Today’s text is a parable – meaning we should be careful about our interpretation because just as we think we’ve got it, is when we may suspect that there is probably something else – something more? This one has to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, meaning that it’s describing some aspect of life lived within an awareness of God and God’s economy.
It seems to be addressing the age-old question of why ‘evil’ is allowed to exist. Of course we all struggle to understand why a God of infinite love as well as infinite power doesn’t just stamp it all out – you know: Cancer? Gone! Pandemics? Gone! Poverty? Injustice? Prejudice? Bigotry? All gone with just a snap of those Divine Fingers! Why is it that along with all the loving and life-giving beauty of people and creation at our best we are to coexist with all of what is so clearly toxic and destructive – us at our worst?
What good thing is possibly being implied here by the co-existence of these seemingly opposite dynamics in our lives? I do suspect that as we chew on this text, there are some really helpful insights.
Perhaps it’s a warning that by going too vigorously or too soon after what WE see as being bad, we risk doing violence to what is good – largely because we’re unable properly to make the distinction. I was reading of someone describing how they have a Japanese Maple and each winter are tempted to do some pruning. The problem is that they never know which branches are actually going to be producing the most growth – they all look the same. It’s only once buds and shoots start appearing in the spring that they know which to remove and which to nurture. This seems to be Jesus’ point as the farmer instructs his servants to leave things until it’s time for a harvest.
But there’s more, because even when we ARE able to begin making those distinctions, it may still be good for the good to HAVE to grow alongside the bad. The good may actually be strengthened by having to compete with what is potentially working against them. There’s the hermit who’d spend hours each day straining to move this enormous piece of granite. His efforts seemed to be making no difference until one day, when asked why he didn’t hire help, he explained that his struggling was the point and not the actual moving of it. It was how he was managing to keep strong. As they do in space where astronauts in zero gravity risk having their muscles atrophy for lack of gravitational resistance and so deliberately stretch elastics, to keep themselves strong.
I wonder to what extent the weed influences are allowed to exist in our lives alongside what seems to be wheat because, somehow, we are strengthened by our work of intentionally resisting them?
But who’s to say what is ULTIMATELY good or bad? Where do you draw the line?
I wonder how this awful pandemic is ultimately going to be revealed – as having been a good or a bad thing for humanity.
To the extent that it is shortening life… The extent to which it is choking our gatherings, crippling our economies, creating terrible physical and emotional hardship & suffering, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable, it’s bad – right? But to the extent that it’s bringing humanity back from the place of self-righteous self-sufficiency that we all so easily inhabit, giving us fresh appreciation of how we need to be interdependently sensitive to and caring for the needs of one another, the extent to which it is providing fresh perspectives on everything, really, can it be good? See what I mean? The tares growing with the wheat?
Of course that line between good wheat and evil tares exist, but it seems not only to be seriously nuanced and blurred, it is also not ours to draw: not as it exists in creation, not as it exists in each and every human heart, and …not as it exists in us!
The wheat and tares grow together…
But what when evil seems just SO obvious? Is this text daring to suggest that we are simply to tolerate what is CLEARLY NOT OF GOD? Wouldn’t that just be us living into Karl Marx’s criticism of ‘religion being the opiate of the masses’ – something to keep us passively docile and unresponsive to what is clearly wrong in the world? Are we to do nothing in the face of crippling poverty? A society seemingly hell-bent on reneging global stewardship responsibility? Misogyny? Xenophobia? Homophobia? Racism? And how would our doing nothing ever better than the opposite extreme of us being quickly and judgmentally condemnatory of anything and everything that WE decide is not to OUR liking?
WHERE IS THIS COMPLEX PARABLE LEADING YOU? What do some of our most trusted teachers make of this teaching? Dietrich Bonhoeffer [i] stressed how establishing the kingdom on earth is actually always up to God – the emphasis must remain there, it’s God’s work. Will Willimon [ii], preaching on this passage in the Duke University Chapel back in 1990, argues similarly, that all creation is actually GOD’S farm, and it’s up to God to decide between good and bad. Father Richard Rohr [iii]: makes it all profoundly personal by quoting Theresa of Avila who described ‘the sinner as someone who actually does not love himself or herself enough. We do not see or admire the whole self; so we split and try to love the good self and reject the bad self’. He goes on to speak about our acceptance of tares as our embracing of ‘…that part of us that most carries our shame. It’s only with some degree of non-dual consciousness that we can hold imperfection and beauty together in what Merton called “a hidden wholeness.’
It seems to me, then, that we are never to assume the role of judge! Even when it mays seem pretty obvious…
But notice this: Our choosing whether or not to do something in the face of obvious and apparent evil is not the question here! Jesus was describing our contexts as opposed to giving us instruction on how we are practically to deal with the weeds we encounter in our lives. Our job – not as the slaves of the parable but as Christ-followers, like those disciples, – is not to be wrestling so much with WHY weeds exist as with how best to confront them AS they exist! …like that hermit and that granite block, we are made strong in our wrestling!
And so as Christ followers – followers of the ‘WAY OF CHRIST’ – we have our instructions: Of course it always begins with our knowing who we actually truly are, who Jesus Christ has revealed us as having been restored to be. But then it’s to allow that insight to compel us toward doing whatever we can to deal with whatever weed-circumstance we are facing! The embracing of our truest, most God-given identity behooves/compels us to live that out in a certain way, and to do so not so much as reluctant employees of a demanding master but as mammals are compelled to breathe in order to live. We come most alive as we begin to live out the lives of love and compassion and justice that we are realizing is ours and is at the very basis of our existence as followers of Jesus Christ.
Yes, the weeds and wheat are allowed to grow together! We, however, have been given by God to go make God’s difference in the world. May we do so wherever we may be, in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, or wherever… And as we do so
‘May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the Love of God, and
the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all, now and always’,
Go Make a Difference!
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