Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jesus tells a parable about the coexistence of good and evil in this world. God’s judgment will remove all evildoers and causes of sin, but not until the end of human history.
When I read this story out loud to a bible study once I was surprised at what some folks focused on. There was a large portion of the group who sounded almost built up or puffed up. They said – see, those people will get what’s coming to them. While one stand-alone said, “Don’t you think it’s possible that in the end we will be surprised by God’s grace and how it can take root? I’m grateful that I’ve had opportunities for redemption and grace in my life.”
Some heard words of judgment and others heard words of redemption. I am reminded that we don’t always get it right. We don’t always have the best judgement, nor do we always have the best perception. Is it possible that we might not be able to tell the difference between wheat and tares? We would do very well to leave judgment to God and focus our attention on keeping our side of the street clean, and our neighbors well cared for, and…
When I read this story I’m not so caught up in the dichotomy between good and evil, the people who are in or out. I’m wrapped up in living with ambiguity. At heart, this parable isn’t about the nature of evil and provides little material for constructing a coherent theodicy (if there even is such a thing). Rather, I think this parable is about ambiguity. Yes, the Sower planted with good seeds. Yes, there are now weeds strewn among the wheat that puts the ideal harvest the Sower had imagined at risk. Ideally, the servants could just rip out the weeds, but the Sower knows that tearing out the weeds now risks ruining the maturing wheat And so the Sower must wait, living with both the wheat and the weeds until the day of harvest when they may be separated in due time.
How often do we not also face similar dilemmas? If not with wheat and weeds (although there may be a few gardeners in your congregation who sympathize with the Sower!), then with a multitude of other difficult choices: like between getting a job to support the family or staying at home to spend more time with the family; or between supporting someone who consistently struggles at work and pulls the quality of your team down or firing that person; or between choosing the best school you’ve been accepted to or one that is more affordable; or between two different treatment options in responding to a grave illness; or between staying in your current job where things are comfortable or choosing to move on to newer, but unknown, pastures; or between giving into peer pressure because it just plain stinks to be left out or choosing to stick to your values and risk isolation; or….
Do you see what I mean? Our lives are littered with situations where there is no clear or easy answer. And yet we rarely talk about these things in church. Maybe we don’t know what to say. Or maybe we ourselves aren’t quite sure how faith relates to this. But I hear in this parable Jesus’ promise that in ambiguous, challenging situations we have the promise that, in the end, God will sort things out.
Which doesn’t mean everything will turn out just fine. Sometimes we don’t choose well. Sometimes things go wrong. The promise here isn’t that Christian faith prevents hardship; the promise is that we are not justified by our right choices but rather by grace through faith. And knowing we have God’s unconditional regard in spite of our poor choices frees us to live in the moment.
You see, we don’t live in an ideal world and each week we’re faced with a myriad of challenging decisions, some small and others large, to which there is no clear answer. Some decisions we’ll get right, others wrong, and still others we won’t know whether we were right or wrong for months or years to come. But we still need to make them. And then, each week, no matter how we fared, we can come back to church on Sunday morning to be reminded that God loves us anyway and promises that, in the end, God will hold all of our choices and all of our lives together in love.