17 October 2019
When investigators found that the suicide bombers in London were British citizens from Leeds, people found it hard to believe.. They were described as normal young men who were known for their love of cricket and girls. The uncomfortable fact is that, to quote the parable today "an enemy has done this", and that enemy studied for their exams, took degrees, played cricket and grew up in a fish-and-chip shop. The British papers called this the enemy within " a powerful phrase, emotionally charged and it evokes strong reactions, often violent.
Tony Blair, also used the language of this parable this week when he called for the British to “pull up the evil ideology [behind the bombings] by its roots.” He is right that there must be a deeper response to what has happened. but the words of this parable made me hesitate. It was that language of ‘uprooting evil’ which made me uncomfortable, especially in the light of this week’s Gospel. Uprooting evil is a perilous business. As the landowner in the story points out, it is very easy to find you have destroyed not only the evil, but the good as well. Muslim communities have already reacted with anxiety that in the rush to uproot dangerous fundamentalism perfectly innocent Muslims will be targets for hate crimes. And in this way far more damage is done than the original acts of terror. as suspicion increases between communities.
Parable this parable is a story about good and evil and the kingdom of God. Weeds and wheat grow together unnoticed at first.
Why didn’t the slaves notice the weeds? Why didn’t the families and neighbours know about those young bombers?
The text tells us that the weed in question is zizanion – darnel. a rye-grass. It looks the same as wheat until the grain forms. But then it’s obvious, because darnel has dark seeds, unlike the golden grains of wheat. So it’s only then - when it is almost harvest-time - that the slaves see that their golden wheatfield is speckled with the dark seed of darnel.
Darnel is often infected with ergot fungus. Ergot poisoning causes hallucinations, sleepiness, and uncontrolled movement –- and paralysis. Darnel was dangerous and the people of Jesus’ time knew this. But the landowner insists that they mustn’t pull it up, because the other characteristic of darnel is that it tangles its roots around anything it grows with, so if you pull it up you pull up the wheat as well. Though the darnel will have to be separated eventually, there’s no point doing it at this stage – it won’t help the wheat to grow better, and they risk destroying the good with the bad.
Well does that matter as long as most of the wheat is harvested?
Lenin once said it is better to execute a hundred innocent persons than to have one guilty person go free. You can’t appreciate the wonder of God's love without first seeing the "reasonableness" of Lenin's position.
Assuming that the innocent vastly outnumber the guilty, assuming that society exists only as a collective, and assuming that the only worthwhile goal is to build a better society, it makes all the sense in the world to root out that one weed, even at the cost of a hundred stalks of wheat.
In the Greek story of Medea kills both of her sons in revenge against her faithless husband. When he asks how she could have done such a thing, she replies, "Because I hated you more than I loved them." For God, apparently, hate can never be a stronger emotion than love.
Jesus challenges the world views of the Greeks and Lenin’s communist view of the better good of society.
The revolutionary message of this gospel story – so revolutionary that his disciples couldn’t understand it at all, and often neither do we - is that to Jesus, and to his Father, every single grain of wheat counts. Every single grain of wheat in our life counts. Every single grain of wheat in the lives of others counts, because they are all as beloved to him as we are. We are all a mixture of weeds and wheat, the story says, and we live in a world of weeds and wheat. That can feel untidy, uncomfortable and dangerous to us. But God’s priorities are different to ours. What matters is that no shred of goodness must be lost. God loves goodness more than he hates evil.
He knows that ultimately goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate. In the face of evil, his reaction isn’t panic, but love - love which is prepared to take the risk and pay the price. It is a message Jesus lives out. It is a message he dies for. And his resurrection shows that love has the last word.
Barbara Brown Taylor retells this parable and offers some insights into its message. She writes, "One afternoon in the middle of the growing season, a bunch of farmhands decided to surprise their boss and weed his favourite wheat field. No sooner had they begun to work, however, than they began to argue-first about which of the wheat-looking things were weeds and then about the rest of the weeds. Did the Queen Anne's lace pose a real threat to the wheat, or could it stay for decoration? And the blackberries? They would be ripe in just a week or two, but they were, after all, weeds-or were they? And the honeysuckle-it seemed a shame to pull up anything that smelled so sweet."
"About the time they had got around to debating the purple asters, the boss showed up and ordered them out of his field. Dejected, they did as they were told. Back at the barn the boss took their machetes away from them, poured them some lemonade, and made them sit down where they could watch the way the light moved across the field. At first, all they could see were the weeds and what a messy field it was, what a discredit to them and their profession, but as the summer wore on they marveled at the profusion of -tall wheat surrounded by tall goldenrod, ragweed, and brown-eyed Susans. The tares and the thistles flourished alongside the roses and the milkweed, and it was a mess, but a glorious mess, and when it had all bloomed and ripened and gone to seed the reapers came."
"Carefully, gently, expertly, the reapers gathered the wheat and made the rest into bricks for the oven where the bread was baked.
And the fire that the weeds made was excellent,
and the flour that the wheat made was excellent,
and when the harvest was over the owner called them all together-the farmhands, the reapers, and all the neighbors-and he broke bread with them, bread that was the final distillation of that whole messy, gorgeous, mixed-up field, and they all agreed that it was like no bread any of them had ever tasted before and that it was very, very good."
My friends, the Good News of this parable is that God is able to make something great come out of this whole, glorious, mess of intermingled wheat and weeds. On one level this field is about our individual lives.On another level it is the field of our corporate human existence.
On both levels God is somehow able to miraculously take this mess of ours and to bring forth from it both excellent flour and excellent fire. And when this flour and fire interact with each other, through God's grace, somehow there emerges from the oven the Bread of Everlasting Life-
God's priorities are different. What matters to him is that no shred of goodness must be lost. God loves goodness more than he hates evil, and he won't sacrifice the one in order to be rid of the other. And it is God’s task to sort which is good and which is bad.
Today we place Jayden Ray and all our children and ourselves into the hands of this loving God and allow God to be God in our lives and the life of the world .
With thanks to various reference sources
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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