6th Sunday after Trinity
Isaiah 44:6-8; Mt 13:24-30, 36-43
St Barbara’s 19.7.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
This morning and for the next few weeks we are going to be focusing on Jesus’ teaching and actions as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
Today’s gospel reading prompts us to reflect on our attitude to wrong and evil. I confess that I find my attitude to such things can veer between two extremes. There are times when I am hugely indignant and angry: “Something must be done, and immediately. These people must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.” And there are times when I shrug my shoulders: “Oh well, this is what happens, I suppose. Nothing can be done about it.” In the parable of the weeds Jesus explores these two attitudes.
The parable itself is a simple farming story, all too familiar to farmers and gardeners down the ages. A crop gets sown and shows promise, but then weeds somehow get in amongst the crop. The weeds, or tares, were most likely a mongrel form of wheat, suitable only for chicken feed, and quite unfit for human consumption. The servants want to pull them out immediately. The farmer has more patience: the weeds and crop can be separated in due time when they are harvested, and then the weeds can be destroyed.
This is one of those rare parables where Jesus interprets it for us, explaining what the various elements of the story represent. Whilst this makes the meaning of the parable easier to grasp, it makes its application no less challenging.
Jesus was living at a time when there were strong religious movements pressing for religious purity. The Pharisees and Essenes were two such groups. They wanted to form pure religious communities where all the members would be godly and righteous and where contact with compromising and sinful outsiders would be limited. Not only that, they wanted to see justice enacted on those who broke the religious laws, whether that was by condemnation and ostracism or by meting out a more violent form of justice through revolutionary revolt. The parable had a clear message for those groups. This is not the time to force God’s hand. To pull out the weeds now, to act against what you see as evil, will only cause more damage, more hurt, more pain. There is a need for patience, to trust in God’s timing that justice will be done.
Today, we may find it hard to identify with that religious polarisation, that desire to create a “them and us” type world, although it still does certainly exist, but of much greater prominence perhaps at the moment is the political and cultural polarisation that we see played out on our news and in social media every day. We see it in the US over something as seemingly neutral as face coverings, where to wear one is seen as pro-democrat and to not is seen as pro-republican. Things there have become so polarised that even basic health measures have become politicised. Or we have seen it in this country over an issue that still exists but that gets less mention these days – Brexit. It still remains a subject that divides people, families, neighbours,
communities, where people of both persuasions are still happy to roundly condemn those who hold to the other view. We see it too in how quick people are to condemn others, to use social media to publicly shame others. A recent letter signed by 150 authors, academics and activists spoke of the vogue for public shaming and ostracism, driven by what they describe as a “blinding moral certainty”. That blinding moral certainty can lead to demands for instant justice, instant punishment for wrong-doers. There is rarely the time afforded to step back and question whether such anger genuinely leads to positive outcomes, or whether the accusers’ own houses are truly in order.
Jesus’ words speak into that culture. Condemning others, demanding instant justice, leads to more damage than good. Creating “us and them” boundaries, those who are acceptable and those who are not, those who are right and those who are wrong, those who are in and those who are out, does not achieve justice and the overturning of evil. Instead, Jesus calls us to patience. To trust in the justice of God, who will in his time, judge truly and justly. It is not our role to judge and condemn. It is our role to patiently love, and to work for good.
Which leads us on to the second of our two attitudes: that evil doesn’t really matter or if it does matter, it is inevitable – there is not much that we can do about it. When we are faced with the immensity of issues, when we reflect on the terrible nature of human behaviour each day, we may be tempted to despair. Whether that is at a personal level, and the breakdown in relationships, the anger, the verbal, the physical, the emotional abuse that takes place; whether that is at a community level, and issues of homelessness, poverty, discrimination, crime, or at a global level and the wanton destruction of the environment or the ease with which nations resort to violence and war; we may feel that nothing can be done.
But Jesus’ parable speaks to that attitude too. For we can’t just shrug our shoulders at evil. The point of the parable is that evil is taken seriously. Injustice and wrong-doing will be held to account. There will be a reckoning. The farmer in the parable isn’t going to throw away the whole crop, or mix it in with the inedible weeds as if he hadn’t noticed. The weeds, the evil, will be sifted out, but it will be in his timing, and according to his ways.
Our reading from the prophet Isaiah this morning speaks of a God who “is the first and the last”, the one who controls the beginning and end of time. The book of Revelation, in similar language, describes God as “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. The point is that the future is in God’s hands, and in Christ we see where that future will lead. For in Christ we see the God of ultimate compassion and justice, through whose death and resurrection, sin and evil are dealt with and defeated. Because of Christ, we look forward to the future with hope – not the hope of someone sat in a darkened room waiting for a flickering candle to be lit, but the hope of a people in the early morning dawn who know that the sun has risen and are now waiting for the full brightness of midday. In Christ we have glimpsed the dawn. We know that the brightness of his return in full glory will come.
And that hope gives us the confidence to act now, to stand up for what is right and true against what is evil and false, to pray and live out those words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We can do that in the full confidence that one day justice will prevail.
For there is a middle way, a transforming way, between those two attitudes of judgementalism and apathy, between condemnation and despair. A middle way that trusts God to bring his justice, his victory, over evil, in his time and in his way, and that seeks humbly to work with God in his purposes now. Shaped by a God of both justice and mercy, we are called to live lives of love, lives that cry out against the evil in the world and that long for God’s mercy on all people.