Sermon for Pentecost 10
Proper 11 a
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit…
+ In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Another agricultural parable – and another “helpful” interpretation. Another allegory, in which there is good seed and bad seed and the bad seed is going to hell. Well, I don’t find this allegory very helpful, and I certainly hope it wasn’t Jesus’ meaning. I am going to treat it as one of those things put into His mouth by a later commentator – an interpretation that fit a particular time and place.
These “weeds” are some kind of sub-humans, “children of the evil one” whose end is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no mercy for them. They are evil by nature and inevitably. The only reason God does not punish them now is that the process might hurt the “good seed”. The “good seed”, unsurprisingly, is myself and people like me; and the children of evil are – all too easily – anybody I don’t like: the Bush administration, let’s say. Sure, God is letting them get away with it for now, but they had better look out – it’s the furnace in the end.
If you want to scare yourself sometime,
google “bad seed” or “seed of Cain”. You see, there was a crazy person in the
19th Century who, taking this allegory and certain other passages
literally, became convinced that only some people were really human beings at
all. The others were unrelated to us – the “bad seed” sown by the Evil One –
the children of Cain as opposed to Able and Seth. God is allowing them to
thrive – even to prevail – for now. But in the end, they will burn. These
counterfeit humans were people of color, naturally, and lots of other “aliens”;
the good seed were us
The problem with this interpretation, and why I don’t think the allegory is dominical, is that it is impossible to think this way, and to obey the commandment to judge not at the same time. It divides up the world into “us” and “them” again, and while that may be satisfying, it is rather inimical to the Gospel of the Kingdom. The other readings may shed some light on this passage.
Isaiah reminds us that God cares for all people, that God’s judgment is mild and forbearing, and that this should teach us to be kind. Nothing about weeding out the “bad seed”. The Psalm praises the God Who has compassion on all who pray, Who is slow to anger and full of kindness, and Who welcomes all nations (all goyim, all the pagans, all races and peoples) who will eventually come. But it is the Holy Apostle Paul (who is not nearly such an old curmudgeon as he is sometimes thought to be) who gives us the subtle clue:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
“The creation was subjected to futility… creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The creation is destined for liberation and glory as “children of God”. Not just us. We are part of it, we are even the medium of the liberation, since the Liberator is a Perfect Human; but we are not the whole thing.
Furthermore, the whole creation is groaning in expectation, but so are we: even we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, you see. We are in the same boat as the creation, not separate from it – and certainly not separate from some imaginary group of others, those wicked or counterfeit human beings who are the cause of all the trouble. When we are at last liberated and experience the “redemption of our bodies,” it will be as an inseparable part of all humanity and the whole creation, when all created things are revealed as the children of God.
Now let’s go back to the parable. “The Reign of God may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field.” Well, so far, so good. God’s creation is very, very good. No problem there. But then a problem crept in somehow – a nameless enemy, what Augustine called the mysterium iniquitatis. The landowner can’t fix the problem without damaging the creation further. He could do that, but instead shows forbearance, until everything is ripe. Then will be the time for purification.
I think the wheat and the weeds do not have to stand for two kinds of people, but for the mysterious fact that there is sin in the world – evil. It’s not just human wickedness, either. The whole creation is “subject to decay” as Paul said. The solution is not simply a matter getting rid of the bad people (among whom, of course, I am not to be numbered). It is far more majestic and cosmic than that. It is the repair and healing – indeed the re-creation – of the whole universe.
And if you want a spiritual allegory for this parable, think of the field as your own heart. The weeds and the wheat are growing, side-by-side, in my deepest, inmost self. It won’t do to be too severe about pulling up the weeds. I might damage myself that way – do more harm than good. In the fullness of time, the power of God will purify my heart, removing the weeds and freeing the grain. And although it may seem terrifying at first, it will not be a terrible thing; it will be a liberation into glory, and we will be able to sing, with the psalmist,
I will thank you, O
LORD my God, with all my heart, *
and glorify your Name for evermore.
COME, LORD JESUS!