This morning, I looked out the dining room window at my rows of tiny carrots in the garden. The parable of the weeds and the crops jumped to mind. Remember how it goes? At night, the landowner’s enemy sowed weeds among the newly planted wheat. When the landowner’s servants discover this, they ask their master if they should uproot the sprouting weeds. The landowner forbids them, however, for fear of uprooting the good plants. Instead, the weeds and the wheat grow side by side until it is time to harvest the wheat for the barn and the weeds for the fire.

For weeks, this parable has been ready to hand as I watch the weeds proliferate in the rows. Carrot seeds are so tiny—way smaller than the fabled mustard seed—that even if I carefully uprooted only the obvious weeds, the disturbed earth could kill dozens of carrots before they had a chance. On the other hand, carrots, not growing as fast or as tall as wheat, cannot simply grow side by side with the weeds until harvest. If you let the weeds grow too tall or too thick, they shade out the carrots, which then die of nutrient and light deprivation. Today, I decided, the weeds had to go. The carrots are still small, but they are rooted enough that, with extreme caution, I could weed around them and save them.

If you stop and think about it, gardening—and in particular the act of weeding—is one of the most dominant metaphors in the Christian spiritual tradition. The Bible itself is packed with references: most of Christ’s parables have to do with seeds, weeds, soil quality, and good or bad fruit. And at the beginning of it all, God set Adam and Eve not in a field or forest, but in a garden, which he ordered them to tend and enjoy.  

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