A Provocation: Seventh Sunday After Pentecost: July 23, 2017: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
13:24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

13:25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.

13:27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’

13:28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’

13:29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”

13:37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;

13:38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,

13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.

13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,

13:42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

A Question or Two:

  • Why in the world did the slaves think it would be a good idea to stomp all over the newly sprouted field pulling weeds?

Some Longer Reflections:

First off, I think Martin Bell was correct.  Bell read this parable in 1968, and heard the anger in the notion that some people are wheat and some people are weeds.  Bell urged his readers to understand themselves as the field and to recognize that both wheat and weeds grow in us.  The customary reading of this parable (even when it is urged on us by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew) sets us to work spying out enemies wherever they might hide.  If you look hard enough for enemies, you will always find them.  Bell’s reading sets us to work examining ourselves, wondering (for one thing) why it is that we are so sure that we are surrounded by enemies.

This is a salutary exercise, better than the one handed us by the customary reading of this parable.

It is difficult, though, to avoid angry, divisive readings of this parable.

That is partly because of the way Matthew’s story is structured.  For the long version of this analysis, please take a look at my commentary on Matthew, Provoking the Gospel of Matthew: A Storyteller’s Commentary.  A quick sketch: Matthew begins his story with the slaughter (by Herod) of the toddlers of Bethlehem, all of whom are Jesus’ relatives.  The storyteller is remarkably honest.  The story not only narrates the genocidal murder of little kids, it also portrays the effect of surviving the slaughter on Jesus, who was Herod’s target.  What is the effect?  The same as it is on any survivor: he exhibits a strong tendency toward black-and-white thinking, with the good people being welcomed into the Father’s open arms and the bad people being consigned to the outer darkness where the fire never goes out and men wail and gnash their teeth.  Matthew thus paints a picture of Jesus unlike that painted by the other gospels.  But the key to this storytelling strategy is that Jesus holds this harsh persona until he is raised from the dead, and then he changes and no longer condemns those followers who doubt him.

It is a long argument.  You can read it all in the Matthew commentary.

What matters for now is that those scenes (like this one) that make harsh and angry divisions are rolled back at the climax of the story.  Until then, they function to draw out into the open those Christians who love to be angry with those whose faith is less strenuous.

There are plenty of such people, and not just inside the Christian faith.  There are plenty of such people even outside of any faith.

There is something in us that loves to scold other people.

People on the Left scold people on the Right.  People on the Right ridicule the “snowflakes” on the Left.  People who drive a Prius (as I do) make fun of people who drive big-butt trucks capable of towing a combine even though they live in the suburbs.  People who drive big-butt trucks snicker at the idea that saving fuel is all that important.  Vegans are appalled at the compromises made by occasional vegetarians, who look down their noses at carnivores, who remind everyone who will listen that “the West wasn’t won on salad,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

It goes on.  You have heard it.  We all have done it.  It contributes to eruptions of road rage and to the kinds of I-dare-you-to-challenge-me driving that leads to the eruptions.  It leads to the kind of video the NRA issued early in the summer that proposed using the “clenched fist of truth” (whatever that means) against Them (who seem to be anyone who is opposed to racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia).

This parable provides an occasion to reflect on how we seem to need to be angry with each other.  And the parable (angry as it is) provides also a suggestion: when the slaves ask for permission to go out and rip out everything that looks like a weed, the farmer tells them not to be stupid.  Ripping up weeds will also rip up crops.  He’s right: rash anger never makes things better.  Even when Jesus seems to encourage it.

 

 

3 thoughts on “A Provocation: Seventh Sunday After Pentecost: July 23, 2017: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

  1. Love this. Also Martin Bell opened my eyes to much in scripture. His definition of Messiah – the one who restores both community and individual – never one at the expense of the other – has stayed with me ever since I heard him say it.

    Liked by 1 person

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