Another Troubling Parable

Scriptures: Genesis 28:10-19a; Matthew 13:24-43

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Last week we read about a sower – a good sower – who sowed good seed which fell in various places. One interpretation for last week’s parable is that the seed represents disciples and faith, and the conditions upon which the seed fell are types of reception and persecution. In today’s text, it’s a different story. The parable for today illuminates a tension specific to the Gospel writer’s sitz im laben, or “setting in life.” Here,

“…we encounter two kinds of seed sown by polar–opposite sowers. … Seeds in [today’ parable] … represent … disciples of God and of the evil one. [In this story,] challenges for planting and spreading the gospel are not limited to issues of reception and persecution, there is also the issue that the enemy has sown disciples of evil in the community of faith [itself] (emphasis added). In dealing with this text, we will have to address [both] the intertwined theological topics of ecclesiology and anthropology [and] the appropriateness of the ecclesiology and anthropology Matthew offers [for our context].”[1]

First, ecclesiologically, there are

“at least two … claims (in today’s parable) regarding the nature of the church on earth: (1) it is a mixed body of two kinds of disciples; (2) the ultimate nature and destiny of every disciple will not be revealed until the … end of the age.”[2]

Second, anthropologically, Matthew embeds a common dichotomous assumption from the ancient world of his time, which is:

“persons are of one type or another. A community or collection of persons may be a [mix] but each person is fundamentally of one type: a child of God or a child of Satan, a disciple of Christ or a disciple of the evil one.”[3]

I personally have a problem with that, so let me point out a contextual note here.  Our NRSV translation says “weeds.” The King James Version calls them “tares.” In Greek the word is zizania, specifically referring to a plant called bearded darnel or “false wheat.” What this plant does is even more illuminating:

“Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and scarce water, making it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop. Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed. Those seeds can cause everything from hallucinations to death.

No wonder [the writer of Matthew has Jesus use] this noxious “cheat weed” to illustrate evil incarnate. Unlike the preceding story about a sower, this is not a parable of happenstance, good seed falling onto infertile soil. Here the enemy deliberately sows cheat weed in a field of good wheat.”[4]

Before anyone gets bent out of shape, let me point out two additional contextual notes.  First, this parable only appears in Matthew’s gospel, an account written during the time that Judaism and Christianity were undergoing a painful separation.  Second,  almost two thousand years of spiritual evolution have occurred since Matthew’s long ago time.

Today we live in a multi-faith world – dear friends and neighbors may be non-Christian seekers who have been searching for spiritual truth, some with Christian wounds, others with warm-fuzzy memories. For others the narrow gate is the only way because any other options are too scary or different from what is comfortable and known. Still others cannot possibly conceive of a single path because such a path would be too narrow for God, who is much bigger than anything we can conceive of.

All of which leads us to a discussion of the appropriateness of what Matthew is offering for our contemporary context. Commentary writer Gary Peluso-Verdend suggests most persuasively that each individual Christian:

“is some mixture of wheat and weed, of holy and unholy, of potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.”[5]

I have to say I agree him, because at least for me, I recognize both “wheat” and “weed” tendencies within myself. The challenge for me, then, is to recognize people are not so easily categorized as “good” or “bad,” but that within everyone lies a spectrum with extremes. Which is freeing, in a way.  That leaves up to each of us and our gift of free will all the daily decisions we make leading us like a labyrinth closer to the center of God’s will or further from it.  Put that way,

“… The God who is glimpsed in this parable models for us an infinite patience that frees us to get on with the crucial business of loving, or at least living with, each other.  Often, in the space created by such patience, it is not just others, but we ourselves, who are welcomed into a larger reality.

It is toward this very God that we are forever moving—individually, collectively, and as a cosmos. On such a journey as this, it is not our job to determine who is within and who is beyond … it is rather our job to imagine everyone as belonging to … God, and therefore, with all that we can muster, to endeavor to embrace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, God’s holy and purposeful ambiguity.”[6]

In the end, what more can we do but let God be God, and let our own lives constantly strive to become more holy, reflecting in kind the love of God that was implanted in us from the beginning, a seed that God happily nurtures if we are but open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Peluso-Verdend, Gary. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word…

[5] Peluso-Verdend, Gary. Feasting on the Word…

[6] Wardlaw, Theodore J. Feasting on the Word…

Question for Reflection

What does it mean to wait with patience for the coming reign of God? How has your understanding of the relationship between vulnerability and trust changed over time? What experiences of God’s grace do you need to acknowledge in your life?

Household Prayer: Morning

In whatever shelter I wake this morning I know this place is holy because you meet me here.  As I wash my body and prepare for the day, I remember baptismal waters and the claim upon my life.  Wherever darkness looms, Sovereign God, dispense mercy this day. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

As darkness spreads over the land, I trust that you move in it.  As I yield the night to sleep and dreams, I pray you would remake me into a servant bold, for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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