The Dandelion Paradox (Manuscript)

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’

29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.”’”

36 Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One.  38 The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. 40 Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. 41 The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. 42 He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.” (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-40, Common English Bible)

When we moved to Lovelady in 1995, we moved into a brand new parsonage. And, that new house came with a mess for a yard. Before we moved in, one of the men in the congregation thought the lawn needed to have grass so he bought a bag of Bermuda grass seed and using the broadcast method, he spread it over the yard. As a result, much of it went on the lawn, where it was supposed to go. But, some of it also went into places where it wasn’t supposed to go. Onto sidewalks and the driveway wasn’t a big deal. But, it also went into every flowerbed on the property. Do you know what grass is called when it’s in a flowerbed? That is correct, it’s a weed. For the next two years, at least, there was an ongoing battle to remove the grass from those flowerbeds.

What is a weed? Why do we dislike them so much? We think they are useless. But, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

Cecelia Ahern also answered the question, what is a weed? She says, “A weed is just a flower planted in the wrong place.”

I also remember watching my mother and father working out in the yard and pulling weeds from the lawn. At least as I remember them, most of them were dandelions. I wasn’t allowed to pull the dandelions because I never got the whole root and it would grow back again. The last thing my parents wanted was for weeds to grow back.

When I was a very small child I remember picking the flowers off the dandelions to give to my mother. As I got older, I learned they were weeds. I grew up thinking a dandelion was nothing but a useless weed that nobody really wanted around and the only one who really knows why these plants are around at all is God himself. Why did God create weeds anyway?

Years later, I learned, much to my own surprise, there are actually people in this world, perhaps some of you, who actually eat those weeds. That’s right, they don’t see them as weeds at all. Instead, they view them as vegetables. They call them greens. I have personally never eaten them and, while I would try them, I am not in a real big hurry to do so. I am not real crazy about other more common greens like mustard greens, collard greens and turnip greens. I did try kale a few years ago and it was OK, but I have learned some folks would actually prepare those dandelion greens and then eat them. Still others make soup out of them. Can you imagine folks eating weeds?

In the last couple of weeks, since I decided to preach on this text, I learned that some people make wine out of blossoms. Others make tea out of the roots. People who practice wholistic medicine use dandelions for circulation, blood, and digestive issues. It is used for viral and other infections, there are some who use it to treat some cancers, and as a skin toner. I just ran a quick Google search on uses for dandelions. There were over 10,000,000 results. I thought I was going to list them all. I am going to say, I have already told you enough.

That is quite a paradox. It is all the same plant but to some, it is a weed and yet to others a vegetable and for a few others, a flower. So, do we weed it out of the yard or do we pick off the leaves and boil them (or do whatever you do to dandelion greens) and eat them and then let the rest continue to grow for the next harvest? Or, do we pick off the blossoms and use them to brighten our homes?

For many people, if clover is growing in your yard it is a weed needing to be pulled or at least choked out. Yet on March 17th every years there are shamrocks, clover hanging everywhere. At that one point of the year it would seem everyone around us wants clover, at least the four leafed variety to bring us good luck.

It would seem that the paradox is, one person’s weed is another’s four-leaf clover and one person’s plant, flower or vegetable can be another person’s weed. Without question there are weeds in the world, plants that probably any of us would consider weeds. There are even plants having the word weed in their name. I have an acquaintance who has a master’s degree in biology, botany to be more specific. He wrote his master’s thesis on the milkweed. I am not clear, however, if he actually thinks the milkweed is a weed.

The same is true for people in the world around us. There are some we think are really bad people and some we think are really good people. Yet even those we think of as really bad, someone thinks of as good and those we think of as really good, there are others who think they are not worth the time of day. It is the dandelion paradox all over again.

In addition, that doesn’t even begin to include those we look at and rush to a snap judgment. All too often, we will take one look at someone and immediately decide they are good or bad, totally based on their appearance. When I am honest with myself, I know I tend to fall into this particular sin pretty quickly and easily. And, rarely do I regret my thoughts and actions. I am also not alone in this either.

Here is an example. A seminar leader showed a class of government workers a series of pictures. The pictures began with a view of a person’s eyes, then face, and then broadened the view to reveal the person’s entire body. It was only when the entire picture was seen that the class could make anything approaching an accurate judgment.

Let’s try it. First, take a look at this man’s eyes. Do you think he is a good guy or a bad guy? What can you tell from his eyes. Sometimes you can’t even tell by the eyes if someone is a man or woman. I will tell you that he this one is a man. Let’s look at his full face. Good guy or bad guy? Well, this is one of the good guys, for sure with what he is doing.

How about these eyes. This one is a woman. What do you think? Full face? Well, she is a bullied high school girl.

Way too much of the time we don’t see the whole picture and rush to judgment. We need to stop and pull back and take a longer look at the situation.

