Because this service was held outdoors, there is no video recording.
Proper 11 (16), Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
23 July 2023
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
There are time when I want to send people to the moon. Like Jackie’s mum’s surgeon who, when asked about convalescent care replied that one would have to pay for that privately, as he had done for his mother, completely unaware that his income may exceed the income of most others. Or the patient care coordinator of the unit who has no intention of looking into convalescent care and while he introduced himself to the family is completely unapproachable and, I may add, unaccountable.
We have come to the conclusion that the absence of convalescent care in Coastal Health means that post-surgery we abandon certain patients because we assume that they will never walk again, which also means to that they will be forced into incontinence, for without the rehab required, one will not be able to get to the washroom.
You have to wonder how quickly someone would show up should we mention medical termination or MAiD.
Needless to say, we are frustrated. So we’d be happy to send a few people to the moon or at least to vote them off the island.
I have not included the second part of the reading but want to share what our reading leaves out between parable and the parable’s explanation.
Immediately before the explanation of the parable, Matthew says,
“Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’”
What has been hidden from the foundation of the world is that we make peace through violence, in particular violence against the other whom we must weed out or silence. And this is universally true for everyone, left or right, or whatever.
Did I tell you we are frustrated? Well, we are angry.
The Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon says about the strategy of the enemy who had planted the weeds, that it “… shows just how clever the evil one is. All he did was to sow the seeds, then he can rely on good-meaning folks like the farmer’s servants to do the real dirty work. Mostly, he depends on the forces of goodness, insofar as he can sucker them into taking up arms against the confusion he has introduced, to do his work. He simply sprinkles around a generous helping of darkness and waits for the children of light to get flustered enough to do the job for him. Goodness itself will in the name of goodness do all and more than all that evil ever had in mind.”1
That is what happens when we want to send someone to the moon, vote them off the island, teach them a lesson, you name it. It is ordinary everyday violence. This view assumes that we are the wheat and the others are the weeds. And it is always the others who are the weeds. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t weeds.
In the parable, surprisingly and unconventionally, the householder councils patience we find hard to muster.
Someone said to me yesterday that I am so good to Jackie’s parents. I replied that it is easy to be good to the people you love. It is much harder to be good to those we want to send to the moon.
The householder councils patience, “… for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.”
It is Jesus who tells the story. But Jesus is also in the story, for the patience counselled is the patience of Abraham who bargains with God to save the city (Genesis 18), it is the patience of God who does does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked but rejoices when the wicked turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33;11), it is the patience of God whose steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting, it is the patience of God who did not spare his own Son (Romans 8:32), it is the patience of Jesus who offers himself instead of summoning legions of angels and who forgives those who crucify him.
Did I say that it is easy to be good to the people you love (assuming that they also love you)?
When reading or encountering stories it is our nature to identify with characters in the story, in any story. It is a way of inhabiting the story. It is how the story to become ours.
When we read biblical stories we do the same. But perhaps especially with the Word of God there is a possibility to miss the point of the story because we are tempted to make false identifications.
In the story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery we identify with the enslaved not the slave masters; in the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus we identify with poor Lazarus; when Jesus is confronted by pharisees and scribes, we do not identify with the opponents of Jesus; and in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we identify with the wheat.
It is true that none of us holds slaves but that does not mean that economic systems of oppression do not exist. It is these systems that make prison, slave, and child labour possible and that both bring us goods at a price we are willing to pay and return profits to our largest corporations. Think of Suyin Electronics, Foxconn, and the Uyghurs in China. Or think of Cobalt mining for our electric cars in the Congo, or the wars that are fuelled by commodity prices, which in turn are set by the demand in industrialized nations.
Another way to read the Bible is to try to think through a story from the perspective of all of the characters. It is a way to discover things we otherwise would miss and to allow God to speak to us in new ways.
The householder who councils patience with the weeds creates such an opening for us, and as we enter we discover that the weeds are not necessarily or always the others, even though I do want to send some people to the moon.
When a few years ago our church discussed same sex unions and the welcoming of LGBTQ Christians into our church (of course, they were already here) we did that with a take-no prisoners approach. And I am speaking here not of Our Saviour, for I was not here then, but about the church at large. I always thought that what made this attitude so easy was that each side could feel really good about themselves without the issue costing us anything, except if you are part of the LGBTQ community or members of your family are. We did so despite the fact that we said these matters were adiaphora, meaning not church dividing.2
The United Methodist Church in the US is currently going through a divorce over the same issue. In October of last year retired bishop William Willimon pleaded against the divorce and said this,
“In interviews with hundreds of UM pastors I’ve heard, ‘I want a church where some things are fixed and final without debate.’ Dream on. If the apostle Paul couldn’t figure out how to plant such a church, you can’t either.
As a preacher, I know the frustration of being unable to talk others into my position on some important subject. Sure, I’ve longed to excommunicate the intransigents. Alas, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He never walked away from an argument or refused conversation with even the most thickheaded of opponents.
Fragmentation distracts [us] from the deeper, long-term issue that is more determinative of our future than our divisions: our median age is 65. Schismatic divorce is easier than figuring out how to reach a new generation …
Friends say, ‘Don’t waste your breath. Let ‘em go.’ No, the UMC will be weaker when they do: from the loss of financial resources and of a few of our dearest, most vital congregations and our most creative, entrepreneurial pastors. Progressives will also lose some of their most adept, doggedly persistent, Bible-loving interlocutors, leaving them stuck in a denominational echo chamber with an even higher percentage of people who think just like they do.
Dissident conservatives, please don’t abandon me to my theological blind spots and the clutch of goofy liberals in my congregation. Though you don’t love scripture more than I do, some of your pompous, painful, pretentious criticism of our church is, worst of all, true.”3
Now Willimon also seriously polemicizes against those who want to leave, I simply shouldn’t share his whole piece. But what I particularly appreciate is his appeal for a difference of theological positions in the church, against echo chambers, and for the criticism that others can offer us.
That, I think, comes pretty close to what Jesus invites us into with the telling of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. May God give us the grace to live into it and with one another, even the most pesky of neighbours. Besides, you know, our enemies aren’t going to go anywhere anyway.
1 Robert Farrar Capon, Parables of the Kingdom, page 61ff
3 William H. Willimon, The United Methodist divorce is a mistake – Caucusing is easy. Church is hard. The Christian Century, Oct 2022