William Jennings Bryan, a former presidential candidate and outspoken progressive, once compared American society to a garden. Here’s a quote from one of his speeches:
In a garden, you don’t let the weeds triumph over the roses simply because the weeds are stronger. You protect the roses from the weeds. And if you want a society where you have good people, kindness, charity, and equality, you have to do some weeding.
The late 1800’s and early twentieth century in America saw many movements to reconcile a rather lengthy list of wrongs. Social inequality, in all of its various forms, was chief among them. That’s something I believe many of us can relate to, or at least recognize as visible in some ways in the 21st century. So his quote can be every bit as relevant in our day, as well as any other period in human history. So it begs the question, who are the roses and who are the weeds?
Roses are absolutely beautiful. I know that may be weird for a man to say, but I love flowers and roses are high up on my list. The rose has long been a symbol for love and friendship in many cultures, including our own here in America. A rose speaks of something of value and worth. To label something, or someone, a rose means that they are precious in your sight. Weeds…even saying the word creates a bit of anger and frustration in the hearts of anyone who has a yard to tend. Weeds are a classic reminder of the fall of mankind. I’m fully convinced that weeds did not exist in the garden before original sin entered the world. They are relentless, powerful, hard to kill, and they will choke the life out of every living plant in your yard if you let it.
So, with this less than eloquent description I lay before you, who do you think the weeds and roses are in the society you live in? Those that Bryan sought to endear our hearts to are not whom many would expect. They were the downtrodden, the outcasts, the homeless, the immigrant, the orphans and widows. Jesus would describe them as ‘the least of these’.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV) [my emphasis]
God loves everyone, that’s fact. Yes, even those you don’t like. God still loves them. God loves the superstar and the homeless man alike. God doesn’t show partiality with His love. For that, I am extremely grateful. For there were moments in my life when only He could love me. But tendered to God’s heart are all those who are helpless, hurting, lost, broken, and blemished. Societies have a funny way of determining the value of a person, and it’s not at all the way God does. Money means nothing to Him. Fame is futile in God’s kingdom. Who really cares what we drive or what the square footage of our home is? Do we think any of that lasts or has any eternal value? Zero. God’s eyes are fixed on His people. He sees the homeless man at that stop light that we pretend not to see. He sees all the abandoned or neglected children. He sees the abused wife and emasculated husband. He sees the exploited and abandoned. And to Him, they are roses. They are beautiful. they have unlimited value and worth. And so do those who take care of them.
Unfortunately, those weeds that are choking the life out of them are the one’s that popular culture loves to elevate. Lets not be guilty of that ourselves. Look into the eyes of the innocent child, the dust covered face of that man on the street, the newly arrived alien who does not speak your language, and know that they are roses in our garden. Life began with God, and all life has immense value to Him. It should be the same for each of us. All people need to know their worth, and we have an important role to play in that.