One of the more interesting tasks of growing up is learning to distinguish what is me from what is not-me. At a basic level, this is a safety issue because me=safe and not-me=?
This is part of why kids are so ‘me’ focused, if you exist you exist in relation to me and not in your own right or for the sake of your own being. To an extent this is part of why marriage requires “leaving father and mother,” we have to change from the notion that you exist for my sake and move into the reality that you exist for you and that we can be a gift to each other (but that is a topic I have covered elsewhere).
Part of what we learn (oh so subtly) in the me/not-me task is that me=good while not-me=dubious (and probably bad). We also decide how we want to approach not-me. People who are more inclined to accept Other (not-me) as positive tend toward political liberalism. Those who are more sceptical of the goodness of not-me tend toward political conservatism. (as an older joke goes, there are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who see a sabre toothed tiger and run away, and those who say “here kitty kitty.”) These and the numerous variations thereof are all understandable human responses to what is outside the self.
Sometimes of course, the me/not-me task shows up in political fights. “Our” side is sweetness, light, and good while “they/Those People” are all horrible creatures and possibly even “the Evil Empire” of Ultimate Darkness.
This can get show up in sports rivalries too where our team is glorious good and theirs is eeeeevil. The one notable exeption to this is the infamous New Dork Wankees who are clearly what Jesus intended when in a (New England) variant manuscript, the passage reads “George Steinbrenner has done this.”
While church fights are rarely as longstanding and institutional as political fights, we tend to do them in the same way. Our side is about Love (so theirs must be about Hate) or our position is Defending Truth (so theirs is Defending Lies). Us=good, them=bad and therefore, since the church can only be made of good people, “they” must convert, leave, or die. Suddenly this weeds and wheat parable by Jesus seems like a contemporary story.
There is however another story to tell here, one of weeds and wheat growing together until God comes along to sort them out. This story starts with Jesus’ tale but also takes a side trip down Luther’s discussion of the truth that we are simul justus et peccator (at the same time saint and sinner). In other words, we are weedy wheat. The line between good and evil goes through our hearts so we are both weeds and wheat at the same time.
And then there are people who seem to be far more weeds than wheat. One man I knew came across as an utter jerk, a person I wanted passionately to avoid (and I actually was able to avoid after I left the neighborhood where he lived). But something happened during the time I was gone, regular contact with the church and the personal grace of the pastor worked on him. When I met him again nearly a decade later, he had started the long journey away from being a hard-hearted jerk and toward a life of grace. When he died just a few years later, he was showing even more of the wheat in his life and I was proud to have known him for the man he became.
If I had been successful in pulling up this obvious weed and throwing it out of my life, I would have missed the wheat that was able, through grace, to grow up into beauty. In the same way, our enthusiasm for pulling weeds in order to preserve the purity of the wheat (an enthusiasm the servants shared) tends to end opportunities for life which the master of this story deeply desires.
In the face of these weeds sown in the church, the world, and by extension, in our very hearts, Jesus says “let them grow and let God sort ’em out.” This is in interesting contrast to the more popularly known quote that ends …” let God sort them out” (and was, to his eternal shame, spoken by an officer of the church). The contrast is however very important, because the God who dealt with failure and despair by rising from death is a God who will not quench the feeblest flame of hope and life in us.
Thus, we are each of us Weedy-Wheat, made for good things and yet still drawn to stupidity. Frail vessels full of power whose very cracks show the glory of God. And ultimately, though today we may seem more weed than wheat, we have the power of Jesus deep within us and he will not let us go.