Our lesson this morning finds Jesus teaching the way it seems he taught so much of the time, in parables. The parable of the weeds finds a farmer putting in a field of wheat. Under the cover of darkness one of the man’s enemies comes in and plants weeds among the wheat. When the farmer’s servants discover the weeds they ask the farmer if he wants them to weed the fields. He tells them no, to let the weeds and the wheat grow up together. If you try to pull the weeds you will take some of the wheat out as well. At harvest time we will separate them. We will take the wheat to the barn and we will burn the weeds.

If we are unfamiliar with the parable the meaning can seem to be pretty cryptic to us. We might think it means Jesus is telling us not to weed flowerbeds. Because many of us have heard the parable numerous times, we can read this much and have some sense of understanding what Jesus is saying.

Even if we don’t, however, this is a parable where Jesus takes the time to explain it to the disciples and us. Our text ends this morning at verse 30. Verses 31 through 35 are the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Years. Then, beginning in verse 36 Jesus explains the Parable of the weeds. Read Matthew 13:36-43.

Jesus is the farmer. The world is the field. The wheat represents people of faith. The devil sows the weeds and the weeds are his children. The harvest is the end of time.

To me, the Parable of the Weeds can be a frustrating story. Weeds and wheat together? But, it’s also very real to our world. We raise our children and we pray with them and for them. We bring them to church – we surround them with good friends and even more important, good influences. Then they go to school. They come home with words we hoped they’d never hear much less learn. And, they watch television and they experience a world of extramarital affairs and uncommitted relationships. They see rape and drugs and alcohol. And what we start to see is like wheat being surrounded by weeds.

It is real, and what we really want to pray is, “Lord, take the weeds away!” Take all the evil and all the temptations and all the anxieties. Pull those weeds out of my life. Take away the wars and the human hunger. Take away the divisions between humanity. Yes, our prayer would be no less than Jesus’ prayer, “Father, if it be your will, take this cup from me…”

But the Kingdom of God is here on earth and wheat and weeds grow together side by side, lest in pulling out the weeds we disrupt the wheat as well. Weeds and wheat, side by side. We are not afforded a monastery – where we could go and get away from the problems of this world. We have to live in the real world.

What Jesus is really trying to teach us in this lesson is, judgments aren’t our job. We are to leave that to God. God knows we are consistently off the mark when we try to make an accurate assessment of the moral character of a friend or neighbor or anyone else, so we need to focus our energies elsewhere.

As I think about it, it’s a good thing those judgements aren’t mine to make. You see, also part of this paradox happens when I realize, perhaps the reason I can’t tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat is that they both look a great deal like me. Some of the time, when I am living the way God calls me to live, I look a whole lot like wheat. But, there are still other times, those times when I fall far short of who and what God wants me to be, times that I judge others, times when I live for me instead of living out God’s call in my life, I look a whole lot more like a weed than I look like a stalk of wheat. Thus, not only is a dandelion a paradox, so am I. I would even submit, so are you.

The challenge for us is to put our energy into being good wheat instead of trashing the weeds around us, even those weeds we see looking back at us from the mirror. Weeding the field isn’t our job. Rather than erecting walls, building boundaries and trying to purify our community of faith from the impurities of the world around us, our job is to grow healthy and strong – and leave the judging and the weeding to Jesus. The problem with us trying to pull up weeds is we might easily grab some wheat by mistake and unintentionally pull it out, and hurt others who are part of the wheat and not part of the weeds. We also just might hurt ourselves in the process. Then too, when we start yanking stuff out of the ground we may find the ground around us loosens and we might not grow quite as well as otherwise we might have.

The best news is, growth and maturity are probably the most effective forms of weed control around. I am told, if you are responsible for taking care of a lawn, that healthy grass is extremely competitive and will crowd out most of the weeds surrounding it all by itself. If your lawn is healthy you shouldn’t have to dig out many weeds – in fact the presence of weeds is a sign your grass is weaker than it probably should be. If you find yourself dealing with weeds, one of the best things to do is, let the grass grow and get healthy.

When we let the grass (or more scripturally, the wheat) grow we don’t have to worry as much about the dandelion paradox. We don’t have to worry whether it is a weed or a vegetable or a flower because the good plants will surround us. Yes, weeds will be part of the world, but when some of them see the life of the wheat, they too might become one of the good plants. They may look a bit different, but in the long run, the dandelion paradox becomes a moot point.

When I was at Pleasant Retreat in Tyler, a man named Ted was a member of that congregation also answered that question we began with, “What is a weed?” Ted was one of Tyler’s bigger rose growers. One Sunday morning I preached on this parable. As I greeted Ted at the door following the service he told me something I doubt I will ever forget. He said, “Keith, a weed is just a plant nobody loved.” WOW. What good news that is for all of us who spend some of our time on the weed side of the dandelion paradox. But, for those times when we are on the wheat side of the paradox, those weeds out there? We’ve got to keep loving them too.

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