for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost (July 19, 2020)
On this seventh Sunday after Pentecost, we invite you to set aside some time tonight at 5 pm to pray and worship at home.
Rooted in simplicity and practiced in community,
even if separated by space and circumstance,
we celebrate Christ’s gentle and loving rule.
The readings for today are:
- Genesis 28:10-19a
- Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
- Romans 8:12-25
- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
This week, we once again find Jesus offering teaching in the form of a parable, with an agricultural story that defies all ordinary logic and looks nothing like what his audience – then or now – would expect. The kingdom of heaven, he says, can be compared to a farmer who sows good seed, but who is the victim of a terrible act of farmer-vs-farmer sabotage, as an enemy sows weed seeds among the wheat..
This week, we once again find Jesus offering teaching in the form of a parable, with an agricultural story that defies all ordinary logic and looks nothing like what his audience – then or now – would expect. The kingdom of heaven, he says, can be compared to a farmer who sows good seed, but who is the victim of a terrible act of farmer-vs-farmer sabotage, as an enemy sows weed seeds among the wheat.
This farmer doesn’t want to risk damaging his crop, and so the wheat and the weeds are left to grow side-by-side until harvest time, when the wheat is gathered into granaries and the weeds are gathered and burned. So it will be at the end of the age, Jesus says – that all causes of sin and evildoers will be gathered together and thrown into the furnace of fire, and the righteous will shine like the sun.
Let anyone with ears listen!
The easy, perhaps even lazy, interpretation of this parable is that God allows good and bad to coexist, but that we need to be careful to make sure we’re not counted among the weeds at the end of the day, lest we find ourselves in the fiery furnace.
But all kinds of issues persist. No self-respecting farmer would let weeds grow this way – not only would this course of action hurt the wheat, it would also result in mature weeds that would spread their own seeds even more widely through the field. Agriculturally speaking, this is madness. And I think perhaps that that’s the point – to recognize the madness and begin to ask questions of the story.
We have another iconic reading this week. And when we add it into this conversation, things get way more complicated. And interesting.
Our first reading is from Genesis, and it’s the story of Jacob the scoundrel having robbed his brother of his birthright through lies and deception, while his mother concocts an excuse for him to get out of dodge. He lies down in the wilderness with only a stone for a pillow, and has an extraordinary encounter with God. God promises him blessing, and shows him this image of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder between heaven and earth. Jacob presses his luck even further and engages in some bargaining with God, but nevertheless finds God to be true to his word.
Which raises the question – is Jacob to be counted among the wheat or the weeds?
Based on his conduct, there’s a pretty good argument to be made that he’s a weed.
But, this is the same Jacob who wrestles with angels and is renamed Israel, a patriarch that is revered among God’s chosen people. This is Jacob whose offspring are to be numbered as the dust of the earth, whose lineage is to be a part of the way that God will bless all the families of the earth.
If that isn’t being gathered into the granary, I don’t know what is!
It sure seems like it can be hard to separate the wheat from the weeds. Which, of course, is exactly what the farmer says to the labourers who want to solve this problem by going on a destructive rampage through the field. Leave it alone, the farmer says, trusting that growth is assured.
There is a mystery at work here. The kingdom, Jesus says, is to be likened to the one who sows the good seed. Seed which bears fruit all on its own, despite the presence of the weeds. No intervention is necessary. And whatever is undesirable or unhealthy will be dealt with in the long run. From beginning to end, goodness abounds. And those weeds never really had the power to disrupt much of anything.
It’s as though God is present with us, inviting us to trust. It’s as though Jesus has, through the cross and his death and resurrection, already done the work of sowing seed and ensuring a happy ending. All of our questions about the nature of evil, our own status as deserving or undeserving, wheat or weed, are ultimately condensed into an invitation to trust in the goodness of God.
Because the point isn’t the wheat or the weeds. It’s the goodness and the forbearance of the farmer. The assurance of abundance that runs through the whole story.
Because the point isn’t about Jacob’s goodness or the extent to which he deserves anything that he receives. The story is actually about how God shows up, calls even the least deserving and least likely, and empowers all the same. And does so for the benefit of all of the families of the earth.
So may these stories work their way into our hearts and minds. May they disrupt us, challenge us, and inspire all kinds of unanswerable questions. And at the bottom of whatever rabbit-hole that process takes us, may we find faith enough to marvel at this kingdom that Jesus is always on about, and the goodness of the God who will not let us go.