Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Third Day

Matthew 13:24-43 

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’
  He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’
  He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’
  In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:
I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.
Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

With a new arrival to scripture group, we talked again about how the texts can be interpreted. The fear continues with some people that interpretation is wrong. A simple faith, that Jesus asks for, would not be asking questions or stating opinions.   

Rather, it's a childlike faith that we are asked to have and, given the curiosity, blunt honesty and top-of-the voice observations that my grandchildren are wont to express, then questions and interpretations are the necessary stitching of the library that we call the Bible. 

Certainly, one overall observation of the Gospels is that, sometime, it tells us more about the writer than Jesus himself. Jesus, as is often the case, is allowed to become a mirror for our failings and fallings. 

This week and last, we see the Jesus of vengeance, sitting rubbing his hands with glee over a pot of wailing and gnashing teeth. Ah, said the scripture group, surely there are some people who are going to end up in hell? We can't pretend that everyone will get to heaven - no matter what.

Let's ask Matthew who he thinks won't be getting to heaven. In Jerusalem,- about the time of this gospel - Christians were still the followers of the Way - a reform group in the Temple. Preaching Jesus as the Messiah and the Kingdom that is on earth. Most institutions can bear with a few people who live on the boundaries and challenge the status quo. But the Way is gathering force and the traditionalists are feeling uncomfortable so they are given a choice. Come back to our way of thinking or make your own 'Way'. Exile does not sit easy with the Jewish people - it has happened too often. For the people of Matthew's time this was a betrayal of everything that they believed their scripture had led them to. It was more than a matter of interpretation.

The parable of the wheat and the darnel is not unique to Jesus. Parables were the teaching stories of the culture, like Aesop and his fables. Wheat and darnel are both annual grasses. Darnel used be regarded as the only poisonous grass - causing a sense of drunkenness and sometimes far worse . Science now shows that the toxic effects are caused by a fungus- ergot -  which affects the plant itself. Both wheat and darnel are very similar when young and green - almost impossible to tell apart - but as wheat ripens to gold, darnel turns black making it easy to pick out. Proving that Jesus and the teachers of the time have an intimate knowledge of the world that surrounds them.

The Temple could have told this story to justify picking out Jesus' followers from the community. Matthew turns the tables - who is to say that we are not the wheat?  And that those who deny us - and those who, in fear of exclusion,  returned to their Jewish faith - are they not the darnel? 

And what would we like to do to those who deny us...?

And to those who who not fit in with our thinking...?

And to those parts within us that seem out of place or destructive   ?

Give them time perhaps?

Darnel is not evil. Just a plant in the wrong place. 

Jesus tells us that sometimes the right thing to do is to let it be; let the world run its course; let the sun rise and set on all things equally; be patient. 

And in the harvest?

What is useless will fade...

What is good will feed...

Only time, and the God of all Creation, will tell.


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