15 Jul 2020 • From Elizabeth, our Vicar
Sunday 19th July
Reading – Matthew 13 verses 24 -30 & 36 -43
The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.” ’
Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds
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.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
If you have to explain a poem to someone then it’s probably fair to say that it’s not working too well as a poem - because really the words should be able to speak for themselves. We may each take our different impressions or feelings or thoughts away from the poem. It may speak differently to each of us depending on our experiences of life, our emotional or spiritual state of being. But in the end, however we receive the poem, the words should be able to speak for themselves.
That I think should also be our starting point for the Parables that Jesus told. They’re stories that use everyday events, familiar settings and known experiences to speak into the world of the hearer. Therefore the words can and should be allowed to speak for themselves; they have a quality and depth of meaning which permits them to do that. To give the parables lengthy explanations surely diminishes their impact, it reduces the power of the story to speak into the heart and mind of the hearer, and it probably polarizes and skews the deeper meaning of the story.
In today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel we’re presented with just that scenario, so we hear the well-known parable of the weeds and the wheat, and then we get a long explanation of what all that means. It feels to me almost like we’re being told what to think and how to interpret. And it’s probably the case that Jesus never gave the explanation to his disciples but that the explanation was added much later, by someone else.
When I was pondering on this parable – of weeds and wheat and of their growing alongside each other – I was put in mind of that age old dynamic in the world of good versus evil. And of course there isa great deal of world literature that deals with that dynamic – often presented as the ongoing battle between good and evil, where evil must be overcome by good, and usually is, but where evil is generally presented as the dominant force, the greater force, the prevailing force. There, I think, lies the error.
Christians through the centuries have often behaved as if evil were a First Principle, somehow on the same sort of footing as God. And as a consequence of that we’ve paid rather more attention to evil, and to the issue of how to eradicate evil, than we have to good and to the means by which individual goodness may be deepened. When we deepen individual goodness then we can increase the sum of goodness in the world.
When we place too constant and intense a concentration upon evil, the effects which follow from that polarisation are generally fairly disastrous. And so those who work and crusade, not so much for good in them self, but rather against evil in others, won’t succeed in making the world better. They’ll more likely leave it either just as it was or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was before their crusade began.
We could perhaps ponder whether people of faith and writers of world literature - however excellent may have been our original intentions - by focusing too often on evil somehow create occasions for evil to manifest itself. I imagine that that’s what we call sin, or what we know as sin – the separation from God that comes out of allowing evil the assumption of a First Principle. Evil – or sin – is nothing of itself. We don’t see it and we don’t recognise it as a thing in itself. It’s not a substance but it’s the absence of good, just as darkness is nothing more or less than the absence of light. However, we do recognise evil – we recognise it by the pain that comes from it. Evil exists not as a substance in its own right, but as an outgrowing of human free-will.
If we read Matthew’s parable of the weeds and the wheat without also reading the rather plodding and sedentary- probably later addition - interpretation which follows, then our minds are free to ponder the whole range of ideas that the story presents to us, and we’re free to explore the greater depth of meaning in the words.
Then, I think, we can see within it that assumption of evil as a First Principle. We can recognise its challenge to divine order in the world. We can see the weave of the pattern which calls on us to work and crusade not against evil in others but rather – and more fruitfully - for God in ourselves. We can see how evil was scattered around the story and we can see equally how that evil wasn’t allowed to win-out – because evil is never the prevailing force. We can experience how, when evil is ascribed its rightful, inferior and subservient role, then our actions, our words and our deeds will always have the very real possibility – the very real probability – of leaving the world a better place.
If I were to offer an interpretation of the parable of the weeds and the wheat then it would be quite simply this, ‘we need to believe in the power of good, rather than in the power of evil.’
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
A Collect for this week
you made us I your image;
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Take some time to pray in silence for those who are sick,
those who are bereaved,
those who are struggling with the restrictions to daily life,
and those who are on your own heart and mind this day.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.Amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace.