How on Earth Does His Garden Grow?
Pentecost is the season of growth, but you wouldn't know that from my garden. Only thing it has produced in large numbers is some sort of tomato loving field rat. If my family depended on my gardening skills for vegetables, they would have none. Just when I thought I had the scorching sun beat, the bugs came. Once I had the bugs beaten back, the weeds came. After the weeds, the rats. After the rats, what was left was thoroughly drowned. A healthy, productive garden is a miracle to me. And this is the setting for our text. A man has a field that he sows with wheat. The parable is all about the kingdom of heaven on earth. It deals with the very puzzling question of how on earth does the Lord's garden grow?
The parable is about the kingdom of heaven in the world. Christ tells us this is the issue by saying, "It works this way with the kingdom of heaven: A man sowed good seed in his field." The man in the parable is Jesus, and the field which He sows is the world. We like to sing triumphant songs about the kingdom of heaven in the world. We like to sing of it moving like a mighty army, of the hosts of God in conquering ranks combining. We like those hymn tunes that sing like a John Philip Sousa march. We (Notice I include myself.) like those hymns that testify to us of our certain triumphant here and now.
But look about you. Doesn't what you see make a lie out of any sort of triumphalism? Where's the triumph in priest after priest being removed for child abuse? Where's the victory in congregations that you yourself know of torn apart by strife? Where's the winning going on when our own Missouri Synod is divided over whether her pastors ought to join in heathen prayer services?
What's going on in the Church today? If that question doesn't pop into your head than you must be burying your head in the sand. Regularly the paper tells you about this or that church blessing gay "marriages," having services with those who deny Christ, approving abortion, or allowing it's members to deny such universal Christian doctrines as the Trinity and the Virgin Birth. How in the world can this be going on under the banner of the Christian Church?
If you're not asking this question, you're denying what is patently obvious to most everyone else. The servants of Christ in the parable definitely know weeds are threatening the kingdom of heaven on earth. It's a real problem for them; it ought to be for you. They come to Jesus and say, "Lord you only sowed good seed in Your field, didn't You? Where then did the weeds come from?" If these questions aren't in your head, you must think the Lord sowed His Church with child molesters, people who stir up strife, and those who don't care about true doctrine: with weeds in addition to wheat.
How does the Lord answer those who come to Him in child-like innocence trying to get their head around a kingdom of heaven on earth with weeds popping up all over it? He says bluntly, "The devil did this." Christ only sows His field on earth with sons and daughters of the kingdom. Christ sows His field with people forgiven of child abuse not with child abusers. He sows His field with those who've been baptized into His new life not with those living outside of their baptisms. He sows His field with those washed clean by the blood of the cross not with those who want to wallow in their own filth. All that you see going on in the church in the world: the defending of sexual sins, the denying of basic Biblical doctrines doesn't come from the Lord but from Satan, His enemy. Satan not the Lord is to blame for the weeds in the field of the Lord on earth.
Jesus, in this parable, shows us the startlingly truth, that Satan does what Jesus does. For this reason, Luther regularly referred to Satan as God's ape. He imitates God. The Lord sows His field with good seed, with sons and daughters of the kingdom. The devil sows the field with weeds which are sons and daughters of the evil one. However, where the Lord does His sowing in the broad daylight by the public preaching of the Word, by public Baptism; Satan does his sowing secretly under the cover of darkness. His whole goal is to ruin the field of the Lord and so bring shame on Him.
All of this we could not know unless Christ told us. This is important. Unless we go strictly by the Word of the Lord at this point, we'll be left in our perplexity thinking that Jesus must have somehow sown His field with weeds. Here, finally, an Austin bumper sticker applies in a good way. I saw one that said, "Don't believe everything you think." What a godly bumper sticker. We must repent of believing what we think about the kingdom of heaven on earth. Because we see sin flourishing unpunished in the kingdom of heaven on earth, we dare not think the Lord Jesus put it there. Because we see weeds growing as high as wheat in the field of the Lord, we must not think He approves of those weeds.
How on earth does the Lord's Garden grow? That's the question this parable answers. It shows you two amazing things: 1) the Lord Jesus allows the weeds to flourish right beside His wheat. 2) The weeds don't in any way hinder the growth of His Garden. Both of these are amazing things. One is amazing because it shows the Lord is willing to be humiliated for the sake of His Garden. The other is amazing because it shows that the Lord's Garden grows contrary to human reason. Let me explain.
