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Monday, July 18, 2011

Wheat and Weeds

Pr. 11, Yr. A
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

My first reaction as I read this parable earlier in the week was to think of a bunch of teenagers out TP'ing a house, each collecting in advance an armload of toilet paper packages, sneaking around in the middle of the night casting rolls across lawns and over bushes and through trees, and then running off giggling, leaving a mess for the unfortunate homeowner to discover and deal with in the morning. I'd never been struck before by how ridiculous Jesus's example can sound. I mean, seriously…the thought of a nefarious villain collecting and hoarding weed seeds and then sneaking out at midnight to scatter them across an enemy's fields??

Maybe this is a parable solidly rooted in an agricultural society that no longer makes sense to 21st century suburban me in the way that it would have for Jesus's original rural listeners. Maybe it just needs updating! Let's see:
• The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a sorting hat…
• The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a lawn not treated with Scott's 2in-1 Weed ‘n Feed…
• The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a highway system on which one freeway is shut down…

Well, maybe not. But how about this one? The kingdom of heaven may be compared to the internet. Hundreds of thousands of blogs and forums were begun, with individuals and groups expressing feelings, needs, dreams, and ideas; linking people and information and resources in ways that built community and multiplied productivity. But trolls—internet ones, that is, who seek to stir up unrest—and imposters snuck in, starting false blogs, diverting resources from those truly in need, and creating conflict. Some people were hurt, misled, and defrauded, and they became distrustful; perhaps no one and nothing on the internet could be taken at face value. Others stepped in with voices of encouragement, urging users not to lose all the good that had been created because of the deceitfulness of a few…

It's a parable of sorts—I'm not the storyteller Jesus was!—but that doesn't mean it's pretend. Just recently the compelling blog of a gay woman in Damascus was revealed as being authored by an American man in Scotland. Several years ago, many thousands of readers far and wide were drawn into the drama of a young woman with cystic fibrosis struggling through a double lung transplant; people prayed, donated funds, offered help, and worried…until the whole story was shown to be a sham. The community of those living with CF, in particular, was deeply hurt, and many struggled with whether to continue their participation in forums that otherwise had provided so much support, or how to set up barriers and tests to detect charlatans. These sorts of deceptions occur time and again, though maybe not with so much publicity. And with each breach of collective trust, it takes time to remember that trying to weed out the liars and fakes from the genuine participants, or giving up on the entire field and walking away, would result in so much greater loss than what can be inflicted by rogue individuals here and there.

The point is that there always have been, and always will be, those in our midst who make the wrong choice, who seek to return caring with contempt, who operate in the shadows, who sow evil. Those of us—the vast majority—who are not like that, we feel anger, distrust, and betrayal at such behavior, and our first, second, and third instinct is to root it out. We desperately want to rid our field of these weeds, so that there's room for the good stuff to grow and flourish…and probably, in a less-than-charitable spirit of revenge, so that the perpetrators will be punished.

Maybe that would even work if the line between good and bad was completely clear, if we were infallible in our judgments, and if we had the capacity to administer justice perfectly. In other words, there's no way we're capable of doing it! We confuse good and bad, we rush to judgment, and we rarely operate without bias. For better or worse, we try our best, and it's anyone's bet how well we'll do. We may suspect this internet faker from the start, but the next one will catch us totally by surprise, and the story that seems so incredible as to be unbelievable—and thus not worthy of our time, attention, and prayer—can turn out to be absolutely true. Not only on the internet, but in all of our life, in all the people and situations we encounter. We just don't know.

So Jesus says, "Wait. Be patient. God knows people are out there creating petty ills and huge injustices. The field is a messy, dirty, smelly, confusing place…and it's all part of God's kingdom." A radical idea, to be sure; in fact, Jesus's first listeners would've known that the field in the story had been rendered ritually impure by having two kinds of seed sown in it. Jesus is reminding us, once again, that God defies expectations with an absurdly inclusive vision, so contrary to human nature. Rather than being the servants who are eager to root out evil, we're called to be laborers who keep at the task of nurturing, feeding, tending all, Goodness knows, this goes contrary to our instincts; we really want to selectively give our effort to those who deserve it and not waste our resources on those who might turn around and harm us. I suspect we also, as Christians, don't want our God to look like a fool, for appearing to turn a blind eye to that which is wrong.

But still Jesus says, "Wait. Be patient. I've looked like a fool, too; you be a fool for me, a fool for Love." Maybe more people would be drawn to Christ if we worried less about judging the world and concerned ourselves more with simply being like Christ in the world. This isn't justification for failing to name and take action against prejudice, discrimination, and injustice; Jesus did that with all that he had. But we can't just vote people off our personal or community island, we can't judge them to be non-people, we can't stop treating them with the dignity and love due to every child of God. Maybe it's in struggling to find that balance that we begin follow another of Jesus's directions, to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

We may end up hurt or angry, betrayed or taken advantage of. That's the cost of being workers in God's field; if we truly embrace the image of God within ourselves and one another, we'll be vulnerable, even in the midst of our joyful experience of true life. If we're going to be fully human, we can't stay completely safe,. Judgment is God's, not ours, dangerous or foolish as that may feel. Wheat or weed; weed or wheat?...God only knows.

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