Guerrilla Gardening

Matthew 13:24-30 – The Parable of the Weeds

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. 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?’ An enemy has done this,’ he answered. The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 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.’”

I learned a new term this week. Guerrilla gardening. What is guerrilla gardening? Well, an article I read defines it as “…the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land. It is usually done in the name of improving urban space and as an action against urban blight. It can be very politicized, and it can also be informal. Sometimes it is a short-term gesture, as in throwing a seed bomb over a fence into a vacant lot. Other times it can grow into something much more permanent, like the garden plots in my neighborhood.”[i]

Now, let’s think about guerrilla gardening in light of the parable of the weeds that we have before us today. To me, it sounds like a guerrilla gardener is the opposite of the “enemy” in Jesus’ story.  The guerrilla gardener spreads “wheat” in places where only weeds had previously existed. But how might these contrasting examples of gardening speak to us today? How might we, as people of faith, spread the seeds of compassion, of grace, of justice to the “vacant lots” of our community, to the forgotten spaces in other corners of this world? How might we overcome the evil that exists all around and within us? Under what conditions might we become guerrilla gardeners?

Well, many of the same questions that trouble us also troubled the earliest Christians, including the community Matthew addresses here, in his Gospel. Now, Matthew often used language of judgment, decision and division, sometimes producing terrifying scenes of condemnation. In response to our ancestors’ struggle with the presence of evil in their midst, Matthew provided them with pictures and promises to help them endure and persist, even if their little community, and the big world beyond it, seemed infected and flawed by  the “weeds” sown by an unseen power at odds with God’s vision for the world.

Barbara Brown Taylor shares that parables are not direct answers to the questions that we want clearly and specifically answered. But instead, she says, they deliver “…their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious. Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding”[ii]

Parables are mysterious, and as I said last week, if we take them to literally or if we think we’re certain about their meaning, the parable and thus the message is in danger of become irrelevant. But if we’re made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable, we’re probably getting a little closer to the heart of what we’re meant to gain from it. You see, “Parables are short stories that often teach by criticizing bad behavior and calling for hearers to reform their lives. These are not simply reflections on the kingdom of heaven; these are directions for how to create the kingdom of God here on earth.”[iii]

Now, like last week’s lectionary reading, our passage contains a parable with images of sowing seeds. Last week’s sower liberally spread seeds on every kind of ground, with mixed results. This week’s sower presumably uses good ground, but also gets mixed results because of the actions of an unnamed “enemy.” And this is important. It’s important because as in any good storytelling there’s tension and conflict. The enemy here actively resisted the work of God the sower. Perhaps those early Christians had a sense of their own powerlessness. Perhaps they felt small and vulnerable in opposition to the powerful enemies of their society.[iv]

But what about you? Are there times when you feel powerless or vulnerable in the face of the evils of this our society? But while this parable and the subsequent explanation seem to look forward to a final judgment day, it’s intent, in reality, is better understood in how we build up the reign of God in our present circumstances. As we work toward a society in which all people are treated with dignity and respect we will have to contend with the weeds that choke justice, literally and figuratively.

Now, I’ve seen his parable misused to justify complacency as the weeds and wheat grow together until final harvest; a “just let God sort it out” kind of thinking. But telling people who are presently suffering victimization to wait for a future reckoning only causes further harm and fails to promote God’s vision of justice. God’s eschatological justice cannot be an excuse for inaction, comfortable ignorance, or outright denial of the need for change.[v]

And this is where we come back around to guerrilla gardening. I believed with every fabric of my being that we are being called, during these most trying of times, to become “guerrilla gardeners of God’s love.” What does that mean? Well, It means continuing the process of finding ways to be sowers of wheat among the weeds of this world. But it also means considering the places where we’re the ones sowing the weed seed. We’re simultaneously represented by both the weeds and the wheat in this parable. We’re the ones who have stood up against racial injustice, for example, but at the same time we’ve also, perhaps unwittingly, participating in passive racism by utilizing social structures that advantage white-straight-men over all others.

So, what a parable like this one challenges us to do, first of all, is to become aware of these systems and then, to use our new-found awareness to influence social change. Real and lasting social change that can be realized if we are willing to lend our voices, our wallets, and our vote to insure that equality and justice is real for every single one of God’s children.

Yes, in the end, we are both weed and wheat. But we can choose to become something more, we can choose to become sowers of justice, propagators of peace, channels of God’s grace; we can, my friends, choose to become guerrilla gardeners of God’s love. And isn’t that finally, something worth considering?

——————————–

[i] David Tracey, Guerrilla Gardening: A Manual-festo (BC: New Society Publishers, 2007).

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor “Learning to Live with Weeds,” in The Seeds of Heaven (quote found at www.ucc.org/samuel/seeds) 2020

[iii] Jaime L. Waters How the Parable of the Weeds Compels us to Fight for Justice  (www.americanmagazine.org) 2020

[iv] Katheryn Matthews’ reflection on Matthew 13 (www.ucc.org/samuel/seeds) 2020

[v] Ibid. Waters

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