If you had seen my garden in May, you would have laughed at it and at me. You would've seen huge black-eyed susan weeds growing marvelously between my tomato plants, right next to my tomato plants, right inside the cage with a tomato plant. Among the watermelon and cucumbers you would have seen baby mesquite trees thriving. Next to the bell peppers you would have seen the same weed that flourishes beside roads. You would have smiled as the boys explained that they thought the black-eyed susans where sunflowers and the mesquite trees were watermelons. You would have laughed as I blamed a member for giving me the seeds of a chile patina which I thought just might be that unidentified weed growing so well by the bell peppers.
It is embarrassing for a gardener to allow weeds to flourish in his garden. It either shows him to be like me, unable to recognize weeds from plants, or just plain lazy. For our sakes, the Lord is willing to appear unknowing, lazy, and weak in the eyes of the world. Rather than taking the chance of rooting up us sons and daughters of His when pulling up weeds, Jesus lets the weeds flourish. Most of the time people miss this feature of the parable. They think Jesus won't let His servants root up the weeds in the field because it is hard to tell the weeds from the wheat until right at harvest time. This is not the case. It is plain to the servants and everyone else what is a weed and what is wheat, but amazingly Jesus the Gardener is willing to be made fun of for the sake of the wheat. Actually, as St. Augustine pointed out it is for the sake of the weeds too: They who are weeds today may be wheat tomorrow.
It is amazing but not surprising that Jesus is willing to be the laughing stock of the gardening community. This is the same God who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin and to die a humiliating death on a cross in our place. This is the same Jesus who though He was sinless bore our sins. Though He was strong bore our weakness. Though He was wise beyond all wisdom bore our foolish ignorance. This is the same God, who for our salvation, allowed Himself to be mocked, ridiculed and spit on. Having suffered all that, what is suffering a few weeds to grow in His wheat field?
But allowing weeds to grow with wheat is against every rule of gardening. Everyone knows that weeds soak up water, choke the roots of good plants, and since they grow faster than the good plants will shade them. If you had seen my weed-filled garden, you would have seen these very things in evidence. The weeds looked fine and healthy, but the good plants suffered. And doesn't it look this way in the kingdom of heaven on earth? The scandals grab the headline not the pious Christians. The weeds who let their sexuality run rampant do better than those Christians who struggle to bridle their sexual impulses. The pastors willing to pray with the heathen are loving; those opposed to it are hateful. It surely seems that the Lord's field is in danger of being overrun by the success of the weeds.
Here again we must repent of what we think. The Lord's entire concern in the parable and in the world is with His wheat, with those who are righteous in His blood, sweat and tears. His entire concern is for us poor plants watered by Baptism rather than by worldly praise, strengthened by our sins being forgiven rather than by them being indulged, fed by His Body and Blood rather than by giving into our body and blood. The weeds growing and thriving around us won't overcome us. Though they get greener and bigger than we do, it is us not them who will be gathered into our Lord's barn.
Right after Jesus told this parable He told two others. The parable of the tiny mustard seed growing up to be the biggest plant in the garden and the parable of the little leaven leavening the whole big lump of dough. All 3 parables are an invitation to believe what we could never think on our own: That the kingdom of heaven though small and weak in the world is invisibly prospering beyond our wildest dreams. The devil does his work in secret, but it appears to prosper visibly. The Lord, on the other hand, does His work openly by preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments, but His work prospers invisibly.
The second thing all 3 parables teach is that the end is what counts. In the end, the weeds don't win. In the end, God pulls up the weeds to burn them eternally, but it's not yet the end. It's not time for those right with God in Baptism, Absolution, or Communion to shine like the sun in the kingdom of their heavenly Father. But that time is coming. Soon, Jesus will send out His angels, and all of those who've hid their unbelieving lives in the church on earth, who've persisted in being weeds of the evil one, will be pulled up. That seems impossible to us now. Weeds grow so close to plants that at the ground level you can't tell which is the stalk of the weed and which is the stalk of the plant. From above you can plainly see which plant is which, but from below, you can't. In the end of the age, the angels coming from above can plainly tell weeds from wheat, and they won't miss a weed.
Have you seen those Round-Up commercials on TV where the weeds talk among themselves? What if your garden plants could talk? Would they be worried about how things were going in your garden? Not hardly. They're in your hands. You planted them. You water them. You fertilize them. You weed them. Well the parable shows us as being just that passive in the Lord's garden. He planted us. He waters and feeds us with the Means of Grace. It's up to Him to save us from weeds and harvest us when ready. It's up to Him to grow His garden here on earth. The "how" is entirely in His hands, and He assures us in this parable that He is taking care of it. Neither the devil nor his weeds slow Jesus or His garden down. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IX (7-21-02); Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43