First Thoughts on the Lectionary: July 20, 2014

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
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.'” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Jesus had a temper. At least, Mathew thought he did.

I have been trying to write this post for six days and it is that temper – what almost feels like delight in vengeance – the image of weeping and gnashing of teeth – that has kept me from writing.

I don’t want to ignore this part of the text. I write these posts each week because I believe that actually reading the Bible and thinking about what is written there might be of use to me. But I don’t like to think about Jesus gleefully describing people being cast into eternal damnation.

. . .

My church has a sister community in Nicaragua and I have been very active in this hermanamiento. Initially, the leaders who planned our delegations were Elena, a US woman who had moved to Nicaragua in 1985, and Luis, a revered teacher, who was the national coordinator of the Christian Base Communities in Nicaragua in the ’80s. Luis always led us in a Biblical reflection at the beginning and ending of our delegations. In these reflections, with a small group, there was plenty of time to share, so the initial sharings were simple and not too long. After awhile, people got new ideas, having heard other’s impressions and thoughts. The sharing got deeper and deeper. It was a wonderful experience.

On my second trip to Nicaragua, in 1997, we reflected on last week’s gospel text in which Jesus, standing in a boat, addresses the gathered crowd and tells them the parable of the sower who sows seeds on the various kinds of soil. As we got deeper into the story, thinking about how it related to our lives and that of the Nicaraguan community we were about to visit, I remembered that the year before we had heard from the community that there would be a good sesame crop (their main cash crop). Then we heard that Hurricane Marcos had come at the end of the growing season and crushed the crop. So I said

Sometimes, even when the seed falls on good soil and grows to abundance, something like a hurricane comes and wipes out the crop.

And while I was saying this, another thought came to my mind, and I added

like a war.

Luis leaned over to Elena and said in a quiet voice,

Noel es un Padre Santo. No? (Newell is a Holy Father. Isn’t he?)

It was an incredible blessing that I will never forget. It wasn’t that I had any great insight, but what Luis felt in that moment was

He understands.
We have been battered and beaten down by the storms of nature, and by the military might of the most powerful nation on earth.  And this older white male from this powerful nation has come to us, listened to us …
And he understands.

I think this situation is similar to that of Jesus when he was standing on the boat talking to the people. He had just told the parable of the seed falling on different kinds of soil.

Emily Heitzman preached a sermon on this text last week in which she said

these early Christ-followers in Palestine know quite well that this good news Jesus (and his earliest followers) is spreading all over the place is not taking root or producing crop in many places and circles.
But Jesus offers hope. He says that even though the majority of our work produces no results, “there will be seeds that will fall on fertile soil.”  (And the yield of these seeds is enough to offset the failures.)

But then I believe Jesus, standing there on the boat, looking out at those who were looking to him for hope, felt the full weight of their situation – he felt the oppressive power of what they were up against – not just the post-Eden toil of working the earth to produce enough to eat – but the full force of human-generated evil that oppressed these people – the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire.

  • He knew that they were taxed heavily to provide an indulgent life-style for Herod Antipas, as well as provide “bread and circus” for the citizens of Rome.
  • He knew that the Romans had made slaves of entire towns in the region to impress upon the people their authority.
  • He knew that the leaders of the Jewish religion had all sold out to the Romans: had become the tax collectors: had given up any prophetic voice in order to avoid punishment: had become the enforcers of Roman law.

Jesus thought about these things and his anger simmered within him and he gave them this parable of an evil presence which had spread weeds among the good seed so that even in good soil, there were hard times to endure. And he continued:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

And the people said

He understands.
This divine one, so pure, so wise, so good, who could only have come from God, who could have anything he wanted on this earth or in heaven, has come and lived among us and listened to us and . . .
He understands us.

There is evil in this world. If you have read much of my writing on this blog, you know some of the systemic evil that I believe inhabits our soil. But this is not the place to repeat that rant.
This is the place to say that Jesus’ flash of anger was an act of compassion. He was NOT saying to those who had gathered:

Some of you here have sin in your hearts and are goin to hell!

No – he looked out at the multitude and thought – all of you, ALL OF YOU, have suffered from the evil in the world. I want you to know that the goodness in your lives will bear fruit and it will not be chocked out and even if it seems that goodness is powerless against the evil that surrounds us, know that there will be a reckoning. Goodness will be rewarded.
The message of Christianity does not ignore the reality of our world.
Somehow, God understands what we are up against, and for me, that is a comfort.

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About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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