It is hard to imagine that weeds are a sign of grace, yet that’s what the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat is suggesting (Matthew 13). Everyday I drive by fields (now harvested) of various grains. The farmers I know prefer fields without weeds. Neat, clean, easy to harvest. Sprays are used to eliminate weeds. In such a community, Jesus words are striking. When the servants are ask about pulling up the weeds, the master replies
"No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."
I am reminded of another passage of Scripture. This one from Isaiah 42:3
"a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;"
Jesus doesn’t want collateral damage. His practice is to put up with weeds to protect the wheat, to put protect the “dimly burning wick.” In other words, the presence of weeds is a sign of grace.
Weeds are not pleasant in church life. Community life looks messy. Weeds steal energy. But Jesus is more afraid of uprooting wheat than destroying weeds. Jesus is more concerned for the “dimly burning wick”. Clearly a day of judgment is coming. All that causes sin and all evildoers will be dealt with. But not yet.
Elders are charged with the care of the congregation. Keeping records of membership is part of the task. Membership seems to mean less is our culture. There are those who are convinced they belong but never become a member. There are those who haven’t attended for some time and are named as inactive – but not lapsed or disciplined. Membership is a messy business.
But as I listen to the words spoken by my elders, I also sense a desire to be gracious. “Yes, these members are not behaving like we would like them to act”, say the elders, “but let’s wait. Who knows perhaps they will come back.” Like prodigal fathers, elders wait in hope. The inaction and waiting is an act of grace…undeserved, at the moment unwanted, but given in hope of return.
It may look like bad farming. It may look like organizational weakness. But if we live by grace, maybe the messy business of membership is an ordinary part of the community that follows Jesus.