Weekly Seeds: The Seed

Sunday, July 23, 2023
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost | Year A

Focus Theme:
The Seed

Focus Prayer:
Creator, whether weed or wheat, you create the conditions in which they grow. Let us be cognizant of the seeds they plant in order to reap the harvest needed for life abundantly. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 • Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17 • Romans 8:12-25 • Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Focus Questions:
What makes a weed…a weed?
Why, when, and how do you eliminate weeds?
How do we create an environment for growth?
What seeds are you planting? What growth are you cultivating?
What do you hope to reap from the harvest?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Much of life begins from a seed. Within the seed is every aspect necessary for that life–plant, animal, or human, to grow and mature. While seeds are impacted by external forces and influences, the end result depends upon the original type of seed. In the gospel passage, Jesus has shifted the emphasis from the environment the seed is sown in a previous parable to the nature of the seed itself. The one who sows bears responsibility for the type of seed they chose to plant as much as the condition of the soil determines the ability of seed to take root.

The plot twist in this teaching is that there is more than one sower. There is the one who sows good seed who is authorized to plant in the fields. They bring the necessary tools and keep the field tended. They water and nurture the seed through its various phases of development. This sower is vested in the entire harvest and the community that depends upon its flourishing. This sower gives their time and energy throughout the process until and through harvesting.

But there is another one who brings opposing intentions and seeds. That sower comes when the workers are asleep and trying to rest. That sower chooses to plant seeds that will compete rather than complement the seeds already nestled in the soil. Their aim is division and deprivation. As the weeds emerge, their existence questions the ability and intentions of the legitimate sower. Their proliferation inhibits the ability for the wheat to grow, stunting growth in size and volume. Nothing good comes from the spread of weeds.

What weeds have been planted in the fields you inhabit? Who has done that planting? As the disciples and others originally heard this teaching, surely they pondered the meaning behind the metaphor. Where are the weeds? This question invites the consideration of faith communities today.

Notice that Jesus does not name the type of plant that shows up as a weed in this story. He leaves the identity open-ended. I’ve always struggled with the idea of identifying a plant as a weed. I remember the first time I heard of a flower being called a weed. It was a dandelion. They were covering the grass on an empty lot in my neighborhood and have then spread to other, tended lawns on the street. I think I had picked one and was quickly informed that action only helped them to spread. I wasn’t trying to remove them. I thought the flower was pretty and wanted a closer look. Still, I was instructed to grab them by the root in order to eradicate them. I learned that a weed wasn’t determined by its merit in isolation, but by the purposes for the land and their impact on what was intentionally planted.

Matthew’s account focuses on the reign of God; Jesus uses these parables to frame participation in the kindom just as the Sermon on the Mount serves as a reorientation to the message of the Law and the Prophets. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is particularly Matthean:

The second parable about sowing (weeds among the wheat) is found only in Matthew. It serves as a metaphor to account for the mixed reception of Jesus’ message and to forestall exclusion of those who are not responsive or who even stand opposed. The Pharisees, for example, have shown themselves in the preceding two chapters to be locked in opposition to Jesus. The lesson of the story is to let them be. This response is in accord with the principle of nonretaliation laid out in the sermon on the mount. Jesus’ teachings about not judging (7:1), seeking reconciliation (5:23–26), and loving the enemy (5:44) require this approach. The parable urges trust that God is the one who is best able to judge between weeds and wheat and will do so at the time of the harvest. Harvest is a “stock metaphor for eschatological judgment and already appearing three times in Matthew’s Gospel (3:10, 12; 9:37).
Anna Case Winters

Matthew’s audience is composed of insiders experiencing conflict, in part, over their relationship and responsibility to the world outside. His account seeks to encourage them to move beyond themselves to engage the world in the kindom. Jesus’ message to let the weeds be until harvest was particularly addressing the judgment and resulting isolation of an inside community at risk of being a closed one. The role of the one sowing good seeds is to keep sowing, not to become preoccupied with weeds. This is true within and beyond the community:

The mixed response that Jesus and the disciples witness also characterizes Matthew’s community of faith and the wider world beyond that community as well. The parable does not equate the weeds with the world and the wheat with the church. The mixture is both within and without the community of faith. It is possible that Matthew’s faith community (like our own faith communities) is at risk of trying to do the “sorting out” prematurely—confident of its capacity to distinguish between “weeds” and “wheat.” Pagola suggests that there is a “mixture” not only in the wider world and the community of faith but also in the lives of the faithful: “Belief and unbelief, like the wheat and the weeds in the parable, are mixed together in each one of us.”

It is best to let the mixture grow together until the harvest rather than making premature judgments. That way we do not mistakenly exclude any of God’s beloved. Nor do we give up on ourselves in the face of our own mixed response. Read in this way, the parable is a parable of grace—make no exclusions. This is God’s harvest. God alone will judge. The theme of judgment runs through this chapter on the reign of God.
Anna Case Winters

The kindom of God, like the wheat, can grow and flourish among the weeds. As Warren Carter notes, “The parable offers another reason that some/many do not respond positively. They fail to recognize a “now but not yet dynamic. God’s empire is present in part but not yet fully.”

The proliferation of evil and the seeming triumph of malevolent forces in the world can be discouraging to say the least. That discouragement can motivate isolation and defeatism. This lesson for the early church seems particularly relevant to the current climate of divisiveness and rising and renewed oppressiveness. A word of wisdom from the Talmud states, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The parable of the wheat and the weed encourages us to welcome the good seed and to spread it widely and freely. Paul put it this way, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)
Sow the seed.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
My grandmother’s hands feel leathery. They are never soft or smooth. No amount of lotion can unharden the skin after years spent cleaning, scrubbing, cooking. Hands immersed in dirty water, clean water, harsh chemicals—hands that, combined with elbow grease, shined floors and windows and baseboards in white women’s kitchens. Hands of an older, Southern Black woman . . . hands that quietly built a nation but whose history is often unrecorded. I have no memory of manicured hands holding mine. Instead, when I remember her hands, I can still feel the calluses of someone who only knew labor her whole life.
It is only now that I am much older that I can piece together the work of her hands. Strong young hands cutting tobacco in Southern fields; brown hands cradling the one long-desired child she dared to love after so many losses; tentative hands signing legal documents she did not understand for a new life up North; gentle hands walking her abandoned granddaughter to school. My grandmother’s hands are a love story, but they are not smooth, not soft, not easy. No real love story is. Her hands are a love story of survival in hard places, during hard times.
Yolanda Pierce, In My Grandmother’s House​​: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit

For further reflection
“A seed neither fears light nor darkness, but uses both to grow.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo
“A seed houses generation of seeds and can also feed generations of man.” ― Oscar Bimpong
“Deep in the secret world of winter’s darkness, deep in the heart of the Earth, the scattered seed dreams of what it will accomplish, some warm day when its wild beauty has grown strong and wise.” ― Solstice

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.