Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 17, 2011

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24  He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;   25  but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.   26  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.   27  And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?'   28  He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?'   29  But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.   30  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' "

36  Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."   37  He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;   38  the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,   39  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.   40  Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.   41  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,   42  and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.   43  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” declares God in the book of Isaiah, and that well-marked difference could not be more clear than it is in the parable which Jesus has just told.  This difference, the multiple ways in which God is utterly other from humanity, this no doubt includes attributes like God’s holiness, his eternal nature, his infinite splendor, unfathomable might and the like. Especially in a culture that is obsessed with human wit and intelligence, a culture that often worships our powers to manipulate our world and to progress unimpeded towards a greater tomorrow, a little dose of humility is never a bad thing when we think about our relationship to the creator of the universe.  However, what is so baffling about this little story about the wheat and the weeds is the way in which it marks out divine otherness in a completely different manner.  Indeed, the difference between God and humanity here has more to do with patience, with mercy and with an unyielding commitment to humanity.  This, simply put, is a God whose love and fidelity is baffling. For what we have before us is nothing less than the utter judgment of our own urge to judge, to make pure, to constantly be in the right; and there is simply nothing more human, more deeply entrenched in our DNA than that.  This urge to be in the right at the expense of others, this might actually be a decent definition for what it means to be human.  We see it as our lawmakers argue relentlessly about the national budget, as we argue about the best course of action to take at our places of work or in those minor and major spats that make up family life.  Having just returned from a stint with my nieces, I can absolutely assure you that this need to be right is not learned behavior, but is hardwired into us, even though raising the debt ceiling and debating whose turn it is on the trampoline are not exactly the same sort of arguments.  Regardless though, this need to be right, to rid ourselves and our communities of that which is impure, this is something we do as naturally as we eat or sleep.
“My ways are not your ways” says God.    What we see in this parable is a God who is so determined to save and redeem his creation that He is willing, for the sake of the world that He loves, to let grow what you and I would just as soon attempt to cut down, from ourselves, from one another.  Look again, if you will, at the way that the sower responds to the very real complaints that are weeds amongst his wheat, threatening the health of his crop.  Indeed, if you and I were to encounter such an issue, the obvious answer would be to get rid of the weeds by any means necessary, so that the wheat, that is which is of some worth and value, may be able to grow without competition. The sower, however, responds in a very different and entirely surprising way: let the weeds grow until the harvest.  What?  What sense does this make?  Why would one let grow that is which unpleasing, impure, incorrect?  It is not as though a little weeding presents such a difficult solution.  Rather, getting rid of the weeds is actually a pretty straight-forward affair.  So what reason does the sower give for this rather bizarre strategy? 
Well, that question might just get us to the heart of the matter.  For what the sower says is this: in uprooting the weeds, the wheat would also be destroyed.  Now, I will leave it to those of you with more farming experience than myself to determine whether or not that is an agricultural truth, but the theological and spiritual point could not be more clear.  For if God were to rid the world of all that opposes Him, of all that which works some sort of destruction, of that which wishes to stand its ground for its own sake and not because it belongs to the sower, who amongst us would be able to stand?  Perhaps, then, one of the central insights of this parable is that we, in spite of the attitudes that we hold, in spite of our unwavering commitment to our own correctness, are a bit more of a mixed bag than we would typically care to admit.  Maybe, just maybe, the parts of us that are weeds, the parts of us that do not trust God, those unsavory things about us that we rather admit to anyone and only occasionally to ourselves, maybe just maybe it is much more difficult to separate those parts of ourselves from our goodness, from our trust of God and love of neighbor, than we think.  If we are honest with ourselves, this is a truth that we cannot avoid.  We can get so caught up in our own agendas and motives that our attempts to rid ourselves, to rid our communities of that which we deem impure might just cost us the very goodness that we seek to protect. In the language of the text, our attempts at weeding out problems inevitably ends up costing us some wheat.   It is, after all, a very confusing world in which we live and which lives in us.  In this preacher’s humble opinion, this is why harsh judgment and condemnation of others invariably ends up costing us something.  We simply do not have the perspective necessary to make God-like judgment on ourselves or our neighbors.    Now, to be clear, this does not mean that we do not make judgments and seek out the best course of action in all we do.  This is a necessary and God-given part of living, but we deceive ourselves if we think these judgments ultimate, and our sense of right and wrong untainted to the point where we can decisively distribute God’s justice.  For us, there is no way to do so that does not end up costing us a great deal, even the very good we try to protect.  We do not, as it were, own the field in which we have been sown.
So, if this is true, if the wheat and the weeds in our lives, in ourselves, are so bound together that in getting rid of one we just might accidentally rid ourselves of the other, what do we do?  How do we move forward?  This all seems a bit paralyzing, does it not? 
Well, that answers lies not in us, but rather in the one who sows the seed.  Yes, the answer lies in the Christ who has sown into our hearts not a spirit of fear that is attached to judgment, but a spirit of boldness, of courage and of joy that comes from the Christ’s persistent work in bringing us deeper and deeper still into the love of God.  For, as St. Paul writes, you did not receive a spirit of fear, but a spirit of adoption. Yes, the Holy Spirit which has been poured over you in your baptisms and which now resides inside of your hearts is a spirit of hope.   It for hope that you were saved by the Christ who endures humanity’s need to separate wheat from weed in his body.  It is for hope that you were saved, it is for hope that you were brought into the community of God so that you might go extend this community into the world which God loves enough to bear patiently with, as weed and wheat grow up together.  It is the hope to greet neighbors and strangers alike, no matter however different they may be, yes to greet those whom we meet not as weeds to be cut down, but as fellow beloved children of God.  It is the spirit that recognizes God’s love and patience with us and with the world, and it is the spirit that hopes with certainty for that day when all that sin and darkness inside of us will be thrown away so that we may stand in delight of God and shine in light perpetual.  For sown into you is the very spirit of peace and grace which can turn even weed into wheat.  In Jesus’ name, amen.  

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