‘Don’t Weed! Make Space to Deal Inclusively’

Posted: July 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 7A, 2020

Gen 28: 10-19a Matthew 13:24-30

‘Don’t Weed! Make Space to Deal Inclusively’

When being asked explain why I liked to cause a stir or always look to find the alternative I used to respond by saying ‘Well I’m like a weed, because you can’t kill weeds they just keep coming up”. In the light of today’s texts, I wonder if the weeds suffer a bad name unfairly? Is Jacob like a weed that reveals things about the realm of God and maybe the weeds assist with the definition of the wheat?

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

The book of Genesis makes no attempt to conceal the fact that Jacob was, among other things, a crook. Twice he cheated his perhaps slow to understand brother, Esau, out of what was coming to him. At least once he took advantage of the blindness of his old father, Isaac, and played him for a sucker. He outdid his double-crossing father-in-law, Laban, by conning him out of most of his livestock and, later on, when Laban was looking the other way, by sneaking off with not only both the man’s daughters, but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down including his household gods. Jacob was never satisfied. He wanted everything. But then one day he learned a marvelous lesson in a marvelous and unexpected way.

It happened just after he’d ripped Esau off for the second time and was making his getaway into the hill country to the north. When sunset came and nobody seemed to be after him, he decided that it was safe to camp out for the night and, having either left home in too much of a hurry to take his pillow with him, tucked a stone under his head and prepared to go to sleep. You might think that what happened next was that he lay there all night bug-eyed as a result of his guilty conscience or, if he did finally manage to drop off, that he was tormented by conscience-stricken dreams, but neither of these was the case. Instead, he dropped off like a baby in a cradle and dreamed the kind of dreams you would have thought were reserved for the high saints.

He dreamed that there was a ladder reaching up to heaven and that there were angels moving up and down it with golden sandals and rainbow-colored wings and that standing somewhere above it was God godself. And the words God spoke in the dream were not the chewing-out you might have expected, but something altogether different. God told Jacob that the land he was lying on was to belong to him and his descendants and that someday his descendants would become a great nation and a great blessing to all the other nations on earth. And as if that wasn’t enough, God then added a personal P.S. by saying, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”

It wasn’t holy hell that God gave him, in other words, but holy heaven, not to mention the marvelous lesson thrown in for good measure. The lesson was, needless to say, that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world you can’t get but can only be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.

Jacob didn’t have to climb his ladder to get a hold of everything, even if that had been possible, because everything looked like peanuts compared to what God and the angels were using the ladder to hand down to him for free.

Another part of the lesson was that, God doesn’t just love people because of who they are, but rather because of who or what God is. “It’s on the house” is one way of saying it and “It’s by grace” is another, just as it was by grace that it was Jacob of all people who became not only the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but the many-times great-grandfather of  Nations and peoples to come. Not a bad outcome for someone who doesn’t fit the norms. A weed among the wheat in the big picture is what holds all together.

He 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.” ’

We have just heard two stories about what good and bad might contribute to. A story about the one who doesn’t follow the rules, who behaves in less acceptable ways and a story about- or parable – about wheat and weeds. The message seems to be that one needs to deal inclusively with these unacceptable alternatives, these cons and weeds.

There’s another story or a parallel story that goes something like this. Once upon a time there was a Warriors League Team that had inherited a tradition of losing almost all the games of a season. The other teams were supported by their communities with uniforms, coaching staff, special skills training. The guys from The Warriors didn’t have a coach or uniforms or very much fan support. They were talented, but untrained. Then one day a young man watched them stumble through practice. ‘Can I help?’ he asked them.
The team was ready to accept help from anyone.

‘You guys are the best,’ he said.  ‘There’s no reason you can’t win the premiership. But you have to practice, be confident in yourselves, and be good friends. ‘No more fighting among the team or with me if I’m going to be your unofficial coach’. No more competing with each other for the MIP (most improved player) or the POD (Player of the Day) The Guys 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, at fitness, and skills.

And guess what happened?  They went on from there undefeated and won the premiership. ‘He made us believe in ourselves’, the guys said. The next year the management hired a “real coach” and the team finished last on the ladder.

Is this a nice so-called spiritual story you can tell in church? Or is it a story which not only critiques and subverts the status quo, but re-imagines a world that could be? What is success, or failure? And how do both have value? What would that sort of world look like?

If we believe this football story, or this parable attributed to Jesus by Matthew, are to be ‘spiritualized’ – I think it is traditionally explained as “earthly stories with heavenly meanings” then we will more than likely opt for the ‘nice story’ tag. And we won’t be alone.  Much of the church treats parables this way. Simple stories with trite meanings. Often lifted out of their social and historical context and reshaped into theological or moralistic fables bereft of any political or economic edge or consequence.

Which is somewhat disappointing because that is not what parables are. 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 if we opt rather for the ‘critique’ and be intentionally skeptical about the common view or that acceptable norm as well as valuing the imagination and the ‘re-imagining’ of what’s possible then we will have grasped Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ purpose: To get his hearers to see the world differently. To seek the alternative inclusive, dynamic interdependent realm. And that can be summed up in this phrase… That God’s reign is not an, other-worldly proposition. Most of us say that the world as we know it has changed since 11 September 2001. Since the Christchurch attack on mosques and the same is now being said as a result of Covid-19. And we are sure it is. Just one of those differences is the great polarity that now exists between Christian and Muslim, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Muslim, African American and American, and skin colour differences. This is not to say they did not exist prior but rather that the polarity has been more openly displayed. The daily news of suspected terrorist attacks – the dissatisfaction with collective and community management due to Covid-19 has contributed to the unrest. The enemy which in these cases is difference, inequality and distinctiveness fueled by economic, social and political circumstances and- takes hope away and tries to convince us that human cleverness…  better spying on the enemy, more public exposure and having better and smarter weapons as well as living in constant suspicion of strangers, can save us. Jacob should be imprisoned, the Warriors coach should be registered as a therapist rather than a coach and weeds need to be exterminated.

None of this seems to be a good time for hope, for reason, for patience. To allow both ‘wheat’ (the good blokes) and ‘weed’ (the bad blokes) to grow together. One is seen as having worth. One is seen as being worthless.  In this context Bill Loader’s comment is, I feel, telling: ‘A sense that there is an enemy, marks many societies, religious and otherwise.  It is almost as though we need an enemy, an, other, against whom to define ourselves.  This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for 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.  Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place’ (W Loader/web site).

The Jesus of Matthew, in telling this parable, suggests another position. 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 the division in the Syrian synagogue between those Jews who seek to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus and those who don’t. And what is Matthew’s so-called ‘point’ of the story? Don’t weed!  Deal inclusively.

Why? Because it is in the midst of the mess of conflictive coexistence that we find the spiritual, the divine and the one we call God. Not in some hypothetical situation where ‘good seed’ or ‘good healthy congregations’ or so-called ‘real Christians’ – usually champions of right – grow in pure isolation, fighting the bad and offering walled sanctuaries to hide in. This does not suggest confrontation should be advocated. But it does mean that where there is confrontation: 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 not be fooled because in reality, acting alternatively can be somewhat difficult at times. Buddhist Dalai Lama when asked if he hated the Chinese, 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).

So, parables are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings? They are more likely to be earthly stories with heavy meanings? That seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus does it not?

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

Frederick Buechner Centre  The Frederick Buechner Center <info@frederickbuechner.com>

rexae74@gmail.com

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