Don’t Weed! Make Space To Heal…

Posted: July 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 6A 2017 Matthew 13:24-30

Don’t Weed!  Make Space To Heal…

We have just heard a story. A story – or parable – about wheat and weeds. A parable we have all heard many times and rather than dissect the parable in search of learning I want to take the genre and tell stories myself in the hope that from them we might discover learnings. The first is a story from New Zealand and specifically from a Children’s home.

Once upon a time there was a children’s softball team that inherited a tradition of losing almost all the games of a season. The other teams were supported each week by their parents, they had uniforms, coaching staff and it was clear that they had after school training. The kids from the home didn’t have a coach or uniforms and not all the staff turned up to support. The children were obviously talented, but untrained. Then one day a young man watched them stumble through practice. ‘Can I help?’ he asked them. By this time the team was ready to accept help from anyone.

‘You fellas are the best,’ he said.  ‘There’s no reason you can’t win the premiership. But you have to practice, you be confident in yourselves, and most of all you have to be good friends. ‘No more fighting among yourselves or with me if I’m going to be your unofficial coach’. The kids agreed.

The first thing the coach taught them was how be friends and play together with one another. Then he told them, training session after training session, how good they were. Finally he made them work, work, work. And you know what happened? They went on from there undefeated and won the premiership. When asked what had caused the turnaround in their fortunes they said; ‘He made us believe in ourselves’. The next year the parents hired a “real coach” and the team finished last on the ladder. (A Greeley web site).

What sort of story was that? It was nothing out of the ordinary. It was one we have heard before but was it a spiritual story. What makes it a spiritual story? Well maybe was because it not only critiqued and subverted the status quo, it also re-imagines a world that could be? It took hold of individualism and created community, it took competition and turned it into a force for identity, community and self-worth. What we need to be careful of however, is that in spiritualizing the story we risk making it a pious story either as an “earthly story with heavenly meanings” or seeing it only as a ‘nice story’. The challenge is to avoid what we do to many parables. We make them into simple stories with trite meanings. We often lift them out of their social and historical context and reshape them into theological or moralistic fables bereft of any political or economic edge or consequence. B Brandon Scott, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar, and a student of the study of the parables, says: ‘The parables give us access to the way Jesus re-imagined the possibility of living, of being in the world.  They are not just religious, not just about God, although they are that too… they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possibilities of life’ (Scott 2001:6).

So he says that if we opt rather for the ‘critique’ and the ‘re-imagining’ then we will have grasped Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ purpose: which was to get his hearers to see the world differently. And that can be summed up in this phrase… God’s reign is not an, other-worldly proposition.

Just taking a brief glance at recent history we could say that the world is radically different since 11 September 2001 and we not be wrong. It might be simplistic to say that but we could understand why it is said. And one of those differences is perhaps evident as the great polarity that now exists between Christian and Muslim, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Muslim. The daily news of suspected terrorist attacks – the enemy called ISIS and stories of nations banning some religious groups in favour of others all speak of this tension and the sad part about it is that it takes hope away and tries to convince us that human cleverness is about spying on the enemy, having the smartest weapons, and living in constant suspicion of strangers, and that this way of living can save us. Good healthy skepticism becomes suspicion and fear.

If this is the case then how do we as followers of the Jesus Way respond to this?

The first difficulty is that right now doesn’t seem to be a good time for hope, for reason, or for patience. Right now doesn’t seem to be a time to allow both ‘wheat’ (the good blokes) and ‘weeds’ (the bad blokes) to grow together. Right now one is seen as having worth. And the other is seen as being worthless.

Bill Loader makes a comment and it is that in this situation there is a sense that there is an enemy and this sense marks many societies, religious and otherwise.  It is almost as though we need an enemy, an, other, against whom to define ourselves.  Renee Gerard calls this a mimetic scapegoat, and this need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for our survival…  A mild paranoia keeps some people going and gives their lives meaning.  There’s ‘them’ and there’s ‘us’.  The simpler, the better.  This is the stuff of prejudice and sadly, Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place’ (WLoader/web site).

