God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.—1 John 4: 16
Whenever I read a particular passage from the Bible, I try my best to place it within the grand narrative of our shared Christian faith, a narrative that goes (in part) something like this: The great and loving God of the universe has compassion for all his beloved children, sustaining us during our times of suffering and promising us a glorious place in his heavenly kingdom. We begin to enter God’s kingdom, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, when we open our hearts to receive God’s love and to love one another as God loves us. We enter the kingdom fully as we pass into the nearer presence of God through death, “the gate of eternal life.” On our lifelong journey of faith, we need have no fear, for the Lord is ever with us. All along the way we are to pray “thy kingdom come” and exercise that most elusive of virtues, patience.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, contrasts the suffering of the present age to the glory that awaits the children of God. Having received the amazing grace of our Lord and Saviour, we should not “fall back into fear,” Paul says; rather, we are to rejoice in our new relationship to God, crying out, “Abba! Father!” Abba is Aramaic for “Daddy,” an intimate and endearing term with which Jesus addresses his heavenly Father and which we, as adopted children of God, are encouraged to use as well. The sufferings we endure on our earthly pilgrimage are nothing compared to the glory that is to come. And how are we to await the fulfilment of our destiny? Paul says, “We wait for it with patience.”
Patience is also commended by a parable in which Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a field in which there are weeds sown among the wheat. This kingdom, as you know well, is a set of relationships between our loving Creator and all of humankind; it is God’s love for us and our love in return for all our sisters and brothers; it is the flow of love within God and to all who open themselves to receiving that love. By God’s grace, it is our choice whether to open ourselves to God’s love or not, whether to enter the kingdom or not.
In the parable of the field, some workers ask the landowner if they should enter the field and pull the weeds. The landowner commends patience, telling the workers to wait until all the plants are mature before removing the weeds. If the weeds are pulled too soon, the wheat also will be uprooted. In explaining the meaning of the parable, Jesus contrasts the destiny of “the children of the kingdom” who shall shine like the sun forever, and the sad fate of “the children of the evil one” among whom “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Please note that Jesus here is not condemning anyone. He is simply acknowledging the free choice available to everyone to open ourselves to God’s love or to resist it.
All of this (and so much more) is part of the grand narrative revealed to us throughout the Bible. This is the context in which I try to understand individual verses, and this is also the context in which I try to understand the experiences of my own life.
Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.