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Title: Let them grow together, until the harvest
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Date: 23 July 2023, Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In the name of the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
We live in a very literal and judgemental world, a world which is impatient and impetuous. There seems to be no room for ambiguity, no room for asking questions, no room for transformation or hope in what might be possible. There seems to be no room for frailty and vulnerability, no room for mistakes, no room for forgiveness or apology. You are either in or out, you are this or that, you are right or wrong. It’s assumed that what we think today is what we will think tomorrow, certainty is prized, immovable opinions are lauded, complexity is overridden in favour of a salacious headline or making a quick buck- we all get sucked in. We divide, we judge, we condemn, we close our doors, we root out, we ban, we eject, we grandstand, we move on to the next story fed to us by the tabloid press.
Our parable today is an antidote to the ways of our world, because at the heart of this parable is uncertainty, ambiguity, and possibility all held under the kindly gaze of God. At the heart of this parable is a God who judges with mildness and forbearance, a God who waits on us and thereby gives us hope in what we might yet become, and what might yet be possible. This is a God of second chances, of renewal and new beginnings, this is a God of forgiveness and love, a God who gives everyone and everything the opportunity to come good.
Matthew tells us yet another story of the Kingdom relating to seeds, and sowing and growth, we are presented with the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the wheat and the tares, as it is sometimes known. A parable for an early church trying to affirm its identity and purpose, perhaps being drawn into operating according to the ways of the world, a church also tempted into condemnation and exclusion, a church desiring a kind of purity and certainty, quick to make a judgement on who was in and who was out.
But the simple point of the story is this: these weeds are not bright and proud like poppies growing up in a wheatfield, they are not obviously different to the crop in question, these weeds are tall and slender, with ears and whiskers,- they are almost indistinguishable from the wheat they stand alongside, it would take a very discerning eye to pull them apart.
The slaves of the household, (let the reader understand these to be the disciples, the earliest church communities perhaps), the slaves of the household are very anxious about these agricultural imposters, they aspire to purity and conformity, they desire a perfect and unsullied community, so they want to root out these weeds, and to separate out the church from the world. They also want to cast their judgement on the situation. They want their turn at being God, but God alone is judge.
But surprisingly, the Master of the House, commands them to wait with patience. He says ‘let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest’. The Master of the house is content to let them grow together, to risk the possibility that the weeds might be wheat. It is only when the harvest comes that everything will be revealed. Judgement will come, but in the meantime, we wait in hope.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that the Master of the House in this parable is an image of God, the Son of Man, Jesus tells us, and the harvest is the day of judgement at the end of all things, but it may surprise us that, until that day, God is content to wait and see what happens and Jesus tells his disciples to do the same. It seems there is always the possibility of change and transformation, of bad becoming good, of a sinner becoming a saint. With this God there is the possibility that the whole world might live into its vocation, wheat and weeds alike.
It’s acknowledged that this is one of Jesus more difficult teachings because its message goes against our human nature, our impatience and our propensity to make judgements on others. St Augustine said of this parable: ‘It may be so, that those who today are weeds, may tomorrow be wheat’, and so we get a picture of a God who, in the words of the book of Wisdom ‘has care for all people’, ‘will not judge unjustly’, but with ‘mildness’, who gives hope through the repentance of sins, who makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus makes no apology for presenting a view of life, and a view of the church, which is complex and requires discernment and patience and calls us all to risk letting God be God. The Church is not called to be a purity cult closed off from the realities and imperfections of the world and all of its challenge, but it is called to be a community where sins are forgiven and hope is restored, a community where all grow together, untidily, ambiguously, uncertainly, we are all dappled, variegated, mottled, a mixture of wheat and weed, all waiting to be changed and transformed and called to conversion of life.
Do we live in judgement of one another, or do we live in the hope of Christ? It seems to me that this parable is calling us to live in the hope of what could be, not in judgement of what is.
We might give thanks for this possibility because we all know that if the fields of our hearts were examined carefully, there would also be a complex mix of wheat and weeds. We know how close we are to sin and evil day by day, we understand that our motives are mixed and complex, we know that the thoughts of our hearts can be selfish, mean-spirited, cruel, we know that the lines between good and bad, between right and wrong, are as slippery as seductive as the similarity between the wheat and the weeds. Thanks be to God who looks upon us all with a kindly gaze. Thanks be to God that weeds are welcome too. It may well be that the weeds of today, may be the wheat of tomorrow that will bear the grains that make the bread for all to share.
In the meantime, all we can do, is look to Jesus Christ and grow under the light of his countenance. We look for the possibility and potential of everyone to grow in faith, we hope for what we do not yet see, and we wait for it with patience, we wait for the day when the whole of creation will be set free, as St Paul says, into the glorious liberty of the children of God. We wait for a re-creation, and the coming of the Kingdom.
This is the kingdom which Jesus speaks of today, a kingdom where all things are possible, where sinners find a place, where outcasts are welcomed, where evil is overcome with good, peace comes from conflict, life comes from death, wheat comes from weeds and we all give glory to the one and only live God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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