Ministry to the Weeds

Ministry to the Weeds

by the Rev. Jocelynn Jurkovich-Hughes, Pastor, The Belfry at UC Davis

It’s back to school time, and that means the children, teens, and young adults among us are heading to school and college. As a College Chaplain, I want to reflect on how these young people might be compared to the infamous weeds in the parable of the “Weeds in the Field.” This parable is one of the most un-parable like parables that Jesus has left for us, because he actually explains what it all means. Usually we don’t get any explanations for the parables and thus are left to try to unravel it ourselves. But with this one, Jesus does that work and just spells it out for us. So maybe this is an opportunity to take a different approach, to try to get a different perspective on this field of good seeds and weeds, which Jesus says is what the kingdom of God is like.

As I started to ponder this parable, I began to wonder what does this mean for us that we are called to live in a kingdom of both good seeds and weeds? I mean, Jesus doesn’t say the good wheat fends off the weeds, or avoids the weeds. It all co-exists together, grows together. And the farmer (Jesus?) allows it to remain this way, so as to allow the good seeds the time to grow and mature to the fullest. Apparently, removing the weeds could harm the good seeds. Once fully grown and ripe and ready, then the reapers will reap and the good will be separated from the bad. But Jesus clarifies that the reaping happens at the end of the age. So for us, this is probably not happening any time soon. Which means that, for whatever reason, he believes it is best (necessary, even?) to live and grow among weeds that he didn’t intend to have in the field in the first place. Ok, so what do we do about the weeds in the meantime?

This might sound weird, but when I think about weeds in life and ministry, I can’t help but feel that, in a way, I have been called to minister to the weeds. As I’ve now worked with youth and young adults for most of my adult life - and all of my ordained career - it often seems that,from the perspective of the church, I’m ministering to the weeds. It’s like these young people are ubiquitous – they’re everywhere. They sprout up in shopping centers, parks, restaurants… But often, they aren’t in our churches. Why? I’m constantly asked. We’re nice people, right? Who wouldn’t want to be part of our church community? I mean, the good seeds are in our churches. We’re growing and reaching toward the Kingdom and basking in the light of God’s love. And yet, over and over, that’s not the experience of young people in the church. They tell me that they feel as though they are treated like weeds. They’re tolerated. They’re ignored. They’re covered up and sometimes pushed out, or just excluded purposefully or passively. And those are the ones that seek to come in.

This generation of young people is less "churched" than any other generation in the recent past. Why? Because when they look at Christians they don’t see good seeds. They see people who are self-righteous, condescending, and judgmental. True, they don’t tend to distinguish between progressive and evangelical Christians. And often in my experience, when they learn there is a difference, their perspective and interest level changes.That has been one of the biggest joys of my ministry at The Belfry with the UC Davis students and in our young adult service corps, the LEVN program: getting to walk with young adults as they explore living out a faith that is based on the love of God for all of creation, that is relational and deep, and, yes, challenging. These young people are not weeds. They are incredibly good seeds that want to live a faith that is vibrant, authentic and transformative. And that’s exactly what we have in the Episcopal Church.

Perhaps what this parable seeks to teach us (in addition to the message about the end times) is that maybe part of the call to co-existence with the weeds has to do with the possibility of transformation. I mean, if this field is like the kingdom of God, then could it not be that the weeds can become good seeds? That if they are around long enough, if they are tended to, formed, and paid enough attention, that they could not only be viewed in a different light, but that they could BE different? If we invited the weeds in – no, not just invite but if WE go to where they are – that slowly, day by day, the love and light of God could turn them from a mistake, an aberration, into something – someone – worthy of Christ’s love? Cannot these weeds be redeemed? I mean, isn’t this what Grace is about? That perhaps God’s Grace is so incredible, so powerful, that even weeds could become good wheat? Yes, if this kind of transformation is possible, and our faith says it is, then the weeds are here so that the good seeds can share the good news of Jesus that keeps themselves and those weeds out of the fiery furnace. What if when the reapers come to reap there are no more weeds? Yes! Isn’t that what God wants? Isn’t that what God calls us to strive for? That’s the hope that Jesus gives to us, that’s what the Grace of God teaches us.

There are so many different kinds of weeds in the world, both actual and perceived, and so much transformation that needs to happen in this field of ours. Worldwide events of the past few weeks make that devastatingly obvious. So perhaps that is the call to us in this parable: we need to seek out the weedy places in our lives – in the world and in ourselves. Because God doesn’t promise to separate us from them any time soon. God doesn’t promise to shield us from gazing upon the negative consequences of this world. But God has said we have to live with it.

And maybe part of that call is not just about existing in a binary world of good seeds and weeds, but rather finding ways that all might be transformed by the light and love of God, so that when the angelic reapers arrive, all that is here will be good wheat. That would mean the Kingdom of God has reached its greatest potential. This is what would happen if the Gospel vision for humanity was truly implemented. Truly lived out. Truly embraced. In short, the parable is saying: don’t just live with the weeds – transform them. And we can because this is Jesus’ field and we are his people and Grace abounds.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Steve Mershon wrote:
Wonderful! Thank you!!

Tue, August 26, 2014 @ 8:34 PM

2. amy dierlam wrote:
true words of wisdom and good to ponder and take action!

Tue, August 26, 2014 @ 9:50 PM

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