Worrying About the Weeds

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

June 13, 2021
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings: Mark 4: 1-9, 26-34

Imagine that you are driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood for whatever reason.  Maybe you are lost; maybe you are looking for a friend’s house; maybe you are checking out Christmas lights.  Whatever the reason, you are driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood.  What do you notice?

  • Junked cars in various driveways, or well-maintained cars parked and ready to go;
  • Exteriors of the houses in need of new paint or siding, or fresh, clean nice looking homes;
  • Doors and windows that are just covering the entrances, or solid, clean doors and windows doing the job;
  • And finally: you notice the yards, the flowerbeds, the trees and bushes, and especially the lawn.

Owning or living in a home with a nice yard is not a luxury; it can happen in the worst neighborhoods and it can be absent in the best neighborhoods.  No matter what, though, we notice it.

An old adage that I sort of believe in says that if you maintain your yard, you can increase the value of your home.  

Another old adage is that if you focus on caring for the grass on your lawn, you won’t have to worry much about weeds.

Having mowed various lawns since I was 9 years old, I believe that last one.  Nice lawns don’t tend to have too many weeds.

Now if you have never cared for a lawn, if you live in an apartment or a condo where the grounds are maintained for you, this might not be part of your awareness.  If you have never planted, seeded, fertilized, or walked your dog on a lawn, then again – this might not track with you.  However, you will more than likely take my word for is.

This is a similar problem with the various three parables that Jesus told in our Gospel readings for today.  Although the crowd that heard them at the time were most likely full of people who worked the land, we have no guarantee that the same message will resonate the same with us modern folks in the 21st century.  It might…it should…but we have no guarantee.

Basic parables compel listeners to think because we know the basic message is not the entire message.  Parables lightly conceal the truth from those who are too stubborn or too prejudiced to hear it.  Overthinking parables is another way to avoid the basic message – especially if that parable contains one major point that we don’t necessarily like or agree with easily. 

When Jesus was speaking and teaching in parables, there were four different agendas in the minds of the listeners that day:

  1.  Some wanted evidence against Jesus.
  2. Some sought spiritual truth and believed that Jesus was sharing it.
  3. Some were just curious because Jesus was known far and wide as an impressive teacher and speaker.
  4. And, of course, some were just not ready to hear and understand the message.

Let’s look at the three parables and see what we find…without overworking them too much.

In the first one, we have the parable of the sower and the seeds.  This scene in the days of Jesus lacked any sophistication in equipment or methods; the sower had a big bag of seeds, which were thrown by the handful across a plowed plot of land.  The sower tried to sow the seeds evenly so that one part didn’t receive too many and another part didn’t receive enough.  Once the seeds were sown, the land was plowed again pushing the seeds under the dirt.  And the job was done until the harvest came.

There was never any mention in this parable about weeds; instead, the focus was on the type of soil that received the seeds.  Some seeds would grow well in the right places, and others would not because those places were not the best soil. 

This parable’s message was about those who hear the Good News and what they do with it.  But notice the following:

  1.  Once the seeds were distributed, somehow the miracle of good growth took place without any further work by anyone.
  2. When the perfect time arrived to harvest the crop, the best would be taken and gathered.
  3. Weeds, thorns, rocks, and beaten-down paths were not worried about.  They did not yield anything good.

Pretty straightforward, but still…imagine how this parable fell on the ears of folks who worked the land day in and day out.  Imagine how they joyfully related their own lives to the “hidden” message of Jesus’ words.  And finally, imagine those who heard it and later on explained that hidden message to other listeners who didn’t get it the first time – such as children!

The second parable discussed how the sowed seeds grow into plants.  They do not do this overnight, as any average gardener or farmer can tell you.  Growing any seeds requires patience and a full understanding of how slow the process can be.  It takes time…growth is not a quick process.  Just like spiritual growth, it is a gradual, continual process.

And again…no mention of weeds and how they can damage the crops and the harvest.

But don’t miss that last line, the important one that mentioned getting the sickle because the harvest time has finally arrived.  It makes me wonder if those first listeners understood Jesus was describing the End Times.  In that someday time, Jesus will gather the harvest, nothing will be missed, and the weeds will be…“disposed of.”  It would be the perfect harvest.  Again, imagine some hearing and getting that hidden message – and then explaining it to others.  Or perhaps only one or two in the crowd getting it and struggling to explain it to others!  

Remember: not all parables were just right for all hearers.

And third: we have the parable of the mustard seeds.  I have passed out these tiny seeds before to you; you can buy mustard seeds at a good plant nursery, online of course, and even in your neighborhood grocery store on the spice and seasoning aisle.  When we read that this tiny seed produces a plant with branches large enough that birds can perch in them, I always want to see this for myself instead of just accepting what I read; I confess that sin of doubting Jesus’ analogy, but it is a little hard to believe.  After all, it’s hard to predict their growth when just looking at the seeds themselves…they’re SO tiny!

Yet, this parable points to the unknown and unbelievable power of such a tiny thing becoming a massive, not-to-be-missed thing of nature.  Anyone growing mustard seeds in those days would be nodding their heads and murmuring, “That’s right…that’s right” as the Lord preached because they were familiar with this phenomenon.  I doubt any plant as large as a mustard seed would be affected much by weeds.  

Not hard at all to catch this message.

If mustard seeds don’t work for you, and since we live in South Texas, how about watermelon seeds?  We all know how small those little black seeds are, and we all know how BIG watermelons can get when we pass them in the grocery stores – or even on the side of country roads!  Tiny seeds becoming massive fruits…tiny things producing an astonishing harvest, with virtually no extra work necessary beyond sowing and harvesting.

Three parables…three messages…three stories using seeds, plants, and farming as the instruments for teaching the lesson.  Each of them points to the growth of the early Christian church, as well as the church’s potential growth today.  But all three share a similar problem: they may not resonate as well with any listener who doesn’t have the experience.  This is true of other parables Jesus taught too, such as:

  • The widow’s mite would not work well for rich folks;
  • The fishing net would not work well if you have never fished;
  • The lost sheep would not work well if you know nothing about herds of animals, not just sheep.

Another issue with the hearers involves what they do with this or any other similar message:

  1.  Those who hear it and reject it immediately;
  2. Those who hear gladly but not persistently;
  3. Those who hear conflicting, more compelling voices – along with the Gospel (the Internet specializes in this…);
  4. Those who hear, receive, and act appropriately and joyfully with what they learned.

No matter which group a hearer falls into, the message is still there and can be for everyone.  Just as plants grow miraculously and wonderfully with little help from us, the Spirit can also grow with little help from us – beyond the basic sowing.  The other hidden message here for believers is to KEEP SOWING.  The harvest is not for us to do.  The weeds are not our concern.  The sowing is the focus of each parable.  

The rest is up to the Master Gardener, and we know Him.