Sunday, July 20, 2014

justice comes at the last

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is the parable of the wheat and the weeds – called the wheat and the tares in the King James Version. It presents the fairly curious scenario of an enemy sowing weeds in another man's wheat field and the dilemma that presents the landowner as to what to to rectify the situation.

There are some interesting points about the story. One is that the word translated as weeds or tares is in the Greek ziz-an-ia which scholars think refers to the plant darnel, a type of ryegrass that looks very like wheat when the plants are at an early stage of growth. Another is that there was in fact a law in ancient Rome forbidding people from sowing darnel in the wheat fields of those they didn't get along with too well. As the Romans were a very practical people, not much given to writing laws about situations that didn't exist, the fact they had this law on the books strongly suggests that this was something that really happened in the ancient world – and often enough to require laws prohibiting it. This makes the scenario that Jesus outlines in his parable a very realistic one, something that his listeners that day on the shores of Lake Galilee would have been aware of.

In that context, the actions of the landowner makes absolute sense: don't go in the field, tearing up the weeds, he says, because you can't do that without pulling up a lot of wheat as well … and that's what my enemy wants, that I'll damage my harvest in this way … what we must do instead is leave it until the harvest; then it will be much easier to sort things out and none of the crop will be wasted.

When Jesus is explaining the parable to his disciples, he doesn't cover this part; but it is not hard to imagine what he is saying here: don't rush to judgement; what you think are weeds might turn out to be wheat; leave it to God to decide. Teaching, which if it had been followed, might have led to a very different history for our Church, not just in ecumenical relations between denominations, but in the harsh and frankly judgmental treatment meted out to people for not living up to others' expectations down through the years.

But what Jesus does say in his explanation should give us pause for thought. The people represented by the wheat are God's children, those represented by the weeds are the children of the devil. All dwell in the world together now, but that will change at the time of the harvest, the end of the age. When that great and terrible day comes the good will be separated from the bad, with evil-doers going to the fire and the righteous to God's kingdom. The lesson of the parable is not that there is not judgement, but rather that it is not meted out in this world and certainly not by us!

The parable also presents us with another dilemma: since the wheat and the tares looks so much alike that they can not be told apart until it is time for the harvest, how can we be sure which we are? Is there a danger that we are going happily along, imagining that we are wheat, when in fact we are really tares? And if we are, what can we do to correct that, before it is to late? Because, remember, in Christian teaching there is always time to change our ways this side of the grave.

A key to avoiding the danger is to consider where this parable is placed in St Matthew's Gospel. It comes at the beginning of a section that culminates in our Lord's declaration to St Peter: 'thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.' For that reason the section is sometimes called 'the birth of the Church.' Jesus has left us his Body the Church to guide us along the right path. We all face many temptations every day – from the world, the flesh, and the devil – that may lead us from the true path … temptations that ease their way into our hearts often by claiming they are in fact Christ's teaching … there is nothing more seductive than a sin that disguises itself as a righteous act, all the while proclaiming that it is the righteous act instead that is shameful. But Christ established his Church with a purpose – if not, he would not have established it; and that purpose was to keep us on the right path; the path that leads to heaven; so that at the time of the harvest when he comes again we may enter into his kingdom. And I pray that all here will.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

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