a sermon, based on Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43 and the Wisdom of Solomon 12.13, 16-19, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2017
Imagine. You walk into a room and catch the tail-end of a conversation. You hear what’s being said, but without the preceding context you’re not sure what is meant. You can continue to listen, hoping you’ll finally get it or, being assertive, inquire: “What are you talking about?” Whenever I’ve had the temerity to ask, sometimes, on hearing the answer, it seemed to me that the conversation and its supposed context weren’t at all connected!
This is what occurs to me when I reflect on this morning’s parable.
Jesus’ explanation is so severely dualistic – Son of Man or the devil, good or bad seed, wheat or weeds, the righteous or evildoers – that it doesn’t follow the parable. It’s almost a non sequitur!
Now, in one historical contextual sense, it makes sense. When Matthew wrote his gospel about a generation and a half after Jesus, there were intense conflicts within the Christian community between insiders and outsiders over matters of governance. (This always happens when a dynamic movement begins to undergo the process toward permanence, transforming into an institution.) So, no surprise, the explanation of the parable, which, I believe, is Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, is strikingly either-or.
Now, in a world fuzzy with ambiguity, a little certainty is refreshing, restoring our sense of clarity and security. And in the life of the church, many, perhaps most people are attracted to a proclamation of clear conviction and firm belief. I’d be willing to bet that if I stood outside of our door on Sunday mornings, stopping traffic on Main Street, declaring to all who would listen, “Follow me inside! I’ll show you the bright light of salvation and the solution to all your problems!”, I’d have some, maybe lots of takers! Far more than if I said what I believe: “Come with me and let us together stumble our way toward the light of God’s truth through the fog of life’s ambiguities.”
Yes, a bit of certainty can be attractive, even magnetic! The problem? Life, the world, you and I aren’t like that. We don’t live or, I believe, thrive in hermetically-sealed existences of the purity of clarity. Things, we are complex, thus stubbornly resistant to an either-or reductionism.
This brings us back to the parable about wheat and weeds left to grow together until the harvest.
A parable, from the Greek, para, alongside, and ballo, to throw, is a story tossed next to us; a metaphor that stands parallel to our lives that we, not having been hit in the head directly, might turn aside to see more clearly something that is hard to articulate and perhaps harder to accept. This is why I think that Matthew’s interpretation of the parable, altogether too head-on, doesn’t reflect Jesus’ intent, which, I think, is this…
The field represents anyone and any community. In everyone and in every community, there exists wheat and weeds; that which is healthy and unhealthy, beneficial and harmful, productive and destructive. The harvest, that moment of judgment as to what is which and which is what, will come. At the end of our lives, when we no longer will have the opportunity, the ability to think and feel, to speak and act, to review and revise, to change and correct, no longer leaving undone those things we ought to have done, some estimation or reckoning of our lives will be made; perhaps by us if we are conscious of our coming end and surely by others. Yet while we are in this world, we are bidden to learn, to discern and decide, how to live together with ourselves and with others; all, both wheat and weed, that is in us and in them. We are bidden to learn how to be like God of whom Solomon speaks whose power of judgment is the forbearance of mercy, whose righteousness is kindness.
If we and the whole world would learn live together like that, then the truest harvest will have come, and we will behold a glimpse of the fulfillment of that petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Illustration: The Enemy Sowing Tares (weeds), James Tissot (1836-1902)