Bumblebees and Wheat
July 20, 2008
If you take a bumblebee and place it at the bottom of a glass tumbler, it will never find its way out. Even though the top of the glass is perfectly open, the bee will keep searching and exploring until exhaustion and eventually die in the glass. This is because instinct has programmed the bumblebee to search horizontally. Therefore once in the tumbler, it keeps exploring all the walls at the bottom. It keeps searching for a way out where none exists, and in the process it destroys itself. Now the glass provides a perfectly open and direct way of escape but the bee never sees it, because nature has directed it to constantly look around but prevented it from looking up. We are not like bumblebees. We can search in all directions. We can explore all possible avenues. It is important for us to do so, because if we were to limit ourselves to only one perspective, we could end up like that bee, continually striving towards the negative and the impossible until we exhaust ourselves.
Now this truth about us is important as we try to understand Jesus’ parable today in the gospel because the parable describes our world the way that it is. Our world is not the way that God made it. God made a good and perfect world but then evil entered creation. The present condition of our existence, then, is a mixture—a mixture of evil and good, of selfishness and generosity, of violence and of love or (as the parable states it) a mixture of weeds and wheat. God has promised us that on the last day the weeds will be destroyed. They will be burnt up. But until that time, the weeds and the wheat grow together, and anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus must learn how to live and how to serve in such a world.
As followers of Jesus, we cannot ignore the weeds in our world. We have to admit and recognize the presence of poverty and injustice and violence and greed. These realities influence much of our experience. We know that all of them are opposed to God’s will and we are called to fight against them. But even as we do that, we must not forget the wheat. We must remind ourselves of the presence of the goodness that is around us, the vision, the service, the generosity, the courage, the love that we can find in so many places and so many people. All of those examples of goodness are a reflection of God’s presence. Seeing God’s presence is a cause of energy and hope.
This week, nine teenagers from our parish are leaving for a week of service in Buffalo, New York. They will be working, serving in an Aids Hospice and helping to build a Habitat for Humanity House. For those of you who are going, I think that today’s parable carries an important message. You will see a lot of weeds this week, a lot of things wrong with our world. It is important that you recognize them. But as you work this week, do not forget to look for the wheat. Do not forget to see the goodness that is present in the situations in which you find yourselves, in the people you serve, and in the people with whom you work. All of that goodness is a reminder that God is with you. And with God’s help and power, you can be true servants and live in hope.
You see, it is all too easy for all of us to center on what is wrong, to focus on the weeds. We can easily say, here are the things that are wrong about my parents, or here are the things I want to change about my children. We can all point out the flaws in our marriage and the people who drive us crazy at work. We can come up with a list of the injustices in our world or the imperfections in our church. We are always aware of the burdens which we carry, the sickness, and the grief that we must bear. All of these things are real. They are the weeds of our life. We must recognize them and confront them. But if the only thing we focus on is the weeds, we become like that helpless bumblebee in the glass, aware of our predicament but unable to find a way out.
This is why we must do what the bumblebee cannot do. We must look up! We must see the wheat among the weeds. We must recognize the goodness and grace in the circumstances around us. When we recognize that goodness and grace, we find the strength to oppose what is evil and the joy to live as God’s servants. As long as we focus only on the weeds, we live a life of bitterness and die of exhaustion. But if we can see and embrace the wheat of God’s presence, then we will find the freedom to build God’s kingdom and the hope that comes from living in God’s love.
The Non-violent Farmer
July 17, 2011
We, as Americans, are accustomed to power. We see ourselves as militarily and economically superior to other nations. When you add this truth to our independent nature and our can-do attitude, it is easy to explain why for most of us power is almost an unqualified good. We see it as our birthright to live the way we want to live and to use our power to attain our goals. With this attitude it is easy to ignore or dismiss other people who get in our way.
Now of course the power we have is a gift from God. In itself it is a good thing, and we should use our resources for our own good and for the good of others. Taking all this into account, it is still amazing how often Jesus asks us in the gospels to hold back from using the power that we possess. He frequently teaches that we should refrain from doing things that we have both the ability and the power to do.
This is particularly clear in Jesus’ teaching of non-violence which is found throughout the gospels. He frequently tells his disciples that when we are attacked or faced with evil, even though we might have the means and the ability to retaliate, we should not. We should hold back instead. This teaching of Jesus is found most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount where he instructs us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. But it is found in many other places throughout the gospels and one of them is in today’s parable of the weeds and wheat which we have just heard.
To see the non-violent message we must situate the parable in the setting of Jesus’ ministry. Farmers, at the time of Christ, were not the mega-industrial farmers that they are today. They were small operators with usually less than an acre of land. They lived in a small agricultural village or with families living together as a tight-knitted community. This background allows us to see the impact of Jesus’ message. In the small farming community in which this parable takes place, when the farmer notices that there are weeds among his wheat and tells his servants an enemy has done this, the farmer most likely knows who the enemy is. By examining his relationship with his close neighbors he can easily determine which one of them would have wanted to cause him harm and which one of them, therefore, tried to destroy his crop.
Knowing this, the reaction of the farmer is very telling. Even though there would be a strong inclination to retaliate, this is not what the farmer does. He absorbs the attack and he refuses to use the knowledge and the means that he has to strike back. He turns the other cheek. Not only this, but the parable goes on to tell us that there was still a harvest. Despite the fact that the weeds were mixed in with the wheat and that the farmer did not retaliate, he nevertheless was able to gather the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into his barn.
This parable of the weeds and the wheat presents us with a counter-cultural, non-violent approach to life. At the same time it makes the point that such an approach is not irresponsible or weak. Choosing not to retaliate does not prevent us from supporting ourselves and our family and producing a harvest. The parable therefore challenges each one of us to look at the way we use our own power and authority. As parents, as employers, as friends, how often do we use our authority to coerce others? Giving a command or making a demand might seem like a quick and efficient way to get to what we want, but very often dialogue and persuasion are better.
To absorb the attack, to deflect the insult is not a sign of weakness. The parable tells us that refusing to use violence is not a lesser way or a wimpy way but Christ’s way. When we refuse to use our authority and power to coerce others, we are not settling for second best. We are showing that we are, in fact, disciples of the Prince of Peace.