Matthew 13.24-33, 36-43
Sunday 23rd of July 2023
I have spent the past month moving from the desert, to the rainforest, to the Great Barrier Reef. It has been time that allowed me to slow down and observe the complexity and interconnectedness of life in these varied ecosystems. It also forced me to rethink some neat categories I had about species- something I know the first European colonists had to do when they encountered the platypus and echidna! When you look at starfish and sea cucumbers in the reef, I found myself wondering how sentience is defined and recognising again that there is no simple binary between plants and animals as I had once thought. Fungi, trees and insects work together in a tropical rainforest to mutually create the conditions for the others’ flourishing. There is a beautiful synergy in the complex relationships of life in any ecosystem if we pay attention. I felt such wonder at the way life can continue to be abundant and interconnected in even the most adverse conditions. All I could do was stand in astonishment and say, “How awesome is this place.” The presence of God is everywhere if we are paying attention.
Yet any natural ecosystem is also a place of death, and there are dangers and threats present that would hinder life from flourishing. The creation has been named as good, and yet suffering continues in its every corner. The question of ‘Why does a good God allow suffering?’ has been asked by humanity down the ages, and in some ways, today’s parable from Jesus asks the same question;
“Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”
Where does evil come from? Why is there suffering and struggle? The response to these questions in the parable is, “An enemy has done this.” The reality of evil is made clear in this parable – almost as clearly as it is made in our baptismal liturgy where the candidate or sponsors are asked to “renounce Satan and all evil”. In this statement, as in the parable, there is a sense that not everything present now in the world is of Divine initiative, and we are to resist and turn away from all that does not come from God. The parable does not so much ask us to answer the question of what is the origin of evil, but rather paints the picture of a world where evil is present and asks us what we are going to do about it.
Humans have ever a tendency to judge and divide according to good and bad, right and wrong, worthy and unworthy. There is ever the temptation in baptism to divide the world into a neat division of those inside and outside the family of God. But such neat divisions do not reflect the complexities of people nor of creation, and we are forced to look again whenever we are tempted to think of ourselves as the wheat struggling against the weeds of the world. In any given moment there are the possibilities for aligning with God’s dream for the world or resisting it. We are all both “wheaty and weedy”, and so often we learn more from our struggles and failures than we would from a life lived under rigid self-control. In the ecology of our souls, it appears that even sin has an important role to play in preparing the ground of our hearts to receive grace. Good and evil will always coexist both in the world and inside each one of us, preventing us from judging too quickly if we have the honesty to see ourselves as we really are.
God created this astonishing world not only in an act of creation that launched this abundance but is present within all the relationships of life, sustaining and renewing. In every given moment we are called to be ourselves as we were created to be, finding our place in the family of God and responding to the initiative of Christ who calls us to a life of love and service. This is a journey Daphne is beginning today as we claim God’s love for her and recognise the call on her life to be the best Daphne Matilda she can be, knowing that God will be with her in this holy vocation. In every moment we can align our lives with who we were created to be, working as co-creators with God and growing the kingdom of love, justice and peace.
These are lovely words, but it is not always easy to discern that call. Elisabeth Johnson comments that ‘the weeds that Matthew most likely refers to in this parable is likely darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear.’ This life is an experience of constant learning and, if we are willing, growing in God. Our Christian life may begin in our baptism, but it spends a lifetime as unfinished business while we make mistakes, stumble away from God and who we can become, falling back into the arms of love whenever we turn again in repentance. It can be hard at different times to tell the wheat from the weeds in our own life, let alone in the lives of others. When our vision is so unclear and our judgement flawed, there is need for care that we do not act hastily causing unintended harm as we attempt to root out all that we believe is not of God. History is full of the violence done by Christians who believed that they could tell who should be cast out. Sometimes the violence is what we do to ourselves with our own harsh self-judgement. The parable in contrast points to the gentleness of allowing and waiting for growth. The parables of the kingdom that follow are even gentler- yeast growing silently and unseen in the dough, and a tree that grows from a tiny seed to become a habitat for more life. Divine action is mysterious, creating goodness and abundance from the most challenging environments.
We must not lose our sense of wonder. God truly is in this place, but sometimes we cease to pay attention and forget that we are not the masters of our own universe. Jesus came telling stories that help us to let go of the need to order our own lives and instead trust in the God who called us into being. Jesus came to show us a way of grace and mercy that is not so much a requirement for the kingdom as it is the kingdom. Forgiveness and love become the way of life as grace and mercy are worked through the soil of our being and the ground of creation. Even within and amongst ourselves there will be resistance to surrendering to the love and forgiveness of God. Where divine will is resisted, goodness, peace and love will find no room to grow. “Repent and believe the good news” continues to ring out clearly today. We are called simply to return again and again, trusting in the slow work of God. Hope is found in the relationships of love that flourish in an ecology of grace where we release our need to judge and forgive as we have been forgiven.