Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
I was sitting together with another pastor last week.
It was still early in the week and my colleague had decided to preach on the story of Jacob at Bethel. I love preaching on Genesis but I had made up my mind to preach on the parable of the weeds.
I know little about gardening and have a hard tome telling weeds from cultivated productive plants, so much so that I am even unsure what to call them. That often I find weeds pretty shows my ignorance.
We agreed that the parable of the weeds was challenging, particularly because of the allegory used to explain it. Lutherans like us don’t like to speak of burning and fire, the furnace of fire, the gnashing of teeth and the separating of the righteous and of evildoers.
The irony with finding Jesus’ explanation of the parable challenging is that we are well aware of evil in the world, and we could name it. There is the murder of the girl in Burnaby, there is anytime that ideology goes before justice and profit before people, and I bet that each of us could make our own list of what we consider evil. And if we’re honest, there is no doubt that we would like it rooted out. That is why all of creation longs for our redemption.
The more I thought of the parable of the grain and the weeds I realized that my problem with the parable is not the parable itself but my literalism, or perhaps my desire to take things into my own hands, making my own declarations about good and evil. And the areas in which I am able to do this best are political and ecclesial or theological. I can tell you very easily who is wrong and who is right, what is good for the church and what is not, what is messed up theology and what is good theology.
All this tells me that I am not terribly honest in my discomfort with the parable of the weeds. I dislike the parable’s strong condemnation of evildoers even while I myself identify evildoers.
All this suggests:
That Paul is right, that all of creation longs for redemption, that we need redeeming, that not everything is as it should.
And that my dishonesty in dealing with the parable reveals not only that I identify evil but also that my discomfort with the parable comes from a kind of literalism that believes that chaff and wheat could be separated that easily and that chaff and wheat could be separated by me.
And I think again of politics I disagree with and ways of being the church I disagree with.
It’s not that everything was fine and that nothing needed redeeming but who said that the world needed to be redeemed by me or you?
And to read the story in such a way explains why we have messed up so often. We have tried to redeem the world when there is only one redeemer and his name is Jesus. We have tried to rid the world of evil when Jesus has called us to love our enemies.
That is why I found the parable of the weeds difficult, not because it is.
Last week we looked at Romans eight and we called to mind that the main problem Paul deals with in Romans is how Jews and Gentiles can be the church together and how the church can hold on to God’s faithfulness embodied in Israel.
In the context of Jews and Gentiles Paul speaks of the law as sign of God’s covenant with Israel. At the end of chapter 7 he laments that he does not do what he wants to do but often ends up doing what he does not wish to do.
Paul says this not in order to say that the law was bad but to make it clear that in Christ God fulfilled what the law could not.
In all of Paul’s sometimes difficult writings his exclamation over his own inability to do what he seeks to do is perhaps one of the things we understand the best. We can relate to it because we too have been in a place where we clearly had noble goals but failed to accomplish them, sometimes accidentally, sometimes because we could not move into a better head space.
We have all found our move a bit stressful, as well as learning to live together in a smaller space where we are more often in each others’ space. I distinctly remember one time last week when I knew I was in a bad mood, when I pledged to myself I would not let it get in the way of my relationship with others, and yet I failed spectacularly.
A distant acquaintance wrote this about the parable of the weeds, “I have laid waste my life in pursuit of a better past, grieving twenty-year old mistakes while ignoring my all too present sins. I am also – and by no means coincidentally – overly attentive to the sins of others, at least those sins I know from the inside, through personal experience. As the Twelve-steppers say about calling out failings in others, “If you name it, you claim it.”1
One of my children brought to my attention a music video by Kendrick Lamar. It is a video that addresses police violence and systemic discrimination. At the end of the video Lamar says about the ‘evildoers’ (to stay with the language of the Gospel),
“I remembered you was conflicted
Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screamin’ in the hotel room
I didn’t wanna self-destruct
The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went runnin’ for answers.”
While the last verse is a confession of Lamar’s own sin, showing the beauty of honest introspection and contrition, the refrain of the song is a confession of faith. Again and again, in the presence of images of suffering, Lamar sings, “But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright.”
That, I think, is what parable and epistle are about. We will not create paradise. We will not bring redemption, but by allowing God to redeem us, God’s redemption will spill over. May it be so among us.
1Brian Volck, The Weeds in our Hearts, http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2017/07/the-weeds-in-our-hearts/