Friday, July 21, 2023

Gospel Reading and Reflection for July 23

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
13:24 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

13:25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.

13:27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?'

13:28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'

13:29 But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."

13:37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;

13:38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,

13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.

13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,

13:42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

The Story
In God's kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, God rules. God's realm is everywhere and there is no place where God is not present.* 

The brilliant metaphor in this reading is the wheat field invaded with a pernatious weed that has become a threat to the harvest. The interloper cannot be distinguished from the wheat plants. How do the workers make sure that the wheat is not choked out?

The default is to try to fix the situation by weeding the field. In South Texas, the time to weed lawns is in the spring. If you don't do it when the weeds first appear, you will have missed your chance to stop them. If you wait until summer, you will end up pulling up the lawn, or the weed killer will burn the grass. The weeds can overtake the lawn very quickly. 

The harvest in Jesus' time was the process of separating wheat from chaff. The crop was collected and pitched onto the threshing floor. Here the gatherings were cut under the weight  of a sledge. Once thrashed, the mixture was winnowed, a process that separated the grain from other debris. This process was repeated as needed.**   

The explanation of the parable is a brief but clear commentary on the nature of moral evil and the threat it poses to God's rule and reign on earth, which includes all humankind. Consider this working definition of moral evil: doing harm, intentionally. With that as a given, here some points to consider.
  1. Evil is a Liar What better image than the story of the weeds looking just like the wheat? For evil to progress, lies are told as truth. We can tell lies to ourselves and each other. I often believe what I want to believe, hear what I want to hear, and I prefer whatever casts me in a positive light. 
  2. Evil is an Escape Artist Through finger pointing, blaming, accusing, or shaming, I can project evil on another person, race, or religion. "They" are cast as non-persons, undeserving of kindness or respect. Scapegoating causes great harm and is another way evil thrives. 
  3. Evil Multiplies. Unfortunately, evil can have a field day in people and institutions whose official mission statements provide cover for the harm they may cause, even in the name of religious faith. The hypocrisy can be covered by more and more lies. 
  4. Evil Hides Out. The weeds are planted under cover of the night. The destructive weeds hide in the wheat. Because evil intentions exist in the mind, no one can know the true motivations of another human being. The hiddenness of evil is suggested in the word "den" in Scripture, as in a "a den of thieves, a den of iniquity," etc.
  5. Evil Can Be Outlasted. Because the weeds threaten the crop, we are tempted to multiply the harm. When I try to fix the troublemakers, I end up being like them. In what world does Christ call me to judge others without mercy just because I happen to attend church or pray more often?***  
  6. Evil is Judged. Evil will not only be exposed for what it is, but once unmasked, the truth will be shouted from the rooftops. At the end of the harvest, the angels serve God best by doing the hard work. My job is to resist evil without becoming evil and to do no harm. My calling is to wait for God's deliverance in God's time in God's way. 
  7. Our Decisions are Made in Gray Areas. Our lives are lived amidst good and evil. We live in the gray areas, that sphere where we decide the way that leads to greater evil or greater good. That's why our sense of wisdom and discernment of spirits is so important. We make our ethical decisions among the wheat and weeds. 
* See Psalm 139: 7-12
**See Ferrell Jenkins, "Grinding Grain in Biblical Times," April 30, 2012. 
***My friend and mentor, Jim Jackson, has often said that God has given us the ministry of promotion, not quality control.

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