I want to just spend a moment on this mimetic desire that the French thinker René Girard has helped us with. The argument is that, although we tend to be addicted to the illusion that our desires originate from within ourselves, Girard suggests that our desires originate from without: i.e. from other people. That is, we copy the desires of other people. And just in case we want to blame others for everything we are reminded that the same is true of other people, they are imitating our desires as much as we are imitating theirs. No wonder desires are so complicated. It is telling that Paul says: “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Rom. 7: 7) Covetousness is precisely the outcome most driven by mimetic desire. This phenomenon can lead to a spiral of desire that reinforces each, others’ desires in love. This is what Jesus was on about in our text last week in offering to relieve us of our burdens and take his yoke upon us. But usually, we imitate each other in a downward spiral of rivalry, anger, and vengeance. In this spiral, we become more and more convinced that our anger and rage are our own even as the rage and anger of others overtakes us like a flood. When this happens, we are yoked to our rivals and they to us. This is the yoke Jesus would relieve us of.

And when it comes to community and society Girard reminds us that a society caught in a downward spiral either implodes into mutually assured destruction (MAD) or channels its common rage against a victim who is scapegoated. The establishment of violence as the engine of society is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.” (Mt. 11: 12)

Although we are prone to clinging to the illusion of our individuality, Girard has shown us that we are yoked to others through the matrix of our intertwining desires. Where we can take some responsibility for our lives is to choose how we wish to be yoked and to whom we will be yoked. Jesus’ yoke may be easy but it is challenging. The temptation to give way to fear, anger, and vengeance, especially when that is all around us, is very strong, but the yoke of vengeful anger is very heavy and it entraps us within and that prevents us from doing what we really want to do. Escaping this trap can seem impossible. The question we are left with by the challenge of the weeds in the wheat is, can we accept the yoke Jesus offers, a yoke that burdens us with compassion and love?

I think Thomas Merton writes about the depth of this need for a scapegoat when he says:

Unnatural, frantic, anxious work, work done under pressure of greed or fear or any other inordinate passion, cannot properly speaking be dedicated to God, because God never wills such work directly. God may permit that through no fault of our own we may have to work madly and distractedly and in that case we must tolerate it and make the best of what we cannot avoid. But let us not be blind to the distinction between sound, healthy work and unnatural toil.

 Here, in the light of Matthew’s parable, Merton names our tendency to introduce toxins into our inner soil through our fear, anxiety, and selfishness. These toxins poison the seeds that God is sowing in our lives and inhibit our growth.  Secondly Merton indicates that there are big toxic systems of government, prejudice, and corruption that deeply affect us, and our inner soil, but that are also out of our direct control because these toxic systems are so large and pervasive.  But if we are to have any hope of redeeming these toxic systems, even in part, we must begin with tilling our own soil. As Mother Theresa also said, “Before you try to love the entire world, start by loving one other person.  You can save only one at a time.  We can love only one at a time.”

The Jesus of Matthew, in telling this parable, suggests an alternative to the norm in his time. But with our tendency to domesticate parables we can give Matthew’s point and circumstance less attention than it deserves. So what is Matthew’s circumstance? Possibly a division in the Syrian synagogue between those Jews who seek to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus and those who don’t. We reflect here that both early Christians and Muslims know of Jesus and give him an authority. And what is Matthew’s so-called ‘point’ of the story? He says Don’t weed!  Deal inclusively. And Why? Because it is in the midst of the mess of conflictive coexistence that God is also revealed. Not in some hypothetical situation where ‘good seed’ or ‘bone fide, truly Presbyterian Congregations’ or ‘real Christians’ – usually champions of right – grow in pure isolation. There is no such thing as that good seed or right-thinking exclusivity.

This does not suggest confrontation should be advocated or created. But it does mean that where there is confrontation: one must never cease to act graciously or to have compassion, never write people off, never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth. And let’s be honest here, that sort of inclusiveness in reality, can be somewhat difficult at times.

David Ranson an Australian Catholic priest in an article in the publication Eremos, on reconciliation, recorded a comment by the Buddhist Dalai Lama. When asked did he hate the Chinese, the Dalai Lama replied ‘no’. ‘He remarked that the Chinese were indeed dominant and that he had no possibility of overthrowing them by might.  Were he to hate them therefore no change would occur in the Chinese. But change would certainly occur within him.  His own heart would become more tense, bitter and rigid.  The only way forward then was to let go of the hateful feelings that might arise. In the space that ensued perhaps there was a greater possibility for peace’ (Ranson 2002:7).

This says that parables are in no way earthly stories with heavenly meanings, but what they are is earthly stories with heavy meanings? When one thinks about this, one has to say that such an approach fits better with what we believe about the Ministry of Jesus…There is a possible alternative and it is not adversarial nor is it passive. It is inclusive of all, aware of all and different from all else. Amen.

Notes: Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.

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