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By Pastor Ken Rickett 

MATTHEW 13: 24-30:
Then he put forth another parable to them, “The Kingdom ofHeaven”, he said, “is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his menwere asleep his enemy came and sowed tares (weeds) among the wheat and wentaway. When the crop came up, and ripened, the weeds appeared as well.
Then the owner’s servants came up to him and said,
‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?

Where did these tares (weeds) come from?’
‘Some blackguard has done this to spite me,’ he replied.
‘Do you want us then to go out and pull them all up?’
 said his servants.

‘No,’ he returned, ‘if you pull up the weeds now, you would pull up the wheat with them. Let them both grow together till the harvest. And at harvest-time I shall tell the reapers,

‘Collect all the weeds first and tie them up in bundles ready to burn, but collect the wheat and store it in my barn.’” 

Have you ever engaged in an “exercise in futility?” I have.

Just last week I swept the hardwood floor in the living room while the sun’s rays were brightly shining through the window and bathing much of the floor in sunlight. It seemed as if there was far more dirt in the air than in my dustpan! Then, after working on the computer for a while, I went back into the living room and behold, the end tables which I had dusted before sweeping were covered again. I thought, “why did I even bother to sweep the floor? Or dust the end tables?” What an exercise in futility! I have concluded that the best time to sweep the floor is at midnight with only a dim night light allowing me to avoid tripping over furniture as I sweep!

Dust is an imperfection in which we learn to cope…even if we have to dust and sweep every day or every week. I still remember my Grandmother taking her quilts off the bed on a warm sunny morning, hang them up over a clothesline, and beat them with a broom handle. Little poofs of dust would explode with each strike and then less and less dust with subsequent blows. Then she would leave the quilts out all day to “sun.”

Then eventually it was a task to do all over again.

Was this an exercise in futulity. . .or a means of coping and accepting an imperfection that exists? 

Some people like to eat tender dandelion greens and others see these plants as a weed and a nuisance. For me, I just want my front yard, in particular, to be free of them. In the spring I use fertilizer that only allows grass to flourish. Yet, all through the summer I use my dandelion weeder often. As far as my yard goes, I have succeeded in keeping them from blooming and scattering their airborne seeds throughout my yard, but I must stay vigilant by using that dandelion weeder weekly! But I can’t control the dandelions in other yards and fields around me. So it is a constant battle to weed them out of my yard before they reproduce. Yes, sometimes I wonder why I even attempt such an exercise in futility! But each week that I stroll through my yard with my dandelion picker, the truth finally takes hold. . .my yard will always be prone to this imperfection.

Like dust, dandelions will never be “controlled”; these imperfections have dwelt and will dwell on and on forever. The parable about pulling up the tares found in the wheat fields is a clear example of an exercise in futility.

Tares, weeds that resemble wheat in the early growing stages, are an imperfection that no one wants to see in a wheat field. The wise farmer tells his helpers (who discovered the tares) to leave the tares alone and wait until harvest to separate the tares and wheat. Why? The roots of the tares and the wheat entangle, thus, to pull up the tares is to also pull up the roots of the good wheat and thereby destroy a good harvest. Yes, it is aggravating to see a wheat field invaded by tares, and the natural instinct is to want to pull them. Far better to wait until harvest when the farm workers can separate the wheat from the tares!

Run that thinking out. We human beings often have little patience with imperfections that we might see; our first instinct is to rip them out or remove them. How futile to think that we can eliminate imperfections in ourselves or in others. Imperfections are ingrained in human life like dust or dandelion weeds or tares. We ministers strive to remind dreamy-eyed couples who are planning a marriage ceremony that when the honeymoon is over, there is an awareness of a zillion imperfections. . .and that a person has to work “with and around” as constantly as sweeping and dusting. Leaving the tares alone until harvest is a clear message: leave the imperfections alone when the greater good (harvest) will be adversely affected! O, to be sure, some imperfections (criminal behavior) are such that punitive action must be taken. However, my point is that too many relationships (not only marriage, but friendship, co-workers, family, etc.) may be harmed when we decide that some imperfections we see in others must be ripped out.

For example, years ago my wife and I had gotten to the point that we were short with some of the other’s shortcomings. Then we learned that we differed in how we picked up on the world around us. I (Ken) tend to be intuitive which means, among other things, that I often instinctively know what may be going on without having to ask or be told. Della, on the other hand is “sensing” person who must rely upon the five senses (touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell) which means, among other things, that she usually has to ask or see for herself, etc. But once we learned that we pick up on the world around us differently, many of the things that irritated us melted away almost overnight. What we saw as imperfections in each other that we wanted to “rip out” was transformed into a new way for us to understand each other. 

Leave the imperfections alone. Any of us can enjoy long term relationships simply when we wisely realize that we are not in this world to rip out any and all imperfections that we see in each other. If we did so, we would be lonely and alone for sure!

Fred Craddock, well-known Disciples of Christ preacher and author, uses this parable to say to the churches, “leave the tares alone; don’t pull ‘em up!” The old practice of “churching” meant that a person was removed from membership for a “sin” committed, usually with an expectation that such persons would see the error of their ways and ask to be restored. Written histories of a few congregations tell stories about young people who were “dismissed” for dancing, or a man “churched” for chewing tobacco, or a woman “removed” for flirting. Usually the aftermath of these actions is turmoil. Families and kin quit attending. People take sides. Offerings suffer. Why? Because roots are all tangled up: pulling a “tare” also pulls out the good wheat. Leave the tares alone.

Craddock also says, “don’t clean up the membership rolls.” I (Ken) once began a pastorate with a new congregation, and within days I was confronted by an older man who came up to me on a street of that town. I was informed that he would not be back to church, nor his family, nor would his folks support the church in any way. I said, “do you mind telling me why?” To which the response was, “I got the new church directory and my family, including my grown children and their families, were not in it anymore. We may not have attended, but we did support financially when we could. But somebody decided to clean the rolls. . .” So, I did some checking into the man’s story. The new directory was created and printed while the church had an interim minister, and the person assigned to update the membership list with home addresses “removed” people using the criteria of attendance alone. I have learned that the most precious asset of any congregation is the good will of the membership and the good will of the community. Leave the tares alone! God did not call the Church into being in order for the Church to remove tares; that is God’s job. Rather, the Church is called into being to put to share redemptive love and grace as revealed in Jesus Christ, to lift up those who have been overtaken in a fault, to exist in true fellowship with fellow Christians who can admit to being a part of imperfect humanity who are united in a common goal to become the new humanity of God’s people by the increase of love for God and neighbor.

“Leave the tares alone.” Some people place this parable in terms of God’s judgment. That may well be. BUT this parable is about withholding our judgment. Oddly, for those who follow Jesus, to leave the tares alone is a clarion call to love redemptively, to live faithfully, and to become as gracious to one another as we would want God to be gracious (and forgiving) to us!