Jesus told them another parable. The kingdom of heaven is like this: Once there was a farmer who sowed good seeds in his field. While the farmer’s workers were sleeping, his enemy crept into the field and sowed weeds among all the wheat seeds. Then he snuck away again.
Eventually the crops grew — wheat, but also weeds. So, the farmer’s workers said to him, “Sir, why didn’t you sow good seeds in your field? Where did these weeds come from?”
“My enemy must have done this,” replied the farmer.
“Should we go pull up all the weeds?” asked his workers.
“No,” said the farmer. “It’s too risky. As you pull up the weeds, you would probably pull up some wheat as well. We’ll let them both grow until harvesttime. I will tell the harvesters to collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, and only then to harvest the wheat and bring it to my barn.”
Matthew 13: 24-30 (The Voice)
It was just two weeks ago. Campus ministry leaders from across the United States and multiple denominations gathered around tables in an Indianapolis hotel conference room at an event organized by the Forum for Theological Education. Our task was simple. Work together on the puzzle that had been put on our table. Each of us had a limitation determined by an item of our choosing as we entered the room. My particular limitation? I could not speak — but that would not deter me from helping the team with the task at hand.
Our table exhibited exceptional collaboration. We were so, so close to completing the puzzle when, suddenly, the session facilitator said, “Stop.” But I couldn’t do it. There were just four pieces left. I knew where they belonged. Aware that it was probably against the rules, I *thought* I could finish the puzzle under the radar. But, Lakisha — our amazing and aforementioned session facilitator — caught me and asked: why are you trying to finish the puzzle?
“Because it is not finished,” I said. “It’s so close, and I don’t like leaving a job undone.”
“I never said the puzzle had to be finished only that you had to work on it as a team,” Lakisha said before asking, “What if finishing the puzzle is not your job? What if you are denying others the opportunity to be a part of the puzzle?”
Y’all, I have been sitting with those questions since she asked them. I have built successful careers by vowing never to say, “that’s not my job.” One of my favorite t-shirts states boldly: I will figure it out. ~This Woman, Daily. I love that shirt so much that I own it in multiple colors. I had never stopped to consider that my persistence — dare I say, my pride — would deny others opportunity. And, my hunch is that I am not alone in the pursuit of puzzle completion.
At this conference, the parable from Matthew 13: 24-30 was at the center of our daily worship services. In it, the workers see a job that needs to be done. They ask if they should pull the weeds. And, just as Lakisha had done for me, the farmer does for the workers. It’s not their job to pull the weeds. In so doing, they would deny the opportunity for some of the wheat to grow. It will be the harvesters’ job to separate the two. Perhaps some read this scripture and believe it to be about how two different kinds of people — those who are wheat and those who are weeds — may spend eternity. However, as this parable was repeatedly proclaimed and as I reflected upon the session that began with the puzzle, I heard the scripture with the understanding that passing that kind of judgment is not our job. If we see it as such, we will undoubtedly deny others the opportunity to flourish. Rather let us see each other as the field — a place where both wheat and weeds reside. And God, our great harvester of grace, is able clear away our weeds seeing us for the wheat we can be. And, if we truly want the earth to be as it is in heaven — may we see the good in each other as God sees the good in us.
And now, let us pray the prayer the campus ministry leaders shared on that puzzle day in Indy: Good and gracious God, help us to reach the uprooted and rejected, the lonely and the outcast, and to develop and grow the good in ourselves, in others and in the world. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.