If you want to see a living parable of the kingdom of God, you need only visit the lawn around my house. It’s a lawn our neighbors probably consider embarrassing. Unlike lawns treated liberally with chemicals, the kind of lawns pictured in Home & Garden, the kind advertisers have taught us to think of as perfect, ours is host to a rich and healthy biodiversity above and below ground.
Below, earthworms and other creatures that have hardly a chance in chemically treated lawns keep the soil nutritionally enriched and aerated. Above ground, plants commonly labeled “weeds” provide an evolving landscape of color and pollen. In early spring, dandelions erupt with their generous, hopeful yellow and provide one of the season’s first important sources of nutrients for bees and other pollinators. They’re followed by a succession of buttercups, sweet woodruff, forget-me-nots, clover, yarrow, violets, and a half-dozen other flowering gifts of grace that are a feast for our eyes and for the insects. Many dismiss them as weeds; for us, they’re a bounty of blessings.
When Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a field sown with wheat by a farmer and weeds by an enemy (Matt. 13:24-30), I wonder: Was this the same Jesus who chose wildflowers as an example of divine providence, flowers that blossom for a day and then are burned, yet are more beautifully clothed than the wealthiest monarch (Matt. 6:28-30)? Did Jesus consider weeds the work of an enemy? Or is that how the early church remembered what he said, because that’s how they faced the challenge of religious diversity within their community?
As the church expanded beyond their roots in Jerusalem, they faced a hard question: “How do we deal with church members who at first seem identical to us but turn out to have different beliefs and practices?” To put it more bluntly, “How do we deal with Christians who don’t believe as we believe, who seem worthless as weeds? How can we get rid of them?” It’s a question that still burdens the church today.
The parable suggests that in the kingdom of God, both heterodoxy and orthodoxy, alternative beliefs and accepted beliefs (weeds and wheat), are inextricably intertwined at their roots, so it’s impossible to get rid of one (to uproot the weeds) without damaging or killing the other (the wheat). Everything we label “wrong” belief is intimately intertwined with “right” belief. That’s why Jesus warns us: Don’t uproot the weeds or you will also uproot the wheat; don’t try to suppress contrary opinions about matters of faith, or you’ll lose the truth. Wait until you can see with the clarity of God.
What unites us is not that we think alike or worship alike or practice our faith alike. What unites us is that we love alike – an uncommon love expressed in many different ways. Some express love by withdrawing to their room and shutting the door to give themselves more fully to prayer (Matt. 6:6). Some show it by feeding the hungry, showing hospitality to the refugee, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, bringing hope to the prisoner (Matt. 25:31-46). Others express love by joining protest marches and picket lines and sit-ins to demand justice and to change the social, economic, and political systems that create hunger, poverty, injustice, and oppression.
There are as many different ways to express our faith by showing love as there are flowers in the field or weeds in the lawn. All of them are part of the rich texture and variety of color of the kingdom of God in which we grow, and we need all of them. God will sort them all out in God’s own time. In the meantime, how and where are you blossoming? And how are you allowing room for others to blossom?