The kingdom of heaven is like a dandelion seed that a gardener planted in the garden; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the most prolific of all flowers, spreading to cover many lawns, so that the grasshoppers in the neighbourhood can come and rest under the leaves.
As summer flaunts its abundance in our backyards, many of us will be able to relate to the above Canadianized version of one of Jesus’ parables – the third in a series of strange stories he tells about weeds.
In the first story, a farmer sows good seed everywhere, even among the weeds. The result is an abundant harvest. In the second story, an enemy sneaks in and plants bad seed in the farmer’s field. The farmer lets the weeds and wheat grow together until finally, a harvest of wheat is gathered into the barn. In the third account, a farmer deliberately plants mustard seed – a weed – in his field in order to attract the birds.
The kingdom of God starts out like a messy field with a couple of weeds and a huge crop of wheat. At the end, the kingdom of God looks like an uncontrollable weed patch that not only makes room for, but also deliberately attracts creatures that are – from a gardener’s point of view – undesirable.
Can’t you tear them out?
We understand the dynamic of weeds in the garden of life if we’ve ever thought everything would be easier if another person would just go away. We understand the dynamic of weeds in the field if we’ve felt that God’s work could be accomplished more effectively if only a certain group of people could be silenced or blocked.
But then Jesus wraps up this series of strange stories with an even stranger summary. “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52, ESV).
The mention of scribes reminds us that just before Jesus tells the weed stories, he has a major confrontation with the scribes. In Matthew 12, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and when the scribes and Pharisees challenge him, Jesus gets angry, calling them among other things, a brood of vipers!
Jesus sees evil, names evil, challenges evil, and then, when he is all worked up, I imagine he’s ready for a long conversation with God. He might have been tempted to pray something like: “Abba Father, you anointed me to share the good news of who you are. It would be so much easier if you would just get rid of those scribes. The Pharisees are weeds in your world and my life. God, see a weed, pull a weed. Can’t you tear them out? Yank them up. Amen.”
But Jesus doesn’t have time to pray at the moment. On the same day his relationship with the scribes and Pharisees sinks to a new low, Jesus gets into a boat and begins telling stories about God to the crowds on shore.
From weeds to treasures
I suspect these stories were for the benefit of the crowds, for the benefit of the disciples, and especially for Jesus’ own benefit, as he struggled to bring his will into alignment with his Father’s ways.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wrestles in prayer. And in the boat beside the beach, Jesus wrestles in parable: “Not my will but yours
Through the stories, Jesus reminds himself that even though he is receiving false accusations and death threats, God will let the weeds grow unchecked now. But there will be a time when God says a firm no to evil. In the narrative accounts, Jesus affirms that no matter how impossible it seems at the moment, the goodness of God will grow and permeate the entire situation.
And so, as his storytelling ends, Jesus names the scribe, not only as someone with evil actions but also as one who has potential in the kingdom of heaven – every scribe has treasures new and old.
An amazing harvest of good fruit will grow in our lives – a powerful work of life-transformation – when we can see weeds as God does. Transformation in God’s kingdom is contagious.
The surprise of the parables is that some of the weeds and birds may actually have treasures, new and old, to share with us and the world.
—Mary Anne Isaak is pastor at River East MB Church, Winnipeg.