Recently on NPR I heard there is a pilot program to have cashless stores in Washington state. Imagine walking into a store and your money being no good. All of your bills with Washington, Lincoln and Hamilton have no purchasing power. We have already gone that way on airplanes, where the only way to purchase food is with a credit or debit card. Many in the younger generation do not have checking accounts, and rarely carry cash. Maybe that is why there are so many commercials for credit cards. The one I like most is Jennifer Garner on a sound stage, telling the story of her father applying for a Capitol One Card. The sales rep asks if Mr. Garner is related to Jennifer, who is a spokesperson for the company. She mimics him replying, “Why yes, she is my middle daughter.” He then enters the shot and asks if he can say the line and she nods. He proudly asks, “What’s in Your Wallet?”
If I had everyone pull out their wallet, we would learn a great deal about each person. How much cash you carry, identifying information about your height, weight and address from your license giving you permission to drive, maybe a voter ID card, debit card and how many credit cards you have. Credit cards companies give us credit in the hopes that the credit will become long-term debt, making them lots of money. Americans have over a trillion dollars in credit card debt and the average household credit card debt is $5,700.
Paul clearly states we are debtors. Now we have heard this before, our sin is debt and Jesus has paid the price for our sins on the cross. That is the heart of the Christian message and very true. But here Paul is talking about to whom we are indebted. Are we indebted to the body and the flesh, or are we free living in the Spirit? If we went back to our wallet for a moment it would be like saying are you carrying a balance on your Mastercard or your Visa? We live in debt, the question is, “Are you in debt to the ways of the world or are you indebted to the Spirit of God?” One commentator put it this way, “Debt owed the Spirit gives life; it does not take life away. Strange debt! Debt to the Spirit increases your coffers; it does not empty them. Spirit debt is not what must be repaid, but what is paid to you” (Feasting on the Word, A3, p. 256).
I guess the best way I know to explain this is think of your children’s education. Long before your daughter wanted to go to college you as parent started saving for that day. So that when it was time she did not have to accrued huge debts because you willingly paid that debt for your child. Both my sons are in college. I did save, and I am so grateful to be able to pay for most of their college. My promise to them is they will each get out with no more than $10,000 in debt. If I had to borrow the money for 8 plus years of college it would certainly be a great deal more than that. God our Abba, Father wants to pay for us as well. God has adopted us into the loving family of faith and has paid the debt of sin, but also the debt of the Spirit so that we can live as heirs with Christ.
If you have ever been plagued with debt you know it feels like a slave driver, like you are enslaved to this burden on your back. But if we claim God’s love for us then we are not weighed down with debt, but are adopted into God’s family with love and acceptance. Paul writes, “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Whether it is a monetary debt, or a spiritual debt who holds your debt matters.
We protect our wallet for two reasons, it holds our money and there might be information in there that could enable someone to steal our identity. Of course, this could happen while shopping online, but that really is an extension of your wallet. So, there you are making purchases on your credit card, while at the same time an evil person is charging things to your account without your permission. A nefarious actor is paralleling your behaviors trying to stay hidden. That is very much what was happening in our parable. A farmer sows his wheat seeds, but then someone in the middle of the night takes what is his by planting weeds in his field. Often referred to as the Parable of the Tares, Jesus is using the name of a weed that is thought to be bearded darnel, a devil of a weed. This weed plant looks so much like wheat it is called “false wheat.” It takes on the identity of wheat. Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up nutrients and water making it impossible to extricate it without damaging the good crop. Sort of like how hard it is to restore your credit once your identity has been stolen.
Harvesting plants in an agrarian culture is the way you add money to your wallet. But introducing weeds steals your crop, potentially reducing your profit. But Jesus is not talking about profits, rather the kingdom of heaven. I want to note three things about this parable where the field is the world and there are children of the kingdom and children of the evil one.
First it sets up an Us vs. Them dichotomy. People will be separated much like the sheep and the goats (Matthew 3:12) and the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 25:31-46). Here it is the wheat and the weeds. “New Testament scholar Warren Carter suggests that the “divisive impact of God’s empire is central to chapter 13.” It is divisive in the sense that one must choose their allegiance — to God or to the emperor” (Working Preacher.com). Unfortunately, people have used this passage as a way of ferreting out the good from the bad, making faith about us and them, believers and nonbelievers, saints and sinners. Today we seem to have an us vs. them mentality when it comes to politics, when decisions are made based on political party rather than what is best for America. Such distinctions often overshadow the shared desire to identify the common good of all people and can result in conflict easily escalating into violence. But even when asked do we pull the weeds, the answer is no. Both sides grow side by side until the kingdom of God comes.
This leads to the second point. Do not judge. The weeds were not what the owner wanted but it was not his job to get rid of them. Rather he was to wait and trust that in time all would be sorted. Now this is hard for us to do. We are constantly judging people and ourselves. I have taken up mindfulness and the very first principle is being non-judging. We do not have to assign “good” and “bad” labels for everything. Rather see them for what they are, part of what God created. Not judging also reminds us that no one is all good or all bad as this parable seems to allude. We are a mixed bag, we are humans who fall short and we are children of God who rest in divine glory. But we can never be exclusively one or the other.
Ultimately God is in charge. That is third point and the conclusion of this parable. No matter how bad things get, not matter how much good we do, no matter what lies ahead God is in control. In a world where seeds of hatred and injustice are daily sown, the parable affirms unequivocally that God is still in charge. Jesus realizes there is evil in this world and that sometimes the weeds win out in this life. We cannot rid this world of evil, and we cannot earn our way to heaven, but we can be faithful to the one who redeems creation, and who reigns in heaven.
So let me ask you, “What’s in your spiritual wallet? I hope we all can say we have a valid license to God’s kingdom!!! Amen.