Saint James Fordham • Proper 11a • Tobias Haller BSG
The householder said, “In gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest...”
Today’s Gospel is the second in a series of three parables about seeds. Last week, we heard about the seeds that were broadcast on all sorts and conditions of soil, and how they fared — growing or withering. And next week we’ll hear about that famous mustard seed of faith.
Today, we have what appears to be a story of early agricultural terrorism — an enemy’s plot to infect a wholesome field of wheat with weed-seed; and we also hear about the wise farmer’s response. As with all parables, this story has a symbolic message, and in today’s Gospel Jesus explains the symbol and the message it bears. And the message, for us today as for his original hearers, is “Be Patient,” or more specifically, “Don’t rush to judgment!”
Now all of us here know about impatience. We live in New York City, after all, renowned for its hectic pace, its hurrying and scurrying life style. From time to time we all experience the urge to rush things along, to hasten and hustle and bustle when we should perhaps step back and take a look before we leap.
But impatience is not a quality restricted to modern times and modern places. There is plenty of evidence of impatience in our Scriptures. Look at those hasty household servants, ready to rush in and pull up the weeds with a vengeance, only to destroy the good wheat as well. Thank goodness for the wise householder!
On the other hand, Saint Paul, who would not normally be held up as an example of patience, today picks up that same theme, the eager but long wait of the whole creation, hoping and waiting in patience for its liberation.
We might well note, however, that patience is not characteristic of Saint Paul! Always so sure he is on the right track even when he is terribly wrong — as when he persecutes Christians and thinks he is doing God a favor. And even after his conversion from time to time he displays that same old impatience. Even in today’s reading, where he talks about waiting with patience, it is a very impatient kind of patience, in which he portrays creation waiting in eager longing, groaning and crying out like a woman in labor, longing for delivery. I pity the poor husband who tells his wife, while she’s experiencing a contraction, “Just be patient, dear...” A woman in labor doesn’t want to be patient — she wants it to be over! So perhaps Saint Paul did not understand patience all that well.
The farmworkers in our parable today echo this anxious impatience. “Let’s get those weeds!” is their motto. But the voice of the Master, the voice of Jesus, says, “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” At harvest time, the Master assures us, the sorting out will take place, and the weeds will burn while the grain is gathered in.
Now, as I said, this parable isn’t about agriculture: it was a a warning to the early church, and it is the same warning to our church today. It would have been a warning to Saint Paul, had he been around to hear it. Before his conversion, while he was still known as Saul, he thought it was his job, he even thought he had a divine commission, to go about sorting the weeds from the wheat — to separate the blasphemous new sect, the followers of that renegade rabble-rouser Jesus, from the true pious Jews. He rushed to judgment, and sent many to prison and to death because they believed in Christ. The Scripture vividly describes him standing by as the people murdered Saint Stephen, helping the crowd in their sweaty work by holding their overcoats, like a towel-boy at a sports event, straining on tiptoe to see the action, as that Christian rabble-rouser was battered to death with stones. Saul wasn’t content to wait and see, and leave the matter in God’s hands. Saul thought he knew best, and persecuted the church to within an inch of its life.
Then one fateful day on the road to Damascus, Jesus himself confronted Saul and told him just how wrong he was, and the persecutor became a champion of what he once had cursed.
But did the church learn from this? Did it learn from Jesus’ parable? If it did, it soon forgot its lesson. Throughout Christian history there arose those who thought they could do God’s harvest work for him. Impatient for the judgment of God to show itself, they pushed God aside, and started ripping up what they thought were weeds. And how they damaged the wheat in the process! And how many young stalks of wheat were ripped up with the weeds! And how often has wheat been mistaken for weeds down through the years!
It is a sad history. The followers of Saint John the Beloved Disciple thought of themselves as the children of light, and cursed and condemned everyone else as the children of darkness. The church of the east and the church of the west excommunicated each other. The inquisition saw to the torture and murder of thousands it considered heretics. The Protestant reformers beheaded Roman Catholics, and the Roman Catholics burned Protestants at the stake.
So many weeds amidst so little wheat! And everyone thinking they knew best how to do God’s will, rushing to judgment when what God said was, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
It is a sad history, and it isn’t over. Even today, in spite of our Lord’s command in the Gospel, there are countless busy workers attempting to purify the church, ripping up what they think are weeds, and weakening the church instead of strengthening it. They may have appointed themselves the guardians of the “Global Anglican Future” but they are repeating the mistakes of a sorry past!
But thanks be to God that this is not our task here at Saint James Church, or in the real live Anglican Communion — you know, the one meets with the Archbishop of Canterbury instead of gathering separately against him! Our task is to remain faithful to our Lord in the knowledge that judgment rests with God, not us. Our task is to welcome all, not to determine who’s a weed and who’s a stalk of wheat. Our task is to grow and flourish, not concerned about whether our neighbor is of the wheat or weed persuasion — for who knows what they might think of us! It is our task to grow, and to bear fruit, and to leave the sorting at harvest time to God.
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There is an old story in Jewish tradition about the patriarch Abraham. He was, as you know, renowned for his hospitality. One evening as he was sitting by his tent, a very old man came walking down the road. Abraham immediately jumped up and invited him into his tent. He washed his feet and gave him wine and bread and meat. Abraham noticed that rather than saying the traditional blessing before eating, the old man started in right away, chewing the bread with his few good teeth and glugging the wine right down. Abraham was astonished, and asked him, “Don’t you give thanks to God before you eat?”
The old man answered, “Oh, I don’t believe in God. I’m a fire-worshiper.” This was too much for the pious patriarch Abraham, and he grabbed the old pagan fire-worshiper by both shoulders, hustled him out of his tent and pushed him off down the road. The old fire-worshiper shrugged and went on his way, still chewing the last mouthful of bread, as Abraham looked after him shaking his head and his fist, and clucking his tongue in disgust.
Later that evening God appeared to Abraham in a dream, and said to him, “Abraham.” Abraham answered, as always, “Here am I, Lord.” And God asked him, (knowing the answer of course), “Where is the old man who came to your tent this evening?” And Abraham said, “I sent him on his way because he does not worship you, O Holy One.” And God said softly, “I have put up with him for over eighty years. Could you not put up with him for one night?”
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God, we can be assured, knows weeds from wheat, and at harvest time will deal with both as he sees fit. Until then, let us be content to grow and flourish under his watchful eye, giving thanks for the opportunity he gives us to grow.+