Today, just as on every Sunday, Christians around the world gather for worship. Those who gather for worship include Christians from the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia. These may include the families of some who died in the airliner that was shot down over the Ukraine a few days ago. Those who gather for worship may be fathers or mothers or sisters or brothers of the 298 people who died. If one of the readings they hear this morning is our gospel reading for today, those shocked and grieving people will hear a word of justice. They will hear in Jesus’ parable a story of hope.
People who feel powerless in the face of senseless tragedy and evil need to know that there is justice, need assurance that there is hope. If they are people of faith they need to know that God has not left them. For such people Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds could come alive with great power!
When Jesus first told this story the situation wasn’t that different from today. Matthew tells us that Jesus is speaking to a crowd. This is a crowd of people who had lived under the boot of an Empire for a very long time. All around them they saw injustice, violence, senseless tragedy. They needed to know that God had not left them. Jesus told a story that spoke to their experience and offered hope.
No matter who you are or where you are in your life’s journey God’s Word has something for you, something you need to hear. If you are someone who has recently been touched by violence or persecution or senseless tragedy Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds may be for you.
But there’s a potential problem, and the problem is that this story can become the bottom line. When a civilian airliner is shot down we call it what it is: evil. But when we live our lives on the basis of the belief that the world is divided into wheat and weeds, good guys and bad guys, the blessed and the condemned—if that’s the bottom line—then we are unlikely to experience the transforming, saving power of the gospel for our own lives, to hear other parts of Scripture that we need in order to grow into the people God created us to be.
The bottom line of Christian faith is not “wheat and weeds.” For Christian disciples it’s a different three words: God is Love. That’s all you have to remember–the hard part, of course, is learning to live with the implications! If, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, we are “children of God” that means we are representatives and examples of God’s love and God’s grace for all people. That’s a more difficult bottom line.
Notice that on today’s readings insert we have an alternative reading. It’s from the Wisdom of Solomon, ch. 12, and it’s printed on another insert. Vv. 13 & 16 read: Your care is for all people…For your strength is the source of righteousness…and your sovereignty over all…causes you to spare all. I seriously doubt that the families of those who died in this week’s airliner tragedy are going to find much help in that verse. Jesus’ parable? Yes! In their hour of tragic loss they need comfort, hope for justice, and the assurance of God’s presence in the world.
The story of the wheat and the weeds may seem like the bottom line, the final word, the “last judgment.” And yet, this verse from the Wisdom of Solomon gets much closer to a deeper truth–the bottom line that Jesus proclaimed through the example of his life: God is love. God’s love shines through the parable of the wheat and the weeds not by dividing the world into the righteous and the condemned but by showing us that God meets us where we are and gives us what we need to hear in our hour of need.
Dear friends in Christ, if your life has recently been touched by violence or deep personal tragedy the story of the wheat and the weeds may be for you. On the other hand, if this story only serves to reinforce the belief that you’re one of the good guys, then serving as a disciple of Jesus Christ and an ambassador of God’s love for all people may be difficult for you, if not impossible.
Last week we heard the parable of the sower and pondered the possibility that each of the different soils is part of each of us. Good soil? Yes! Bad soil? Yes! Both are part of who I am. Likewise, I can look at my life and say, I am not just good grain. I am weeds, too. Martin Luther, the founder of our Lutheran tradition, said exactly this: We are simultaneously saints and sinners. Luther knew this, too: that we are forgiven sinners. This is a key difference between Lutheran faith and certain other flavors of Christian faith: We don’t work for God’s favor; we begin with belief in the gift of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us and all people. The assurance of God’s forgiveness leads children of God to gratitude and gratitude leads me to a deeper desire to conform my attitudes and actions to the mind of Christ.
So what about those of us who have been spared recent tragedy? If different parts of scripture speak to us in different ways at different times, is there a word from God for us in today’s readings?
Well, thanks be to God that Lutherans get not one but four readings each Sunday, so the answer for me is “Yes!” There is a word of God for me.
What caught my attention among today’s readings was Paul’s letter to the Romans. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Now, Paul in the midst of great suffering and within view of death probably had his eye on the life to come as he wrote this. But that’s not what I hear.
In this season of parables, of wheat and weeds, good soil and bad soil, our readings are rich with images from the earth, God’s good creation. In our time it is this good creation that is in peril. When St. Paul wrote that the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God he surely had no inkling that human beings have the power to destroy God’s creation, to destroy the future of today’s young people and generations yet unborn. And yet, the miracle and power of God’s Living Word is that it speaks to us in our time, for our time, in ways the first hearers of that word couldn’t imagine.
No matter who you are or where you are in your life’s journey God’s Word has something for you, something you need to hear. For me, and maybe for you, this is something we need to hear: The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…waiting for the children of God. Yes, God’s good earth is groaning under the weight of seven billion people’s needs…and greeds. How does my life reflect care and stewardship for God’s creation? In everything I do each day what choices are wheat and which choices are weeds—or, at least, which choices are better than others?
No matter who you are or where you are in your life’s journey God’s Word has something for you, too, something you need to hear. How about you? Where in the Scriptures is God speaking to you? How is God calling you out of yourself to something bigger and higher than what you are able to be on your own? How is the Holy Spirit calling you through God’s Word to live out more fully your vocation as “children of God”? AMEN