Sunday, 23 July 2017

Weeds in a field...

6th Sunday after Trinity – Eucharist – 23.vii.17 (Proper 11)

(Isaiah 44.6-8; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30,36-43)

In the Quinquennial Inspection which the diocesan surveyor carries out on Vicarages there’s a section which deals with the state of the garden. The Surveyor was generous in the report he wrote about mine: “The garden is well-stocked.” He didn’t say what it was well-stocked with. Or as someone else looking at my garden remarked: “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.”

For the second Sunday running, our Gospel reading gives us a parable of Jesus with an agricultural theme. Last week the parable of the sower – and the question, where does the seed (which stands for the word of God for our world) fall?… on good ground which lets it grow healthy and strong?… or somewhere less receptive, where growth will be inhibited or simply not happen at all. How do you interpret that story? I’m struck by the simple act and foolishness of the sower, who goes out careless as to where the seed may fall – this is an over-generous sower who doesn’t look too closely as to where the seed lands, but who - like God - showers his blessings abundantly. Whether you count yourself good ground, stony, choked up with weeds and hang-ups, or whether you’re as hard as the road surface, God has not written you off – he cares for you, and he’s coming for you, just like Jesus is coming: not just for the receptive and religious, but for the tax-collector, the sinner, the publican and the women of disrepute.

This week’s parable is again about seeds. This time they’ve already been planted and they’re growing. And there’s a different slant to the story. The seed no longer stands for God’s word or Jesus’ message. The seed is people – or so the explanation of the parable tells us. And the problem is that the good and the bad are all mixed up. How can they ever be sorted from one another? The Bible scholars tell us that the weed growing alongside the good wheat is darnel, a weed which is difficult to tell from the wheat. And even if you can tell them apart there’s another problem. Their roots intertwine. Pull up the weed and there’s a good chance that the growing wheat will come up too.

I can follow the parable that far… In my own garden I have to confess that I’m never really sure what I should pull up. I find quite a lot of the weeds individually attractive… I know they’re a mess when there’s a lot of them, but the plants we put in deliberately don’t seem that much different at times. And sometimes I pull up the weeds and the flowers come out too. Don’t you get help, people sometimes ask - and once I did agree to take up the offer of gardening assistance from a caller to the Vicarage. He couldn’t be any worse than me I thought, and I went off leaving him to the task. When I came back, he’d dug out absolutely everything in the borders. “That’s the only way to get rid of those weeds,” he said. And he spent the next day laying out the plants, flowers, weeds and shrubs on the drive, trying to decide what he should re-plant. Within a week everything was pretty well back to its original state, except the flowers were rather thin on the ground – in fact those that survived his attention were actually flat on the ground.

So when someone comes up to you and asks – like the slaves in the parable or the man at my door – “look at those weeds: do you want us to go and gather them?”, then take heed of the wisdom of the landowner who says: “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”

But, of course, this parable is not just a course in basic gardening. It’s a sign of the kingdom of heaven. And even more basically it’s a picture of how things are. We get bothered that there’s so much evil in the world - so much that’s wrong with it. Things just don’t go right. We’re right of course; the trouble is all those other people who get it wrong. We have our own notion of what is good. But so many other people seem to go out of their way to cause bother and grief. They might be terrorists at one end of the scale; politicians in government or opposition or both, who just don’t seem to have a clue; or members of a union who threaten to take industrial action just as you expect to be turning up at the airport for that long-anticipated holiday (happily that doesn’t seem to have happened this summer!). They might be religious extremists (not our sort of religion, of course); or they might just be your neighbours or friends you’ve fallen out with who rub you up the wrong way. There’s a lot that could be read into those words, “an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat… an enemy has done this.” Enemies fall into many categories but they have in common the fact that they cause us trouble, and they’re not easily got rid of. The good and the bad are there together, side by side.

So you could follow the interpretation of the parable which Matthew’s Gospel gives: that this is a matter of having to put up with wrong-doers for the time being, but in due course they will get their just reward in a “furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Fine… if you reckon you’re one of the “righteous” who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” But can you be so sure? What do other people think about you? And what about those recurring enigmatic words of Jesus: “Let anyone with ears listen”?

We need to ponder this Gospel reading for today. It’s about hope – the hope of a kingdom of righteousness, where justice will be done, wrongs righted, the evil-doers shown up for what they are. But shown up for what they truly are, not what we think they are. This is a parable not about vengeance against those we categorise as “the enemy,” but a warning that we should not be hasty in judgment. Who can tell the darnel from the wheat? But also Jesus calls us to be his disciples living out the call of the kingdom in all the contradictions of this world. He comes to this world to meet us in our human need. He bids us live out our vocation here because of what we can do for this world. And what can we do? Not jump to conclusions, not rush into condemning those who are different from ourselves, but think again: “Let anyone with ears listen!”

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