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Wait and see.

18 July 2011

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“Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, `Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, `An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, `No; 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.’”

 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

 

- A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 13, verses 24-30, and 36-43

 

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Once upon a time there was man who was very wise. One year his crops in the field were very good. The people were amazed at the crop and said, “This is very good that your crop is so plentiful.” The man answered, “We’ll see.”

 

After a while a swarm of grasshoppers came through the land and ate up all of the crops so that there was nothing left. The people said, “This is an awful thing that has occurred.” The man answered, “We’ll see.”

 

The man was left only with a stable of fine white horses. They were strong, handsome animals that he used to pull heavy loads. The people said, “It is good that you possess such fine horses.” The man would only answer, “We’ll see.”

 

One day the man’s son fell off one of the horses and broke his leg so that he was no longer able to work. The people said, “This is an evil thing that has happened.” The man answered, “We’ll see.”

 

Then the king of that land sent his men out to gather all the young men into the army. When they came by the man’s house, they left his son with a broken leg; and, of course, the people said, “It is good that the son broke his leg.” But the man would only say, “We’ll see.”

 

The Gospel reading today also depicts the wisdom of a “wait and see” attitude. Jesus came in the fullness of time when the Mediterranean world itself was full of apocalyptic expectations. The Jewish people themselves were fascinated with predictions that God would soon act to destroy his enemies. This was received as good news by the people, for they assumed that their enemies and God’s enemies were the same.

 

You might imagine how offensive this story is to a people who have long suffered indignity and abuse at the hand of one conqueror after another. A man, who is undisputed owner of a field, plants a crop. An enemy sneaks in at night and scatters seeds so that weeds will grow and snuff out his crop. When the servants discover the weeds growing, they are indignant. They assume that the master will have them annihilate the weeds right away, but the master forbids them to do anything of the sort. They must wait and be patient.

 

Jesus seems to have offended every party in Palestinian society. Many people would have easily identified the weeds as the Roman occupiers. Everyone hoped for solution to the problem of Roman occupation. The Zealots wanted to fight, and to fight right away. They intended to meet violence with violence. The Romans were weeds that had to be “pulled” right away. What was worse about the Zealots was their attitude towards those fellow Jews who were not as zealous as they. Zealots suspected anyone who did not share their passion for independence from Rome and for Jewish sovereignty. This suspicion led them to condemn their fellow citizens and even to assassinate them in the name of God.

 

Zealots are everywhere and with us all the time. Whether in Palestine, or Afghanistan, or Washington there are those who would rather destroy now than live patiently. Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds enraged the Zealots.

 

The Pharisees saw the problem of Roman occupation as a problem of society. The answer was not violence against Rome. The solution was to define good society in such a way so as to create a safe garden where people could live out their lives without contact with the weeds of this world. The Pharisees were very zealous for the law. They led impeccable lives. The enemy for the Pharisees was not Rome as much as it would be anyone who neglected the law and its demands. The Pharisees despised such persons as a major threat to the people of God. They called such persons “the people of the land”. The attitude of the Pharisees split society itself. Anyone who did not live like they lived were weeds. They were to be pulled and thrown out.

 

The gospels tell us repeatedly that Jesus offended the Pharisees because his zeal for the law was different from theirs. While they looked for every occasion to exclude persons, Jesus was always including these people. Tax collectors and sinners of all types could be found eating at the same table with Jesus. Obviously Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God was very different from the beliefs of the Zealots and the Pharisees. Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God had drawn near so that people might repent and return to God. Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds reveals aspects of the kingdom of God that will not let us go unaffected.

 

What is it in the story of the wheat and the weeds that continues to be offensive to us? First, this story reminds us that God is still the major player in world history and in our own personal histories. The story has an element of judgment in it. After all the weeds will ultimately be separated out so that the valuable wheat can be gathered into the harvest. The parable reminds us that we are in no position to judge who is , or is not, a child of God. That which we condemn in our neighbor can often be found already present in our own lives.

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a Christian who was intimately acquainted with the evil that existed in Soviet Russia, once warned, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

 

The Gospel above affirms God‘s grace. We may prefer to view the world as an accident and all events in the world as unrelated, random occurrences pointed to nothing and going nowhere. Or we may prefer to view the universe as the dark design of an evil force that produces a world of vanity and nothingness. But this story affirms that the world was created by and still belongs to the divine gardener whose goodness is known not in the decay of nature nor in the futility of human striving. Rather this God is known in the presence of a Son whose suffering and death give unavoidable witness to the grace of God.

 

We are not free to confuse ourselves with the God and play the judge over our neighbor. We are obligated to give heed to the values revealed in the witness of Jesus in his preaching and his deeds. Rather than policing the actions of our neighbor, we are to find ways to sit at the table with our enemies. We are to resist those persons who in the name of God call on us to expel from society, from congregations, or from families those who are different from ourselves. How often have we acted hastily to extract weeds in the God’s garden thinking that we were friends of God? How often have we injured the tender plants growing along side?

 

This parable is a call for patience. The farmer has the servants wait and not try to solve the problem at the wrong time. God calls us through the Gospel to take on a shape of forbearance and suffering, that is, we are to learn the power of suffering for what is good rather than inflicting harm for goodness’ sake. There is a difference between patience and inactivity. In the words of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk:

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved. To look upon another – his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects – is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you’d never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him, do unto him as you would have him do unto you.”

 

In the name of Christ we are called away from a life of judging others to a life of patience born in the hope that it is God who acts to save us and our neighbor. “For in hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24) Or to quote the wise man, “We’ll see.”

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