Readings: Genesis 28:10–19a, Romans 8:12–25 & Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43
I continue to be dismayed by stories that I read about the history of the Church. When I use the term ‘Church’, I’m referring to the Western Church; what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church, and the many denominations such as the Church of England, the Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran Church and others, that make up what we call the Protestant Church.
Each day, as part of my own prayer life and spiritual practice, I read the designated story and reflection for that particular day, from a book titled ‘On This Day in Christian History’. The subtitle of the book is ‘365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs and Heroes’, but I have to say, rather than being amazed and/or inspired, I sometimes find myself being totally shocked by stories that describe the violent and horrific treatment of Christians, at the hands of other Christians, who were almost always members of a competing denomination of Christianity. Roman Catholics torturing and slaughtering Protestants, and Protestants torturing and slaughtering Roman Catholics, all in the name of God!
These stories came to mind again as I was reading our gospel passage for today, which is sometimes referred to as ‘The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat’. In this particular parable, Jesus talks about a farmer’s enemy coming, while everyone was asleep, and sowing weeds among the farmer’s wheat. The farmer’s workers ask him if he wants them to remove the weeds, but he instructs them not to, because if they try to remove the weeds, they will only uproot the wheat as well. The farmer tells his workers to wait until the time when the wheat is ready to be harvested, because at that time the weeds will be collected and burned.
In the analogy, Jesus likens his disciples to the wheat, but the weeds he refers to as children of the devil. Just as the weeds are collected and burned when the wheat is harvested, so will the ‘children of the devil’ be collected at the end of time and removed from the kingdom of God. This parable only appears in the Gospel of Matthew, and it is possible that Matthew included it in his gospel because it spoke to a situation of religious diversity and tension within his own church community.
Such religious diversity and tension has existed down through the centuries and history of the Church, and continues even to this present day. And just like some of the awful figures and events that I have read about in the book ‘On This Day in Christian History’, I’m sure we can all think of Christians that we have either known, or at least heard of, who have done horrible things to both other Christians and non-Christians alike. The message from Jesus is, don’t lose sleep over trying to weed out from the church people such as these, whom we might describe as “undesirables”, but instead trust it to God to deal with them at the time of his choosing.
As I continued to reflect on this aspect of today’s gospel passage, it suddenly struck me that the figure of Jacob, who was the subject of our first reading from the Book of Genesis, does also not “fit the bill” of someone you would expect God to choose to carry out His work. The name Jacob itself in Hebrew means to ‘supplant’, or to ‘undermine’ or ‘replace’; and we know from the stories of Jacob in Genesis that he first tricks his older brother Esau into giving him his birthright as the firstborn son, and then tricks his father (Isaac) into giving him the blessing that Esau should receive when Isaac is dying. So Jacob is by no means “pure in heart” or “squeaky clean”, and yet God chooses him to receive the promises that were made by God to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham.
The Apostle Paul, writing in his Letter to the Romans, says to the members of the church community in Rome that they too are recipients of God’s promises when he tells them they are “children of God”, and if children of God, they are also heirs of God; inheritors of the promises of God. Paul also refers to them as “joint heirs with Christ”, telling them that if they suffer with Christ, then they will also be glorified with Christ; which is a reference to being resurrected from the dead, just as Jesus was resurrected.
Paul then writes that all of God’s creation has been waiting for the children of God to be resurrected, so that it too may be set free from its own slavery. Paul is suggesting that from the moment that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the rest of creation, along with humankind, was also adversely affected, and that the only way it will ever be as God originally designed it to be, will be when God restores it on the day of redemption, which will be the on the last day, when God raises his faithful people from the dead. Until that day, we all live in hope.
Here we have the assurance of God’s promise. God is among us and acting in our lives through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s presence is a guarantee of what is to come, but we are often impatient. Impatience is something that defines the world today. We want everything now; faster, and better. But times of distress, like those we are all experiencing at the moment with the Covid 19 pandemic, invite us to reevaluate our priorities.
Paul tells us that we, as children of God, have the first-fruits of the Spirit, and the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23a). Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and something Paul calls us to, as we wait in hope.