Overcome Evil With Good
Matthew 13: 24-32 – Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and Weeds
A woman watching tv glimpsed a police sketch of the suspect in the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl outside Baltimore. She thought it looked like her neighbor Mr. Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, so she called the police. Mr. Bloodsworth was in his early 20‘s–a former Marine with no criminal record. He had followed his father’s profession as a waterman on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. But with the police and prosecutors under intense pressure to solve a crime, it was a short route to his trial, conviction and a death sentence. As the now 52 year old Kirk Bloodsworth tells people who share his concern about a broken judicial system, “I was accused of the most brutal murder in Maryland history. It took the jury two and a half hours to send me to the gas chamber.” After nine years in the state’s most decrepit and violent prisons and only through dogged persistence and the help of an agressive lawyer he proved his innocence in 1993. He was the first inmate in the nation to be sentenced to death and then exonerated by DNA. That was twenty years ago. But he was intent on not only proving his own innocence but on finding justice for the victim 9 year old Dawn Hamilton. It took another 10 years and Mr. Bloodsworth’s untelenting efforts to get officials to run the DNA from the murder scene through a database and identify the real killer, who bore little resemblance to the description that the police had compiled from eyewitnesses. He was already in prison for something else and will be now for the rest of his life.
“If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody,” said Bloodsworth, who has since made work against capital punishment and for criminal justice reform his life’s work.
Mistakes by witnesses and the police and pure lies on the part of witnesses, and stupid neighbors so intent on getting the bad guys that they call the cops at the slightest hint of a resemblance to a police sketch, all inevitably mean that In our use of captial punishment innocent people will be executed. This practical argument has garnered more support in the movement to end the death penalty than arguing against it on moral or religious grounds ever did.
It turns out that practical considerations are also what we find in Jesus’ parable about the wheat and weeds, addressing what to do about the existence of evil. Good seed was sown by the farmer, but an enemy, it seems, sowed weeds in the same field. The servants want to rid the field of the weeds. It’s a reasonable solution, and it’s what works with farming. But we’ve learned that the parables of Jesus end with an unexpected twist. That’s because he’s not telling them about farming. He’s telling them about the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is not like farming or economics or cooking. The kingdom of God operates beyond the boundaries of our human experience. “The Kingdom of heaven, Jesus taught, is like the farmer who told the servants not to pull up the weeds but to allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat. At the harvest the reaper will separate the weeds from the wheat. He told them, “It’s too difficult to distinguish between young wheat and weeds. Besides you may end up destroying the good in your attempt to be rid of the bad. It’s best to let them grow up together.” The parable asks us to consider our own fallibility in judging who is good and who is evil, and the resulting inevitability of destroying the good in our attempt to eradicate evil. It seems clear to me that the teaching of Jesus’ parable needs to be applied to our justice system. More than 2,000 inmates and ex-cons have been declared innocent in the last 24 years. No question we’ll have to live with mistakes, but while you can release someone from prison if proved innocent, you can’t release them from the grave. In the last 40 years 142 prisoners have been sentenced to death in the U.S. and then proven innocent.
The compulsion to root out those deemed unworthy of the company of the faithful was, it seems, a bigger challenge to Jesus than sin itself! Separating saints from sinners has been a perennial impulse. In today’s parable Jesus asked the faithful to consider how trying to distinguish the good from the bad and then trying to root out the bad was problematic. Not only is it difficult to know for sure which is which, but even if you could be sure, it’s impossible to destroy the bad without destroying some of the good.
Some seem to think Christ has, in fact, given his followers the imperative to root out evil. For some that is the clarion call. It’s a gross misunderstanding of the ways and teachings of Jesus, and has resulted in the Crusades of the middle ages, witch hunts in colonial days, and currently a church in Kansas showing up at funerals of both gay and straight soldiers all over the country to declare their death to be God’s punishment on our nation.
“How sobering to realize that ALL who read this parable assume they are the wheat. The One who alone can discern may know our lives, our churches, our nation, for weeds soaking up the resources of a rich field and yielding no fruit, posing as the good but, in fact, hindering its growth…..Jesus confronts our easy presumption that we know what is evil, even in ourselves, or that we can remove it. “(Paul Simpson Duke The Parables) That author is not saying we are the weeds. He is highlighting the message of the parable, which is that we don’t know who is and who isn’t.
In truth, evil does not reside in one person and good in the next. The line doesn’t run between us, but through every one of us.
So, Is the parable suggesting that we do nothing about evil? If rooting out evil and destroying it is ill-advised, what do we do about evil?
Micah told God’s people long ago, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Bloodsworth has now given his life to repealing the death penalty in the U.S. and just this last week made headway in his own state of Maryland, which had come precipitously close to snuffing out his life.
-acknowledges the existence of good and bad together (However, why there is evil is a mystery ultimately, and the lines bet/good and evil are blurred)
-difficulty of distinguishing between the 2 (wheat and darnel are very similar in appearance):
-perceived importance of maintaining purity
-the danger of destroying the good in the attempt to be rid of the evil
-assumption of the acceptability of maintaining purity by destroying the “impure”
-Jesus’ teaching the impossibility of maintaining purity by destroying the “impure”
Our instruction is not to try to destroy evil.
because we don’t know (Wilmington 10; Central Park 5)
because God does not make the judgments we make (while the community ostracized Zaccheus, Jesus went to lunch with him)
because in slaying the “dragon” we become the dragon (capital punishment)
because we are not to judge
because when we assume the right to judge another we replace God with our own reason
because in all things (and in all people) God is working for good and we don’t yet know
the outcome in our own or anyone else’s life
because in God’s hands there are no unredeemable lives
because the very attempt to eradicate evil has done far more harm than good
because the patience the parable calls for is redeeming for us and others
And because we see in Christ that being with all of humanity is God’s way of redeeming.