bad. This parable is a reminder that good and bad can and do change within each other. Evil can turn good and good can turn evil….and sometimes, we don’t even know which is which and how dangerous would it be if we pulled at the weeds and instead, pulled out the wheat.
I want to go back to the parable I started with, the little girl in the labyrinth. In the midst of the healing, the pain, the worry and frustration, I learned valuable lessons that day about God, God’s grace, work and prayer. I am well aware of the fact that the buttercups she picked out and gave to me were weeds. But to her and to me, those buttercups were beautiful flowers that reminded us both of a life of joy, dancing, laughter, grace, acceptance and love.
Hear this words from Matthew 18:1-3
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, can only be entered by people who change and become like children. That little girl saw something special in the buttercups, something so special that she gave them to me, as a gift. And with her joy, acceptance, grace and love, she gave me so much more than a buttercup that day.
She planted a seed…..and it’s still growing.
© 2017, Linda C Moore