Finding Grace in the Garden

“Peaceful in Pienza,” © 2017 Lynn Abbott 

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

Across the rural road leading home sits an old barn.  It surveys farm land that runs along the two lane route.

And each August, the grass turns a brilliant gold.  Huge hay bales soon appear.  They stare across the divide, and scoff at my attempts to tame the landscape.

But of course, I try.  Curb appeal demands it.  Sometimes, however, it seems I fight a losing battle.

After a particularly wet winter, the March winds blew… blossoms fluttered everywhere.  Pollen proliferated.

Now, April has sprouted.  At this stage, it’s difficult to differentiate the weeds from many of my perennials.

Over the years, I have lovingly tended my garden.  I have planted many perennials, and nurtured them.  After all, I love an English garden.

Thus, on the edge of town, across a lane from an old farm, I strive to recreate a taste of Eden.

My task has become easier over the years as civilization has pushed back the untamed countryside.

However, for a number of years, a vacant lot heckled me.  Since the owner rarely mowed, the weeds often topped six feet.

One neighbor periodically called the County office.  Then, a lawn company would predictably arrive to mow the lot.

The weeds disappeared for a few weeks…   However, after a few rain showers, the jungle returned.

Obviously, I have a great deal of experience dealing with insidious weeds.

Friends regularly suggest products to eradicate weeds.  Unfortunately, the chemicals also harm my treasured flowers.

On the edge of town, across a lane from an old farm, I strive to recreate a taste of Eden.

Indeed, although I explore new methods, I also understand that in this world, my garden may always house a few weeds.

And the uninvited guests rapidly emerge in Spring when I find it difficult to differentiate between these interlopers and treasured seedlings.

Come harvest time, I will weed thoroughly.  I wait because the weeds often wrap themselves around my flowers.  Thus, to pull some of those unwanted “volunteers” would jeopardize my carefully cultivated blooms.

And so I bid my time.  Because I love my garden, the squatters receive a temporary reprieve.

Recently, I pondered all of this as I attempted to prepare my soil for Spring planting. While mulching my rose beds, I smiled in spite of the ratty weeds.

You see, I found grace in the garden.  It reminded me of Jesus’ parable, the wheat and tares.  The story isn’t one of the more famous tales that Jesus told.  Yet, I think it  is not only a particularly poignant picture of grace, but it also provides a profound answer to questions raised by the unconverted about God.

One objection that most frequently comes up when I discuss the existence of God with those who are not of faith addresses the problem of evil in this world.  Perhaps, you’ve encountered similar questions as you present the gospel.

“If there is a God,” the question begins, “how come He allows evil to exist?  If He’s so powerful and so good, why doesn’t He just wipe all evil out?”

And with that, most atheists hope to shut all discussion down.

Such questions understandably hit hard. After all, most people long for a perfect world, a world in which evil has no place.

Most wish to rid the world of …Terrorism, War, Murder, Exploitation, Injustice, Prejudice, Slander, Greed, Abuse, Betrayal, Theft, Cruelty, Selfishness and more.

I found grace in the garden.

Yet, these weeds entered humanity’s garden long ago; they’re well established. And currently, there’s no sign of permanent removal.  What’s up with that?

It’s an old question.  It has perplexed a great many wiser than I.

But as I study Christ’s parable, it becomes clear to me that such questions arise because our world currently exists in the age of Grace.

To which, I will simply add a hearty, “Hooray for grace!”

We all love to embrace God’s grace.  We long for God’s grace demonstrated toward us.

But when grace is granted to those “not-so-deserving others” who have hurt us or our loved ones?  Not so much.

Instead, we demand justice. When evil runs amok–unchecked, unconfessed– when it remains unrepentant, we long for vindication.

Thus, we wonder…

Why does our holy, omniscient, omnipotent God allow good and evil to coexist?  Why does Abba allow humanity to embrace both Truth and Lies?

And how does Grace fit into it all? 

It seems an unsolvable mystery.

Seems so, but actually, a solution exists even though you and I may find the puzzle comparable to a Rubik’s cube.

However, our Savior–God Incarnate–easily tackles what stumps us.

Christ’s parable of the wheat and the tares is tucked between the parable of the Sower and the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13.  Six verses long, it certainly hasn’t won the same kind of attention as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  We often miss its significance.

Yet, both the parable of the Prodigal Son and the wheat and tares explore God’s grace.

In the Prodigal Son, we see a wayward child who ultimately repents and returns to his father.  We recognize the prodigal’s journey, of course, as a metaphor for all who return to God, our heavenly Father.

Undoubtedly, God grants extravagant grace to His children when they genuinely turn to Him.  And a huge banquet is thrown to honor the Prodigal’s return.

