Sunday, February 6, 2011

Homily for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany


Matthew 13:24-30, (36-43); Colossians 3:12-17; Genesis 18:20-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Three weeks from now, on Sexagesima Sunday, you will hear the beloved Parable of the Sower and His Good and Life-Giving Seed, the Word of God. Though the devices are nearly identical – both having sowers, seeds, fields, weeds, etc. – The Parable of the Sower and His Seed stands in stark contrast to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that your Lord presents to you today. For, in today’s parable, there is a second sower who sows his seed, secretly, in the darkness, whom Jesus calls an enemy, even the devil. And, the enemy’s seed grows and matures right along with the Lord’s seed so that the Lord’s field is full of both good wheat and evil weeds. But it is good for you to hear today’s parable first, for then on Sexagesima Sunday, you may remember where the weeds and the thorns that plague the soil of men’s hearts came from.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus begins the story with the words, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” At the end of the parable, amidst all the curious details and surprising turns of events, this parable is designed to teach you something that is true about the Kingdom of Heaven. First and foremost, what is unquestionably true is that the Kingdom of Heaven is good: The Sower is good. The Seed is good. The field is good. That, ultimately, bad seed producing tares, weeds, was sown in the field was not the doing or the fault of the good Sower or His good seed, but this was the doing of an enemy to the Sower, the devil. The enemy sowed his seed in the field at night, in darkness, when the Sower’s servants were sleeping; he sowed his evil seed and then he went away.

This, perhaps is the first curious detail of Jesus’ story, that the servants of the Sower left the field alone and slept, and that the enemy, after sowing his evil seed also left the field and went away. I suppose, from a purely agrarian viewpoint, leaving your field or garden to grow at night is a sensible thing to do. However, we want to know what this tells us about the kingdom of heaven. Just as none of you tends his or her garden 24/7, 365 days a year, particularly through the night, but takes natural rest from your labors knowing that your garden will grow; just as no farmer in Iowa tends his field all night long but takes natural rest knowing that his crops will grow; so the Kingdom of Heaven grows of its own accord – the seed that is sown, whether good or evil, grows without the tending of its good or evil sower.

“But, when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’” The servants are surprised and alarmed at the presence of the weeds. They busy themselves asking questions about what went wrong and who’s to blame. The assumption of many, when evil rears its ugly head, is that the Master, God, must be accountable; either God put the bad seeds in there Himself (“Did you not sow good seed?”), or He doesn’t care that evil infests the world and afflicts His people, or He isn’t capable of stopping the evil from happening. These, of course, are all false and faithless answers to the question “Why does a good God permit evil in the world?” God did not create evil. He did not sow evil in His Kingdom. And, God does not cause evil, though He does permit it. The sower in the parable answers plainly, “An enemy has done this.” An enemy has sown the evil weeds in the field of the Lord. An enemy in opposition to the Lord’s goodness and will. When you hear the Parable of the Sower and His Good Seed on Sexagesima Sunday, remember that the weeds and the thorns that choke out the young shoots of faith were sown by the enemy of your Lord.

Then comes the second curious detail of Jesus’ story. Upon hearing that an enemy has sown weeds into the Master’s field, the servants ask if they should yank them out and gather them. Again, from a purely agrarian viewpoint this seems like the sensible thing to do. However, the Master surprisingly says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’.”

Let them grow together until the harvest? The Kingdom of Heaven is to have both wheat and weeds within it until the end of time? How can this be? Oh, how we are tempted to root out evil as we perceive it, when it arises in the world, in our communities, in our church, in our family, and in our lives. We are loathe to bear with patience and tolerance those persons we perceive to be unfaithful, sinful, and evil and we are loathe to bear with patience and tolerance perceived evil in our lives whether it be trial, tribulation, disease, suffering, or death. Better to root it out and cast it away. Ah, but the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, for the weeds sown by the enemy are of the sort that they are often indistinguishable from the young wheat as they grow together. It is not until the fruit is borne and the harvest that one can clearly distinguish between the good wheat and the bad weeds. In fact, the type of weed that Jesus and the disciples would have been most familiar with was one called darnel, which is still prevalent in the Middle East today. Darnel is a weed that looks every bit like wheat until it heads in the late Summer. If one were to attempt to pull the darnel out of a wheat field prior to its bearing fruit, one would pull out just as much young wheat, or more. So, for the sake of the wheat, Jesus teaches His disciples to bear with the tares.

This should not be surprising, for an enemy is responsible for sowing the tares, and that enemy is the devil, whose devices are lies and deception. He takes what God has created good and he plagiarizes it, making it an, often attractive, but false, perversion of God’s creation. It is often said that wherever God builds a church, there the devil builds a chapel next door. This proverb reflects the biblical truth that wheat and tares, good and evil, reside together in the world, in the church, in the family, in the individual until the last day and the return of Christ in glory. The sowing of the tares is not the Father’s doing, but leaving them to grow alongside His good wheat is His will.

Oh how we would like to pull out the tares and purify the field, but, in so doing, we would uproot much that it is good. So, the Lord instructs you to bear with the evil, to suffer the evil, even to forgive the evil in this life. That is literally what He means when He says “Let both grow together…” He uses the Greek word ἄφετε which means “to let go; to permit; to forgive”; it is the same word Jesus uses when He says “suffer the little children to come to me” and in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Bear with the evil; permit the evil; suffer the evil; forgive the evil. This is the lesson of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. For, in the harvest, on the Last Day, God will send His angels, not men, not you, to do the weed pulling – it’s not yours to do, not now, not then. Until then, you are to bear with what and who you perceive to be evil (I say perceive to be, for you may be wrong. The devil is a master of deception and he is actively trying to deceive you.) This is not to say that you should be complicit with evil and that you should not resist evil, but that it is not your job to root out all evil so as to make this church, this community, this world a new paradise, for, since good and evil in this world commonly inhabit not only the same field but even the same individual human beings, the only result of a truly dedicated campaign to get rid of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.

What the Lord would have you do is grow in the field in which He has sown you, which is His Kingdom. You grow by remaining in His Word and Sacraments as wheat grows by sunlight, rain, and nutrients in the soil. Grow where you are planted and be fruitful with the fruits He causes you to bear, for yourself and for your family, and for the service of your neighbor to the glory of God the Father. Don’t worry about the weeds. Yes, they will grow too, right alongside of you, and they will bear their evil fruit causing pain and suffering. Now is the time of faith and trust, patience, long-suffering, and hope. When the harvest comes, “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. […] Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” “He who has ears, let him hear.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

1 comment:

Babz said...

Thank you for these wise words.I am a young student and I am Anglican.And I would just like to say that after reading this post I was deeply touched and God has answered the lingering questions and has given me a way forward through your post.May God bless you and may you continue feeding us and opening our eyes, hearts and ears to the word.