Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
St. Jacob's (Spaders), Trinity; July 23, 2017
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Time and time again the Bible lessons have passages that remind me it is a good thing God is God and I am not. This morning's Gospel lesson of the parable of the wheat and weeds is another great example. Imagine if in the parable Jesus has the owner farmer saying to his servants "Go for it." I can hear the servants saying as they went to work in their best Peter Lorre voices "The master was so wise and good to let us root out the bad from the good." At that stage in the growing season wheat and certain weed grasses are hard to distinguish. Pull the weeds so quickly and there is an excellent chance that some, perhaps much, good wheat would be lost for the harvest.
Today the servants might not focus on reacting to the treacherous enemy competitor. In their most pragmatic business, political, or military leader voices they might focus on a seemingly sound, measured response. "To insure an overall good result we recommend removal of the weeds at the soonest available time, understanding we can afford to lose a few good plants." The master could respond and voice his idealism saying, "You are probably right. Go ahead with your plan. Just try to be careful and minimize any loss of wheat." Pull the weeds so quickly and there is an excellent chance that some, perhaps much, good wheat would be lost for the harvest.
I admit the approach has its attractions. One it makes the servants junior partners with the master. When I was in seminary one of the current theological understanding was us co-creating with God. What better way for God to show trust than to go with our judgement on how the field should be prepared, cared for, and harvested.
Over the centuries Christian leaders latched on to Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 when Jesus said to Peter and later to all the twelve disciples, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then went about sorting and removing the bad from the good. This is the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Prior to that the Roman Catholic Church persecuted critics of the Church as heretics and continued to do so. In England Henry VIII initially confiscated church property and executed people opposing his supremacy as head of the Church of England. Except for not acknowledging the pope he then made the Church of England a national Catholic Church in form and governance, executing Lutheran and Reformed Christians. We Lutherans and Reformed arrested and executed Anabaptists.
One of the practical problems is inconsistency on what is good or bad. In the twentieth and twenty first centuries we divide ourselves into Liberal, Conservative, Fundamentalist, or Pentecostal by creed. Within Creeds we divide between Traditionalists and Modernist. During the charismatic renewal in the early 1970's we lived in Northeast Florida. I would attend some Southern Baptist services and the speaker would ask "How many former Pentecostals do we have tonight?" At some Pentecostal gatherings a speaker would ask, "How many former Southern Baptists are here tonight." Both would wonder if a denomination like Lutherans were 'real Christians.' Mainline Protestants did the same. When in seminary as part a working consortium of several different seminary's the Graduate Theological Union, whether students were Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, or Mennonite I would hear disparaging words about “those Fundies,” who were all the non-liberal Christians.
Probably more important is that over time what is placed in the “good” or “bad” box changes. I only look at myself at the times I discovered I had it wrong about someone. Early in High School I initially assessed Jim as a person easily led by stronger or more popular personalities because he hung around with Tim, who had given me a hard time in junior high. A few months later he became one of my better friends and within a year my best friend in High School. He would stand up to comments I made from his stronger faith base. He became one of my lights.
The only being who has the broadest view and understanding of persons and the Big Picture is God. God combines the broadest view with the deepest grace. Jesus' parable shows us God does not want any of the good wheat destroyed by his servants. God patiently waits for the full development, whether it starts with great promise from the beginning like Samuel as a boy living with the priest Eli in 1Samuel in the Old Testament or shows faithful awareness at the end like the thief confessing recognition of his sinful life and faith in Jesus when he is being crucified with Christ as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
It is not because God is naive. Prophets, Jesus, and Apostles declare God's awareness and opposition to evil. In the parable this morning the Master is aware an enemy seeded weeds in his wheat field. The servants come to be sure only good seed was planted. Yet the master was more concerned with good being destroyed if the servants acted before the plants could be readily distinguished. Distinguishment time was harvest time. Likewise God insists we let God make the final call. In the judgment scenes God does not ask the saints to provide names for reward and punishment. What God calls us to do is work the field, giving others the same attention Jesus does.
The task given by God is part of God's freeing grace. By letting God be in control of judgment we are freed from that first disobedience when succumbing to the words, "Go ahead eat the fruit. You won't die. You will be like God, knowing good and evil." God frees us from a poisoned well, worrying about the other's sin and rooting out the other as weed, we miss the sin in ourselves that is calling for attention. God calls us to see that divine love is our model.
It is God's love for us that is our model. We are followers called to seek God's guidance and do the best we have to cooperate with God's will within the limits of our understanding at any given period of time. By letting God take primary responsibility for taking care of the weeds we are more free to be better lovers of God and others, even in addressing ills. We might even come to see the humor in taking ourselves so seriously and forgetting it is God who brings about the kingdom in our beings.
In the Gospel parable Jesus teaches us the wisdom in leaving the sorting to God. There is no other being better positioned to get it “the way it's supposed to be.” Amen.