Wheat & Weeds & Transformation
I’ll never forget the movie American History X. It’s a moving story about a white supremacist teenager Derek, who goes to jail for gang violence, and his younger brother, Danny. In jail, Derek works with a Black man in the prison’s laundry room and is visited by his high school principal who is also Black. Derek keeps in touch with the principal and reads books he recommends. The more Derek learns, the more he abandons his white supremacist worldview. By the time Derek comes out of prison three years later he is a transformed man. His brother, however, has gotten more and more involved with their neo-Nazi gang while Derek was in prison. The movie’s focus is on the brothers’ relationship and the beginning of transformation in Danny too. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s an emotional and powerful film about racism and about transformation.
There’s plenty of real-life examples of personal transformations too. Think of the numerous stories of criminals or drug addicts or alcoholics who found God and led completely transformed lives. Think about Saint Paul on the road to Damascus and how he completely transformed from one of the early church’s greatest persecutors to one of its greatest leaders. And maybe there’s people in your life, or even you yourself, who’ve experienced miraculous transformation.
I want us to keep that idea of transformation in mind as we explore today’s readings from scripture. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds. This parable is similar to parables found in Matthew like the sheep and the goats, the guests at the wedding banquet, and the wise and unwise bridesmaids. All these parables have a clear cut understanding of right and wrong, those who are in and those who are out. This dualistic worldview is unique to the Gospel of Matthew as is the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which only appears once outside of the book of Matthew.
Scholars speculate that Matthew’s dualistic worldview may be a reflection of the conditions Matthew’s audience lived under. Sometimes an oppressed people are given encouragement and the mental strength to survive when they see their oppressors as damned and themselves as God’s elect. But even though the parable has a sense of judgement to it, the point of the parable is actually to not judge between the wheat and the weeds. That’s up to God. It’s our job to be patient and to grow and to bear fruit in the world.
How often would we just love it for God to settle things once and for all, to separate the wheat from the weeds and let us live in peace without all the riff-raff. And of course we always see ourselves as the wheat and those “others” as the weeds.
Another way to look at this parable is seeing it as a call to recognize the wheat and the weeds present inside ourselves. Luther emphasized the paradox of being simultaneously saint and sinner, and I think that truth is one of the things Jesus is getting at here. He might also be encouraging his disciples to be patient in waiting for God to provide justice, but I think Jesus also wanted his disciples to learn to recognize the weeds in themselves and to cultivate the good fruit God planted in them. The same is true for us. In this parable and throughout Scripture Jesus calls us to patiently cultivate the wheat in our hearts and to trust that the weeds present in us will eventually be uprooted and destroyed.
The section of Paul’s epistle to the Romans we heard this morning connects well to this call to cultivate our wheat. Both passages talk about the future of humanity. But Paul doesn’t just talk about having patience to wait for God’s judgement. Paul talks about transformation. And not just personal transformation or the transformation of humanity, but transformation of the whole creation. It’s a collective, cosmic transformation. We have a tendency to want to make judgement more universal—about “them”....and to make transformation more personal—about “me.” But more often than not in scripture, it’s the opposite. We are called to recognize the sin in ourselves rather than judge others, and transformation is promised both for us as individuals and the world as a whole.
Reading Romans 8, I’m reminded of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the early 20th century Jesuit priest, theologian, and paleontologist who saw tremendous resonance between Christianity and the new scientific understanding of evolution. Teilhard understood that humanity is evolving physically and spiritually, and saw the physical universe evolving into greater and greater expressions of the divine toward what he called Christ Omega or Omega Point. Teilhard wrote, “The whole evolutionary universe is a ‘coming-to-be’ of Christ” and he believed “Evolution must culminate ahead in some kind of supreme consciousness.”
In a similar way, our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers have always emphasized the concept of theosis—the teaching of oneness with the divine found in Peter’s Second Epistle and supported by passages like this one from Romans. It appears the purpose of existence is for all creation to grow into fuller expressions of the divine image. It’s what we were created for.
“Creation itself waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” The harvest described by Matthew isn’t just something we’re supposed to sit around and wait for. In this life we are called to cultivate our hearts and to bear good fruit. Not because our salvation depends on it, but because we are branches on the tree of Christ and bearing fruit is what we were created for. And living into what we were created to be, expressions of the divine image, is true freedom. And it is through the Spirit’s growth in us that we leave behind the old weeds and grow up into the mature children of God we were created to be.
As Martin Luther said: “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on, this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.”
And so brothers and sisters, trust that the Spirit is at work in you and in everything around you. Trust God to guide you. And everyday remind yourself of the gradual transformation happening in you. As de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God…Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.” So I pray that we all will recognize our weeds, nurture our wheat, and trust the work of the Holy Spirit in us as we all wait with eager longing for the revealing of the glory of the children of God. Amen.