Corinthians 12:22 and 23 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.
When our sons were teenagers, they ate most everything that wasn’t tied down, hidden, or labelled “do not eat; this is for tomorrow’s dinner at church”. They were always hungry because they were “growing like weeds”. So if we ate out together as a family somewhere that wasn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet, they would start eying my plate as soon as they finished theirs. They knew that I wouldn’t eat all of my food and were expectantly waiting for leftovers. If I happened to set down my fork/spoon for a moment, then they would start asking “are you going to finish that?” while looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes full of hope.
During these years of incessant hunger from their weed-like growth, our sons were all gawky arms, legs, hands, and feet. Yet I could always see glimpses of the handsome, strong young men they would grow to be. These glimpses were often brightest when they would stop and show kindness to special-needs friends at school and church. Kindnesses of choosing to sit with, listen to, and deliberately include these friends who would have otherwise remained on the outside because of their differences in abilities, attitudes, or appearance. My sons saw the beauty in their special friends who were all-too-often considered undesirable weeds in a garden of lovely, strong, young men and women.
My favorite definition of a weed is that of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, “a plant growing out of place”. A rosebush, even in full glorious bloom, is a weed if it is in the middle of a vast cornfield. Likewise, a corn plant, even when drooping heavy with plump ears, is a weed if it is in a formal English rose garden. Both the rose bush and the corn plant possess much beauty but are not welcome if they are out-of-place. Unfortunately, many in our world have the same opinion about those who are different in abilities, attitudes, or appearance because of their seemingly out-of-place presence in our lives. I admit that all too often, I don’t want to stop and listen to them; change my plans as to include them; and take the time to care for them as Jesus would, because I see them as weeds. And in so doing, I am wrong, sinfully wrong.
Weedy plants are considered undesirable by farmers and gardeners because the weeds often out-compete the crop for valuable resources of sunlight, soil nutrients, water, and space for growth. They usually grow faster, bigger, and sturdier than crop plants which are often less disease, drought, or nutrient deficiency resistant than weeds. Weeds usually produce more seeds that are more easily disseminated and faster in germination as to compound their competiveness for the next generation (for example, dandelions). Weeds are common sources of disease and insect infestations that can devastate a crop and leave a field or garden in poor shape for subsequent growing seasons.
Yet to an environmental scientist, weeds are essential contributors to the health of our global ecosystem with their inputs to photosynthesis and nutrient cycling. Weeds can be beautiful, both in visual beauty and in tangible helps. They’re often those bright yellow, red, or blue flowers with bright green leaves sticking up and out of acres of monoculture fields (only one type of crop growing at a time). They’re also those plants that cover over eroded or abandoned fields and gullies in a blanket of dark green grace. No matter how they look or where they are, weeds can be the most vigorous plants of all in performing photosynthesis. When photosynthesis occurs in any plant, sunlight energy is converted into biomass or the living plant material above and below the soil surface. We cannot fail to overlook that during photosynthesis, oxygen is produced with the simultaneous removal of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Also, weeds can be very important in nutrient cycling to help make nutrients available for other plants with their fast and hardy growth in places no other plants can survive, much less thrive. Weeds do all of these very important functions and activities in our world, for current and future generations.
The mechanisms in weedy plants giving them a competitive edge over traditional crop plants are an important area of research in the science of crop production. Researchers want to see if they can be breed the desirable traits of weeds into crop plants, via traditional breeding techniques or through genetic manipulation, without losing the desirable traits of the crops themselves. In other words, researchers want to see if the crop plants can grow like weeds without being weeds themselves. Ideally, a crop plant like corn, soybeans, or wheat will be high in grain or bean productivity (both in quality and quantity) and adaptive to weather and soil conditions while resistant to pests along with devoting much of their resources to grain or bean production rather than just leaves or stems. Just as importantly, an ideal crop plant is one that will be consistent in all of this, all of the time, from one generation to the next.
Traditional animal and plant breeding techniques using controlled crosses with selected desirable parents have produced better and better offspring for many years, even all the way back to those seen in Genesis 30:37 through 42 with Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban’s, flocks. It’s interesting to note here that Scripture doesn’t emphasize Jacob as doing something new or unusual so the assumption could be made that such controlled crosses in animal breeding were commonplace already at this time.
With the advent of incredible advances in technology, plant breeders can now use genetic manipulation for insertion or deletion of specific individual genes through various techniques in the laboratory. I am amazed again and again at what plant breeders can accomplish now by combining the power of controlled crosses with advanced genetic technologies, even in a single generation of crop plants. Such discoveries as golden rice (a regular rice with the addition of a gene for Vitamin A production to combat human malnourishment) which were revolutionary in their day are now more regular events in the steady quest to feed our ever-increasing world population. While we’re on this topic, please be in prayer for those plant, animal, and soil scientists who are daily, faithfully researching new ideas that can be of help to many suffering hunger or malnutrition. Even the smallest of advances in research can be foundational for helping many. Your prayers are powerful when acted on by our Omnipotent God (see James 5:17b). Thank you.
After all this talk on plant characteristics, crop plants, and breeding, let’s return to weeds, specifically Emerson’s definition of a weed as “a plant growing out of place”, and its application to right thinking as Christians. If I apply Emerson’s definition of a weed to people, I am sinfully wrong! Every single person is carefully formed, perfectly placed, and a beautiful reflection of the One who created them for His purpose in His way and at His time (see Psalm 139:13-16). Thinking in this way requires me to choose to slow my thoughts and actions to savor the beauty of one in contrast with the blur of the crowd. One of my sons captured this thought with “you know, when I talk with ___, he shows me things I’ve never thought about before”.
Many times special people, like my son’s friend, disseminate new ideas and gratefulness as good seeds into my life and heart. Their attention to detail challenges me to remain there in the moment and attend to what’s eternally important as with Matthew 6:33 Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be provided for you. Their boldness in asking questions without stopping until they understand encourages me to do the same with God in Scripture and in science. Their openness in emotion and thought convict me to obey Romans 12:12 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Their persistence in faith to singularly hold fast to Jesus nourishes my endurance and patience in the waiting for strength and for answers during long days and longer nights. Their deep love for Jesus poured out in genuine unrestrained worship with loud voices and hands held high compels me to join with them in outpourings of joy through songs, tears, and uplifted hands and hearts to the One Who made all of us. They model to me of how I should always come to Jesus – as the dearly loved and loving children of Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”. I need these traits (and others) bred into my life if I am ever to be in hope of bearing that 100-fold harvest of Matthew 13.
Every special person is a good gift from our Father of lights (James 1:17). I am given the admonition to be careful to be bold and speak up for them from Proverbs 31:8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Not that they are incapable of speaking for themselves, but rather as a privilege to display their beauty before a world who wants only conventional produce and thus, sees only weeds. And as importantly, I am given the honor to listen to and speak with them. Paul wrote of our privilege and responsibility as Christians to see the beauty in our special friends with 1 Corinthians 12:22-23 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty. Just as weeds are indispensable in our world with their good work in photosynthesis and other processes, special friends are beautiful, precious treasures in our lives with their good work of showing the heart of Jesus to us and teaching us to be as Jesus to them and everyone in our lives.