Sermon for Sunday 23 July 2023
Jesus said: Let both [the weeds and the wheat] grow together until the harvest. (Matthew 13.30)
God is not in a hurry. We are the ones trapped in the timetable of our lives. There’s a beginning and an end. It’s the end, the final countdown, which can be a bit of a worry, not knowing what God thinks of us. Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares, as we used to call it, the weeds and the wheat, has been misused down the ages to frighten us with a binary choice: you are either going to shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father, or you are going to roast in the furnace, gnashing the few teeth you have left. It’s just an image of course – the furnace is not hell, it is the oven which consumes unwanted vegetation like weeds in a field. Even so, there remains in our minds that prospect of a judgment day, the final verdict on us. The danger of this dualism is that we apply this to the Church and the world, ending up with them and us, them in bundles to be burned, us safe and sound in the barn. Those thoughts are deadly. Let’s go somewhere else.
This parable follows that of The Sower, and is also about growth, our growth in the Spirit. Look at your spiritual life, your life with God. The growth should be natural, like a field of wheat growing to harvest, in accord with God’s creation, slow but sure, warmed by the sun. Growth and change there must be if we are to reach harvest time. Many Christians get stuck, think they have got it all worked out and then wonder why religion leaves them depressed. We get depressed when we no longer allow God to help us grow into the sons and daughters of God we are supposed to be.
This strange parable is based on real life. It records agricultural sabotage. The weeds are darnel, and the point about darnel is that in its early stages of growth, it looks exactly like wheat so we can’t get rid of the weeds in the field even if we wanted to. Cunning, isn’t it? Just the sort of thing human beings do. In each field, yours and mine, there are plenty of weeds, sown by the devil. The devil, by the way, is not an authority in his own right, he is just a spoiler, he is self-destruction, he is the spitefulness of life, a wrecker of what God is determined to achieve. Like the darnel, the devil imitates the ways of God, and you and I cannot always tell the two apart when we have decisions to make. I have lots of Christian books, and I leave the useful ones lying around the place, so that I can read a few paragraphs from time to time, because as I get older I find my powers of concentration are limited. Anyway, one of these books is called Weeds Among the Wheat, by Thomas Green, a Jesuit author, first published in 1984. Weeds among the Wheat. Discernment: Where Prayer and Action Meet. Green’s Ignatian method is not for everyone. I use his book to jolt me back to the seriousness of the Christian faith, and how we live our faith. Religion is not part time, you wouldn’t be here if you thought that, nor is it just a way of living. It is the harvest of our lives. There are sides to our characters, and thoughts and deeds, which are not of God, very much the opposite, cunning and destructive; and there are benign cultural values and attitudes which can hardly be called Christian. Some of these weeds we can do something about, through prayerful discernment, and action. Not by writing or listening to sermons, but through action, changing direction. “Religion is a direction of the heart.” (Rilke) But many of these weeds or tares we can not eliminate from our lives until the day we die. As Jesus says, Let both grow together until the harvest. Don’t worry so much! God reaps the field, destroying the weeds, gathering in the harvest. That, I think, is the hopeful message of this parable, patience at all times, those who persevere to the end will be saved, when we walk through life at God’s pace.
Jesus explains, The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. I like that without really knowing what it means. These are the angels of the Son of Man, this is the coming of his kingdom, the harvest is the coming of Jesus’s kingdom, and the reference is not so much to a final judgement as to the gathering in, the harvesting, of the people of the Son of Man within history. His kingdom is our natural home, and the wheat and the weeds grow together. Here, in parable form, is Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. And the wailing and gnashing of teeth? This was a conventional Jewish phrase for outsiders, those choosing to live in darkness, in isolation, as we sometimes do. But we are called to shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father. Our steady growth in the Spirit can start again today. Our lives shall be God’s harvest.
Fr. Julian Browning