Pentecost 7 2017

July 23 2017

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-19c ~ Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If God is real, loving, just and all powerful, why does God allow evil to exist?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions about God and the state of the world. Jesus speaks to this question in the parable of the weeds in the wheat and he starts from a common example.

Most of us know that, no matter how carefully we prepare the soil and plant good seed, it seems weeds spring up virtually overnight. And our instinct is to pull them out so they don’t choke out the good plants

But in the parable, when the workers suggest pulling the weeds, the wise farmer tells them to leave the weeds alone for fear of disturbing the roots of the wheat. So as much as the weeds are undesirable in the crop of wheat, once they are present, there is more to be gained by letting the two coexist until harvest time than in pulling the weeds early.

Besides not wanting to disturb the roots, we can think of a few other reasons for not pulling the weeds too early:

  • It is often very hard to distinguish between weeds and good plants in the early stages of their growth. Bearded darnel is a grassy weed that looks an awful lot like wheat and grows in the same places.
  • There are often differing opinions on what constitutes a weed. For example, my father loved dandelions. He enjoyed the colour they gave to the lawn as well eating their leaves as spring greens and the potential of dandelion wine.
  • One person’s weed can be another person’s prized flower. It’s all a matter of perspective.
  • And even weeds can have their uses. In Jesus day, it was common practice to bundle fully grown weeds together as fuel for home fires. In this way, nothing was ever wasted.

So, now we have four good reasons to let the weeds grow along side the wheat. But, of course, Jesus is not really talking about weeds and wheat.  He is simply using this everyday experience to give insight into the timeless question of why God allows good and evil to coexist on earth.  The message is simple: that while we might want God to hurry up and root out all the evil in the world there are some really good reasons not do so.

Even with people, it is sometimes hard to tell the weeds from the wheat. It is often a matter of perspective.  Perhaps God is so patient in waiting for the harvest because God knows that if all the evil was weeded out from our world there would be no one left standing, for good and evil seem to coexist inside every human being.  It is as if the weeds and the wheat grow together in our hearts.  And while that is a really sobering thought, it makes God’s radical grace and patience all the more important to the human condition.

Take, for example, Jacob.  Now there is a man full of weeds.  When we meet Jacob this morning, he is actually on the run from his twin brother Esau.  Jacob has just cheated Esau out of his birthright by conning their blind old father into giving him, Jacob, the blessing reserved for the firstborn son, Esau.  Once given, the blessing cannot be taken back or redone.  Because of his despicable behaviour, Jacob has to leave the homestead until things cool down.

And yet, God chooses this time and place, when Jacob is lying in the wilderness with only a stone for pillow, to speak to him in a dream. And God does not speak of judgement and retribution, of weeding him out of the story, but of giving purpose to even Jacob’s tarnished life. It must have been a little disturbing for Jacob to discover that God knew all that he had done and was going to use him anyway.  The fact that God enters into a covenant relationship with a man like Jacob surely gives hope to us all.

And it’s in this less than ideal situation that God makes a wonderful promise to Jacob: Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go. And Jacob awakens from his dream and says, Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. Such words of truth from the mouth of Jacob.

Now I would like to tell you that after his encounter with God, Jacob becomes a paragon of virtue but we know that Jacob remains a very human mixture of weeds and wheat. But we also know that Jacob continues his relationship with God, and in spite of its ups and downs, God remains faithful to the promise.

I suspect there are times in our lives when we feel a bit like Jacob; struggling with the weeds and wheat that coexist in our hearts.  And it is our choice which part of the crop we nurture for harvest.

I was thinking about this in light of the young people in the south who were acquitted after standing by and cheering as a developmentally delayed person drowned in front of them. Morally reprehensible but not criminal,l said the judge.  I hope they will use this as a critical moment to develop a moral compass.

There are so many lessons in today’s readings. Perhaps the most important is the reminder that it is not our task to judge the weeds from the wheat. That job belongs to God alone. Something for us to ponder when we are tempted to pass judgement on one another rather than learn to peacefully coexist. It’s also a relief to know that God does not just pluck us out of the story during those particularly weedy times in our lives.  Rather, ours is a God of infinitely more grace and patience than we could ever imagine.

From Jacob’s ladder we learn of the interconnectedness of heaven and earth.

Surely God is in this place – in every place – and we generally are not aware of it until, when we least expect it, we awake to experience the presence of God in our midst.

God grant us ears to hear and eyes to see as we continue our adventures with God.

Pat Martin +