Sermon Preached by The Reverend Charles Royden 17 July 2011
Ordinary 16 Year A The Parable of the Wheat and Tares
What a week, who would have believed the chaos which has engulfed our press? We keep seeing these unbelievable scandals in our national life and indeed across the world. Whole professions exposed one after the other, paedophile priests, corrupt politicians, the hacking scandal of the press and it appears the corruption of our police as well. What do we do when even those who are supposed to hold evil to account appear complicit?
It must surely be true that one of the obstacles to faith is the presence of evil in the world, and let's face it in the church as well. We look around us at the world and we see a place where goodness is often trampled upon, where bad people often succeed.
With all of this evil around us, we often yearn for a glimpse of justice, and surely we can be forgiven for wanting to see bad people sorted out. Sadly today Jesus tells us that this is exactly what we must not do. As we look around at us at evil in the world we are called upon to do nothing but wait. Through this parable Jesus teaches us that evil must exist alongside good in the world, until the day of judgement, at which time it will be God who is the judge, not us.
Jesus tells this parable of the wheat and the tares, good and bad growing side by side in the field. Those people who heard this parable would have understood it very easily. The most basic staple diet in Palestine was of course bread, so wheat was critical. The weed growing with the wheat was poisonous, a kind of ryegrass known as darnel, and often translated as tares. In the early stages of development it looked like wheat, it could only be distinguished from wheat later as the ear appeared. It closely resembles wheat, except the grains are black. When harvested the wheat was taken and the tares left behing to be cut and used as fuel. Darnell has to be removed because it is mildly toxic and will ruin the flour, any surviving black grains were removed by hand after threshing. Critically, it was not removed in the fields whilst the wheat was growing because the roots of the weed were strong and wrapped around the wheat, to remove the weed would just as likely kill the wheat.
So in our reading today from Matthew, Jesus indicates that just as the wheat and the weeds must be left to grow together, so too the separation of good from bad is not something which we should engage in doing now. It should be left for the final harvest, God’s harvest at the end of time.
Accepting this presence of evil is as hard for us to understand as Christians as it would be for keen gardeners to simply try and ignore weeds in their gardens. Can you imagine keen gardeners who would stand by and watch weeds in their plants? They want to go out and spray and cut and hoe, weeds are annoying. Just as gardeners want to attack weeds, so we can become impatient to judge fellow human beings and want to see them removed. Hence this is a difficult parable and a disappointing parable for the moral crusaders and those of us who want to go around making judgemental statements !
It is very hard to understand how we can be expected to live side by side with evil people in God’s field. There is a fear that our tolerance might be regarded as moral indifference, and the good seed will become overwhelmed. We want to remind God that too many weeds might choke the harvest. Yet God does not want us to be his religious police to go around accusing others of evil and punishing them. We have seen this happen often in crusades and inquisitions, attacks on infidels and witches. God tells us that evil must exist alongside good until the day of judgement, at which time God will be the judge
So what are we to do ? To sit back and watch ? No, in the meantime whilst we are not allowed to pluck, we are encouraged to plant . In the midst of a very mixed up world we are called upon to be markedly different, to do good instead of evil.
Consider the Prayer of St Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
In the words of the hymn, we are to be channels of God's grace, to bring blessing to our world where there is evil, to be those who do not walk by on the other side, to show love where there is bitterness
None of us has any idea why God allows weeds in his field, or why evil is allowed to exist in God's world. yet, Jesus is very clear and assures us that evil is not of God, but is the enemy of God. This is quite an important lesson for us to hear today, it is a very important lesson for those who see it as a sign of God’s punishment when bad things happen.
One of the important lessons from the parable today is that we must have patience.
patience in the face of situations that seem bad to us, like good people dying before time
patience in the face of our desire to make judgements about others and to act on those judgements.
We leave the judgement for God to make and we must concentrate on doing what he asks us to do - which is producing his fruits in our lives, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control.
There may be good reason for this. How can I root out the bad weeds in the world, when I recognise in me that there is a conflict between good and bad. In truth we are all 'part weed part wheat'. We must hope and pray that God works in us to make us more ‘wheat like.’ The good news is that God does this and the Bible is filled with people we might have considered weeds, but God did not give up.
Moses was a murderer, King David a murderers and an adulterer, the apostle Paul surely a murderer, he who looked on as Stephen was stoned to death and rounded the Christians up.
Who could believe that such weeds could come to be so fruitful ?
The life of Jesus teaches us to be careful about making too many assumptions about who is a weed and who is good wheat. Jesus reserved his strongest criticism for those who were considered really holy, and instead he treated with compassion the very weeds who were openly condemned. Jesus loved weeds and spent time with them, the thieves, prostitutes and the ones thought to be sinners.
This is difficult for us, however Jesus tells us not to rush to judgement, but rather to let it be, let it go, forgive. Evil is to be dealt with through letting it be, permitting it, forgiving it. This does not mean that there will not be a time when evil is dealt with, but that will be God’s time, not ours, God’s judgement and not ours. It is only God who look and see what is a human heart.
This story is about grace, about God giving time. We might become frustrated and wanting God to act more quickly to address the evil and suffering in the world. Yet we must also recognise that how committed God is dealing with the problems of this world. One look at the cross will show us the depth of God’s commitment. On the cross, evil may seem to triumph over good, but finally, the cross tells us, God’s love overcomes and God’s goodness will triumph over evil.
In the meantime there is much that we can do. We must avoid the temptation to pluck and instead work hard to plant. Let us all spend much more time nourishing the wheat, encouraging the good things which we see all round us. Our newspapers are chock full of so much bad stuff, yet we must recognise that newspapers are only full of bad news because we have an appetite for it. Our moral outrage and calling for justice is usually nothing more than self righteous hypocrisy. Our newspapers would never have reached the depths to which they have sunk if we had not provided a market for the dirt which they have provided on a daily basis.
As Christians we have to have to get beyond this human appetite for evil and see the much greater good which lies all round us. Darkness is eliminated not by cursing it, but by lighting a candle. So Christians must be those determined to bring God goodness to overcome evil in the world.