Vaccines, PayPal, and the Parable of the Weeds
I was reading Matthew recently.[i] In the section where Jesus is telling a lot of parables in a row, he tells the parable about the kingdom of heaven being like a man who sowed good seed into his field, but while everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds. When the wheat grew, so did the weeds and the servants were confused. The master told them what happened, and the servants asked if they should pull up the weeds. It’s a reasonable question, I think. Not doing so seems to be giving in to the enemy, in a sense. But the master told them not to, ‘lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.””(Matthew 13:29-30)
It struck me, perhaps since I had already been thinking about our increasing tendency to demonize (play up the evil in) those we disagree with, that this parable has some implications for Christian ethics.[ii]
The reason the master gave to the servants for why they shouldn’t rip out the weeds is that it could damage the wheat. The good and bad are growing in such close proximity, and the roots of the good are still growing and not ready for harvest, that ripping out the weeds right away isn’t an option. The master’s primary goal isn’t the defeat of his enemy, it’s producing a ripe harvest. Because of the actions of his enemy, that means wheat and weeds existing together until the reaping.
Sometimes we treat proximity to evil as a problem. If it is, we are all in trouble. Just about everything we participate in involves interacting with people, places, and things that have touched evil at some point. Do you pay for things online using a credit card sometimes? That technology was developed and first used by pornographers. Do you vaccinate your kids? Two cell lines used in the creation of some vaccines were taken from aborted babies. Do you enjoy shopping at Target, drinking Starbucks, or partake in the movies and theme parks of Disney? You get the point. There are many Christians who argue, passionately and at times powerfully, for non-involvement as a way of creating distance between the wheat and the weeds. Don’t do ‘x’ because it’s tainted by evil. The problem is, just about everything, including our own hearts, are tainted by evil.
Scripture says to flee idolatry, immorality, and to have nothing to do with evil. This has to do with both our behavior and our heart motivations. But that isn’t really what we are talking about here. Defeating disease is a good act. Paying for a product is a good act (as opposed to stealing it). Creating joyful memories with family and friends on roller coasters is good. So we are talking about good acts that are in some way connected to something bad. When we are evaluating a good act that is connected in some way to sin, we don’t simply dismiss the good act because a bad connection exists. This is the point Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 8. God takes idolatry extremely seriously, yet eating food sacrificed to idols isn't sinful (or not sinful) based on the fact that it was connected to idolatry in its origins. It’s sinful (or not sinful) based on why the person was eating the food.
There is a lot to say about that, but to bring it back around to Matthew 13, it seems to me Paul is shrugging at the connection to idolatry and saying proximity to that asinine and rebellious act doesn’t matter since eating is a fine thing to do and we are clear in our minds and conscience that idols are stupid. In other words, it’s ok for wheat to draw nutrients from the same soil as the weeds, just don’t think like a weed and don’t be a weed.
This isn’t taking sin or evil lightly. Quite the opposite. It’s training our eyes to stop darting to and fro looking for sin ‘out there’ to avoid and distance ourselves from, and teaching them to look where the primary attack of the enemy comes from. Within. Don’t worry, the reaping is coming. Be sure you are wheat.
[i] I read Matthew a lot. Bible reading plans often start with Genesis, Matthew and Psalms. I restart Bible reading plans a lot.
[ii] Hermeneutically speaking, since this is one of the parables Jesus did explicitly explain the meaning of, we know the point of the parable is to explain that the kingdom will have imposters and evil doers in the mix till the end. But I think there are some clear implications from how Jesus says we should deal with that fact.