In the parable of the Wheat and Tares, Jesus addresses the case of the unrepentant. The disciples, like so many of us, probably wondered about those who refused to follow God.  What happens to prodigals who don’t come home?

Jesus began, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, (Matthew 13:24).

Beautiful flowers or wheat… take your pick.  The farmer or the gardener… both plant good seed.

However, Jesus tells us how the weeds got in: “…his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.”

As I delved deeper into the verse, I discovered that “tares” also go by the name of darnel which is a weed that resembles wheat.

Our Savior–God Incarnate–easily tackles what stumps us.

In other words, initially differentiating between the wheat and weeds proved nearly impossible.

Uh huh. I totally get that.

Of course, over time, the difference becomes clear.  What then? Jesus tells us that the landowner’s workers approached their master and offered to pull the weeds.

Here’s where grace makes its grand entrance.

The owner’s response perfectly illustrates the current state of this world.  In Matthew 5:45, Jesus notes that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.

Quite honestly,  all of humanity benefits from common grace.  This old world, at present, follows a holding pattern.  In His grace, our God delays the harvest; He waits to separate evil from good.

The reason?  Well, Jesus explains that, too.

In His parable, He describes the master’s response to his field hands’ offer to weed, “No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow  together until the harvest…” (Matthew 13:29-30a).

It’s simple, really.  It comes down to this…

You and I cannot see everything; we especially cannot see into the future.  We do not know who will ultimately follow Christ.

But God can and does. God sees the heart. Our Sovereign Shepherd knows the future.

He also understands that  some that appear to be tares may in fact be “wheat,” and some that appear to be wheat may in fact be “tares.”

And often, you and I cannot discern the difference.  We see only part of the story.  God sees its entirety.

Just so.  I recall two men hanging on crosses adjacent to Christ.  Both judged as criminals.  Both sentenced to death.  Their lives had produced little or nothing of spiritual value.

Yet, one man, in his final hours of life, demonstrated that he belonged with the “wheat.”

In fact, had God sorted this world before the cross, most would have been lost.  But our gracious God waited.  Indeed, He still waits for the harvest.

The repentant and faith-filled thief cried, “Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom!”

Jesus answered, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43).

Patient, long-suffering, and full of mercy and grace, our God waits for the harvest.  He gives humanity every opportunity to turn to Him.

True, God has promised justice.  Evil will be pulled.  The wheat and weeds will be separated.

Then, the garden will thrive.

Yet for now, Grace waits.

As Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9).

I suspect that Paul had something similar in mind when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain… I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake,” (Philippians 121-24).

Abba understands that  some that appear to be tares may in fact be “wheat,” and some that appear to be wheat may in fact be “tares.”

Yeah.  When you and I see evil flourish, when the weeds proliferate, we long for the harvest. We look forward to the return of our Sovereign-Shepherd.

We joyfully anticipate His creation of the new heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17).

But our God of extravagant love and grace waits for prodigals to return home.  And some of those prodigals may be our loved ones.

Recognizing this, I am more than grateful for God’s delay.

Yes, Grace waits to harvest.

In the meantime, our heavenly Father asks that you and I tend the field.  Christ gave us a commission, (Matthew 28:19,20). While we wait, you and I spread  God’s grace. We are called to be salt and light in this world, (Matthew 5:13-14).

Through you and me, God longs to offer His grace to a world hurt by Terrorism, War, Murder, Exploitation, Injustice, Prejudice, Slander, Greed, Abuse, Betrayal, Theft, Cruelty, Selfishness and Disease.

Of course, the task demands great sacrifice.  Grace is both costly and priceless.

Christ suffered so that grace could abound toward us.  And as we take His gift of grace to others, we suffer, too.  After all, a servant is not above the Master, (Matthew 10:24).

Yes, Grace waits to harvest.

Yet, in the process,  we not only become the “hands and feet of Jesus,” but our hearts become more like His.

Paul admonishes, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not rear equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant… He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Harvest in Pienza, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkIndeed.  In this world, we suffer.  Yet, our suffering is not pointless.  It produces “pearls.” The world groans in order that more wheat may grow, (Romans 8: 22).  Our current suffering affords grace the time it needs to complete its work.

The tares remain for now.  Our Savior forestalls the weeding lest while, “gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow  together until the harvest…” (Matthew 13:29-30a).

In the fullness of Grace, the harvest will arrive.  And on that day, God’s garden will reveal golden fields.

Yes, grace waits for that day.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” ~Romans 11:33

“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food.  They shall do no evil or harm in all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.”~Isaiah 65:17, 25