Interpreting Stories of Faith: Jacob and the Parable of the Weeds: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Interpreting Stories of Faith: Jacob and the Parable of the Weeds: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Year A, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2023

Year A: Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 

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Today’s readings offer us a fantastic opportunity to focus on stories. The stories we tell both illuminate and teach the virtues that our communities respect. Stories transmit culture, values, and ethics. Stories often include images and actions that raise questions and confirm values. 

We have individual stories to tell. We have family stories to tell. The Bible is full of stories that illustrate our beliefs. As often as not, those stories are the parables that we hear from Jesus. We can’t overlook, of course, Hebrew Scripture. The book of Genesis contains the foundational stories of our faith, while the gospels have both the story that Jesus lived and the stories that Jesus told his community of followers. 

What does the story of Jacob’s dream tell us about our faith? What does the parable of the weeds of the field tell us about what we value as a community? How do these two stories work together to paint a picture of the ideals explicit and implicit in our stories? 

There is quite a lot going on in today’s passage from Genesis, a rich source for questions. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, has fled from his home, where he has just tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, deceiving his father in the process. 

Now there’s a family story. Imagine tricking your sibling out of something that was theirs by right. We might ask ourselves how God’s covenant can have any real meaning if Jacob can steal the birthright of his brother. I’m sure there have been kings who have asked that same question. Trickery and deceit in the Bible aren’t something new nor is it foreign to our lives in the 21st century. 

Having stolen his brother’ birthright, fleeing from his brother’s anger, Jacob might well wonder about God’s judgment upon him. But God appears to him and repeats the covenant God made with Abraham: the promises of land, descendants, and blessing. God confirms the blessing that Isaac had mistakenly given to Jacob. He is to be the new patriarch of God’s people. 

How can this be? One understanding is that in both Christian and Jewish theology, God’s plan is sovereign and understood to transcend human actions. Even though Jacob deceived his father and brother, this did not prevent or hinder the fulfillment of God’s covenant. Some theologians argue that this story underscores God’s ability to work through flawed human beings to achieve God’s divine plan. 

Heavens knows there are enough flawed humans who have helped to bring God’s plan to fruition, a testament to the notion that no one is too flawed. Just a few of note: David, Moses, Peter, Paul, Rahab, Jonah. That doesn’t even cover so many of the disciples. 

Implicit in the story of Jacob is the ever-present possibility of redemption. We are reminded that God’s grace, like God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, is unconditional. The fulfillment of the covenant doesn’t depend on the perfect behavior of the individuals involved. God’s grace is still available to imperfect people. Sign us up. 

What about the parable of weeds among the wheat? Jesus is quite specific about explaining what is happening in the story, but what are the implicit values transmitted to those who have ears to listen? 

Jesus lived in an agrarian society, so it isn’t surprising that he used farming metaphors as concrete images to explain the mysterious nature of the kingdom of God. If Jesus were teaching us this parable today maybe he’d use the image of a software engineer who developed a social media platform to foster understanding and collaboration across the world. She had a vision of using her technology to sow seeds of unity, empathy, and compassion, aligning with her deep faith that emphasized love, acceptance, and the dignity of all beings. It was a vast digital garden with good seed. 

Then one night, a group of malicious hackers decided to sow discord. They introduced a virus into the program, like weeds. 

You can think this part of the parable through. It’s a way for us to see how we might think of the parables in our day and time. 

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who has sowed good seed, yet an enemy has come and sowed weeds among the wheat. The kingdom of heaven is messy and complicated and will encounter opposition. In fact, evil exists in the world, and may not be easily rooted out. As the householder wisely advises his workers, it is not a good idea to pull out the weeds, for their roots are entangled with the wheat and pulling them out will damage the crop. Jesus explains that at the end of the age, the angelic reapers will collect the weeds and throw them into the fire, while the wheat will be gathered into God’s kingdom. 

We wonder where these weeds came from. Why does God allow evil to grow in God’s kingdom? What can we do about it? 

In the parable, the householder says, “In gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” He counsels patience and faith in God’s justice. It is important not to damage the roots of the wheat. A good steward must do what is best for all, even if the weeds will survive in the short term. 

What does this narrative tell us about the values and culture of the storytellers? 

  • We acknowledge the presence of evil in the world, 
  • While evil may be redeemed, that redemption may not happen in this world, 
  • It is not our job to judge, and 
  • We believe in God’s judgment at the last day. 

These two stories come together in our hearts and our communities in the season of Pentecost, when we commemorate the beginnings of the Church. From Genesis grows our awareness of the sanctity of consecrated sacred space and the certainty of our eternal relationship with God. Through the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus reminds us that we live in a hostile world, that good and bad are intermingled, that we must live cooperatively for the good of all, and that we ought to leave judgment to God. We are to live in awe, as Jacob did on that morning in Bethel, in the presence of a just God who meets us where we are, who is with us and will keep us, wherever we go. 

Let us close with a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, a prayer that might have been written by the householder in today’s parable: 

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  



Source: Susan Butter, “Stones, Wheat, and Weeds”, Proper 11A, Sermons that Work. Published by the Office of Communications of The Episcopal Church, New York, NY, 2017.