Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wheat and weeds; saint and sinner

Genesis 28:10-19a; Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

    In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus continues to tell parables about seeds. Last week, we thought about sowing seeds of faith and of blessings. When seeds are planted, not all of them will grow; and some seeds which get started face too many challenges – rocks or thorns – and don’t make it to maturity. But most will grow and thrive despite the challenges, and sometimes be stronger because of them.
In today’s text, someone did something evil. At the time the seeds were first sown, weed seeds were sown, too. Either someone contaminated the wheat seed with weed seeds, or someone came and sowed weed seeds onto the same field after the wheat was sown. There is a weed named darnel which closely resembles wheat, until almost time to harvest when the heads of the darnel begin to droop, in contrast with the wheat head which remains upright. So, the timing for the discovery is nearing harvest time, way too late to pull weeds without disturbing the desired grain.
Once again, the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable. In a Pastor Lynn paraphrase, Jesus explains that there is good and evil in the world, and at harvest time, there will be an accounting. The weeds – the evil – will be burned, and the wheat – the good, the righteous – will shine in God’s reign.
In his explanation of the parable, Jesus does not say anything about the slaves who want to do the separation at that very moment. What he does say is that angels working at the command of the Son of Man – Jesus – will do the sorting. In other words, God will do the sorting out, the judging.
That makes sense because God is the only one who can judge fairly. God is the only one who can assign punishment for those things we have done and those things we have left undone, as we say each week in the confession. God is the only one who sees into the hearts and minds of people and knows the whole story. God is the only one who knows how the birds, and the rocks, and the weeds, and the thorns that people have faced made them who and how they are. And God is the only one who knows the full picture and the whole plan.
Here’s where Jacob comes into the picture. In last week’s story, he was born second, having struggled with his twin brother, even in the womb. He purchased his brother Esau’s birthright for a bowl of bean soup. Then, with his mother’s help, Jacob disguised himself as Esau and stole his father’s blessing, which in that culture is extremely important and not reversible.
In today’s portion of the story, Jacob is fleeing from his brother’s anger. He’s in the middle of nowhere, and has crashed to the ground for the night, with a rock for a pillow. He has a dream – as many people in stressful times do. In his dream he saw a stairway leading into the heavens. This stairway is probably a ziggurat, which is a building with lots of stairs – like a step pyramid or a Mayan temple. 
What’s important is that Jacob sees God’s angels going up and down the stairway. They are going up to God and getting messages, and bringing them down to Jacob. Despite Jacob’s unworthy behavior, God still has messages for him, has a plan for him, and remains committed to the promises God made to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather.
Jacob now has a personal connection to this God of his father and grandfather. He has discovered that God has not remained behind in Beer-sheba, but has gone with him as he fled. His life changes at this point as he realizes that God has a plan and a purpose for him. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place, he says. And he marks this as a holy site by piling up a few stones, which others will recognize and respect for generations to come as Beth-el, the house of the Lord.
Just when we were ready to judge Jacob, we find out that God has a plan for him. How often does that happen in our lives? For example: What do you think of when I say Casey Anthony: guilty or not guilty?
Where it is clear who the enemy is – we are not wrong to condemn those who have done evil; when evidence proves the person is guilty, he or she should be punished. Thieves should be taught not to steal, and to repay what they have stolen, for example.
Thieves caught with stolen goods in hand are obviously guilty. But often, guilt is not so clear. The heart of a person is both good and bad. This is what Jesus was saying. We are both wheat and weed, both saint and sinner; when God judges us, the weed/sinner part will be removed from us as we are made wheat/saint.
In the meantime, we do well to try not to judge others, even though it comes so naturally to us. We all sin. We all do those things we know we should not do, and we all don’t do those things we know we should do. So, when we point fingers at someone, we can also point fingers at ourselves.
Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension to power takes care of our guilt. Like the weeds mixed into the wheat are burned away, so are our sins removed from us by Jesus. As long as Jesus is the ultimate judge, we do well to leave the judging to him.
Instead, then, let us be the ones to welcome all who come, all we meet, accepting them as God’s children, just as loved and blessed by God as we are. This week, then, your challenge is to notice how often you find yourself judging someone – or yourself! And then change that judgment to acceptance.
As I close, please accept this little story. It’s a traditional Jewish folklore story.
The Evil Spirit once came dejected before God and wailed, "Almighty God -- I want you to know that I am bored -- bored to tears! I go around doing nothing all day long. There isn't a stitch of work for me to do!"
"I can't understand you," replied God. There's plenty of work to be done only you've got to have more initiative. Why don't you try to lead people into sin? That's your job!"
"Lead people into sin!" muttered the Evil Spirit contemptuously. "Why Lord, even before I can get a chance to say a blessed word to anyone they have already gone and sinned!"
Please pray with me: Merciful God, we know how imperfect we are. We are both weeds and wheat. We are like Jacob, too, both trickster and faithful child. Help us to be faithful to you, and more accepting of others. Amen

[A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel, Copyright, 1948, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York]