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Wheat or weeds?

Black and Orange Butterfly on Wheat Field

Sunday 23 July
Year A: 7th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 11)


  • Genesis 28:10-19a
  • Psalm 139:1-11
  • Romans 8:12-25
  • Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


So (or should that be sow!) another farming parable. This time about whether or not to separate the wheat from the weeds or tares as it is often translated. It is difficult not to read this parable as totally uncompromising. Wheat is good. Weeds are bad. Wheat comes from the Son of Man. Weeds come from the evil one. Wheat will produce fine food. Weeds only waste the soil. Wheat will be safely gathered at the end of times. Weeds will be burned.
What is also clear however, is that it is difficult to tell them apart until they are mature AND it is impossible to divide them without causing harm.

It is very tempting to want to uproot weeds as soon as we see them. However, we do not always know what something is until it has grown a bit and any attempt at extermination causes damage to the whole. The farmer in the parable is wise enough to know to wait.
In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that the wheat represents the children of God and the weeds the children of the evil one. If it is difficult to tell wheat from weeds how much more difficult is it to decide between human beings? It doesn’t stop us from judging someone within a few minutes of meeting them though!

And it hasn’t stopped some in the church, repeatedly over the years, from judging and trying to root out what has been deemed as ‘evil’, whether that be ‘false’ doctrine, ‘false’ worship or ‘false’ lifestyle. The farmer was right. Our faith and mission has always got very damaged when people have taken it upon themselves to go ‘weeding’; not to mention those untold number who have been persecuted or have lost their lives in the various inquisitions.

Anyway, even if, and that is a massive if, the church did judge correctly, didn’t Jesus die to save sinners not condemn them?


I have been in my garden (and bungalow) for almost a year now. I am not a confident gardener, nor a particularly enthusiastic one. It seemed like a good idea therefore not to mess around with the ‘small field with edges’ too much for the first annual cycle and just see what happened. It caused my neighbours’ eyebrows to raise slightly, but I am so pleased I did! For a long time, I thought it was just full of weeds, and it turns out I was right in a way, but not a bad way. Month after month has revealed that the borders are jam-packed with a wide variety of self-seeded wildflowers. Some of them I recognise but many I do not. The bees and butterflies certainly know them though. My garden is full of colour and busy insects and birds, even if it does look a little unkempt. I know some people like straight lines, carefully trimmed lawns and what are deemed ‘proper’ garden plants. That almost always involves weed killer though and I am pretty sure in the great scheme of things that is not a good idea.

Mind you, perhaps it can go too far? I also added to the butterfly population in another way. I didn’t pay too much attention to the holes in my greenhouse kale. Then the other morning I went in to water the tomatoes and try and talk them into ripening and was met with a cloud of butterflies. On balance, I think the sacrifice of kale was worth it though…

So What?

It is so tempting when taking on a new role in church to immediately ‘clear the ground’ and chuck the clutter. And sometimes that is necessary. A church might indeed be better off if the ten-year-old Sunday school display, ancient cracked cups and out of date newsletters were taken to the recycling! But our enthusiasm to put things in order can sometimes mean we make judgements about what is happening and not happening in a church prematurely. It is usually a good idea to wait and watch for a bit to see how things are growing, discern the season and work out the ecology of a place before making big changes. It may be that some bits will need trimming, others re-potting and others giving a bit more space to grow, but it takes a bit of time to tell, and sometimes the butterflies come from where you least expect it!