Sixteenth Sunday of the Year 2020
The gospel continually calls us to build a culture of active response in the face of injustice to transform our world and doing relationships differently. According to the gospel Jesus reminds us that God knows we are almost never wholly one thing. We are capable of good and not so good. In reality, our lives and our world consist of good and evil, justice and injustice, life and death, joy and sorrow which live side by side. This is what God’s reign is like and it continues to be present despite the so-called ‘weeds’ and ‘wheat’.
Whereas in religious and political circles the perception is that we should do something, Jesus says ‘Let them grow together until the harvest,’ because the difference between the two is not always as clear-cut as the media, our politicians, and our personal opinions would have us believe. Jesus is more interested in growth rather than extermination and we are not the ones to judge. Jesus commands love. Love your enemy. Love your neighbour. Love yourself. Love God. There is no place in Jesus’ gospel for Christian ‘vigilantism’, by word or by action, against another or against ourselves.
This goes against an almost irresistible tendency to clarify, to categorise, to separate, and to judge the worthiness of one another. We label people as good or bad, pretty or ugly, important or unimportant, smart or slow, stylish or old-fashioned, conservative or progressive. We divide people according to gender, sexual orientation, skin pigmentation, ethnicity, age, economic status, religious affiliation, language, and so on. Such labels are often permanent and do not allow for the possibility of change, growth and transformation.
Today’s parables suggest that God’s reign is less ‘pure’ than many think it should be. The weeds and the wheat, though, are ‘them’ and ‘us’. And who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us’ depends on our resentments, and our values, our perceptions whether it is about people of other faiths, political views, or working class people – or Hilary Clinton would say ‘deplorables’. Judgment and deliverance are not exclusive alternatives, Jesus, like the prophets before him, holds these together. So, whether the parables are heard as depictions of deliverance or threat depends on who they are: wealthy landowners, members of the crowd, scribes or Pharisees, or disciples. Where we stand in relation to God’s reign determines what we see, hear, and understand. It depends on we stand. Jesus confronts this attitude with the challenge, ‘Let them grow together’ – and grow we must to be true images of our patient God.
The parables turn traditional values upside down. Part of Jesus’ reversal of understanding is to insist, there is wheat among the weeds, not weeds among the wheat. Positive fruitfulness can be found in the messy field. The bigger threat may not be the ‘weeds’ that we see but making a hash of the everything by pulling out the wrong thing, i.e., using violence to deal with others and situations. To force a sorting out can be overkill.
This applies in many circumstances. Our country is multicultural in name. We claim it has been successful, but there many would pull others out if they could because they are ‘not like us’. Maybe, with time, our eyes might open and our hearts appreciate what is going on and whatever purging may have occurred in the past would now be inappropriate.
God continues to renew and rebuild us from the ashes of broken trust and ruptured relationships. We have, as Paul says, a new identity as God witnesses in the world. Decency, civility, compassion, kindness, openness to others can be choked by meanness, greed, selfishness and hatred. But these can also be overcome by decency, kindness and compassion. We are not asked to do nothing. We do not have be inactive in the face of negativity. We should not be surprised at the effectiveness that little actions for justice, kindness and compassion can achieve. Some of our greatest victories are what does not happen: what is not built or destroyed, deregulated or legitimised, passed into law or tolerated. Even losing can be part of the process of change. Attempts to abolish slavery failed repeatedly but the ideas behind them spread until they were passed. So we see, that repeated small, incremental actions do matter even when the results are not immediate or obvious. The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to struggle, rather than surrender to despair.
‘Our Common Home”, the earth has survived by evolution. Living things have developed capacities they previously did not have allowing them to survive among predators. Our country has been cobbled together from bits and parts of the world, from cultures and beliefs as various as the world knows. Clashing values will lead to a new day. We cannot say how that will be. Our challenge is to see in the face of evil that God is still at work to save and not punish; to love and not to condemn. We are called to learn to live with difference without excluding or removing all the differences from our lives, our communities and our world. These could also be people of colour, or a different religion, sexual orientation, culture or economic status. We can judge people and situations by our own criteria. What is different is evil or backward or old-fashioned. Do we have the patience to allow people to move and grow at their pace, in their own time. We need to be patient with ourselves, others and their difference. God is present even where there is ‘evil’. Despite our frequent failings and repeated sins, our patient God gives us what is perhaps the greatest gift of all — time, here and now, to repent of our sins. Anne Lamott says, ‘When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like – including ourselves – we experience a great spiritual moment.’
The parable acknowledges that we live in an imperfect world. We all possess within ourselves a capacity for both good and evil. What that good or evil very often is not apparent. We can reach out in compassion to others in need as well as behave selfishly, ignore others in need and allow fear to control our thoughts and actions. We may say that racism is evil, we often do not recognise that it is the air that we breathe and nurtured throughout our lives. Today’s gospel is relevant as we consider #BlackLivesMatter around the world and the challenge of white privilege that leads to racism. How do we let go of the false assumptions about ourselves, our churches and country? Has our faith been divided since this the settlers came to this country by overlooking or ignoring the impact this has had on First Nations people? Where the First Nations people talked about belonging and relationship, the settlers talk about ownership and individualism. God is patiently yet continually interrupting us bigtime. We are all capable of taking the moral high ground whenever we think a situation demands it, but, equally, we can find all kinds of excuses to justify our actions when we really know that they are motivated by self-interest. This kind of struggle goes on within each of us and the challenge is for us to be more and more ‘wheat’ for a world that often seems to be being choked by ‘weeds’. How often do we refuse to hear the cries for justice from our sisters and brothers who are black or coloured which betrays a hardness of heart that enables to build a shield against the God’s presence. The ringing truth is: God cares for all… people and creation. It is to be shared with all people. Knowing this makes for peace and peaceful living.
This parable has often been used as a ‘text of terror,’ as a weapon to threaten people with condemnation or declare God’s inevitable judgment on those whom they oppose for whatever reason. Goodness, love, compassion, truth, kindness, service of others can never be confused with what others call ‘weeds’. One never knows what those considered ‘weeds’ might actually achieve or bring about. Which side do you think Jesus would be on? Didn’t he always go with the poor? The Outsider? The stranger? The lonely child? He welcomed the poor to his table. He went and was with them. Where would Jesus be now? How would he be trying to transform this world in which we live in order that everyone could have a full human life? This is a parable of confidence. God is not indifferent to our struggle. God is guiding us in the process of bringing about a transformation.
Let us remember insight from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: ‘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 Gulag Archipelago, Part I)