Weeds.Pent10A.2008

Pentecost 10A, 2008/2011
Matthew 13:24-30

A LIturgy is also available

WEEDS... AND BEING OPEN TO THE ‘WORTH’ OF THE OTHER

Week two of three parable stories as told by Matthew.
Let me explain that comment.

Last week I indicated the Lectionary readings during July
take up three parable stories, each within a rural setting.
A sower went out to sow...
A man sowed good seed...
A grain of mustard seed...

And that we might appreciate the stories a bit more
I explored just a little of what it was like in Galilee’s rural areas
around the time of Jesus.

What we can now make out is:
• rural land was being taken over by the big city ‘Macquarie Street’ farmers.
Small farm owners were losing their land;
• mounting debt, payable to both Roman officials and priestly aristocracy,
meant the crisis of debt and dispossession grew deeper;
• farmer labourers were being forced onto the unemployment line, and
• a new Roman taxation system was extracting nearly every last cent.

The atmosphere was potentially explosive.
Peasant, landless farmers.
Unemployed day labourers.
Roman officials.
Temple or priestly authorities.

Into this setting,
and often as a result of some challenge to his way of being or re-imagining,
Jesus the sage overhears and shares in
the everyday conversations and mealtime chats,
and begins to weave his stories and sayings.

And as they listen to and pictured the story characters
some of the audience would react with disdain.
Damn bosses/Romans/priests!  They know nothing!

Sometimes their reaction would be sympathetic.
Many knew all too well how much effort need to be expended
just to be able to scratch out an existence.

A sower went out to sow...
A man sowed good seed...
A grain of mustard seed...

B Brandon Scott, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar, and a scholar of the study of the parables, says:
‘The parables give us access to the way Jesus re-imagined the possibility of living, of being in the world. They are not just religious, not just about God, although they are that too... they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possibilities of life’  (Scott 2001:6)

For me that’s what makes the parables so interesting.

So to today’s parable: a man sowed good seed.

oo0oo

A landowner sows a paddock full of seed.
Wheat to be exact.

The wheat grows. But so too does another crop. Weeds. 
Or darnel to be exact. A species of rye-grass. 
Which looks almost exactly the same as wheat.

Immediately he suspects the work of sabotage. An enemy.
A decision needs to be made.
Pull up the weeds (seen as worthless)
or let both the darnel and the wheat (seen as having worth),
grow together.

That’s our story told by Matthew.

In the spirit of what Brandon Scott says of a parable, that
‘they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possibilities of life...’  (Scott 2001:6)
how can we hear and re-imagine this parable?

Let me offer some suggestions which you might like to ponder.

oo0oo

Right now our daily media news continue to cover stories
of Afghanistan, and suspected or planned terrorist attacks.  The enemy.

Right now politicians are still trying to convince us that human cleverness...
sending troops into other countries,
having the smartest weapons,
living in constant suspicion of strangers, can save us.

New Testament theologian Bill Loader’s comment is telling:
‘A sense that there is an enemy marks many societies, religious and otherwise. It is almost as though we need an enemy, an other, against whom to define ourselves. This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for survival... There's 'them' and there's 'us'. This is the stuff of prejudice. Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place’ (WLoader/web site, 2008).

So right now doesn’t seem to be a good time
for hope, for reason, for patience.
To allow both ‘wheat’ (the good blokes having worth)
and ‘weed’ (the bad blokes being worthless) to grow or exist together.

Yet that is a positive and surprising re-imagining of this parable:
• given Matthew’s context...
the division in the synagogue between those reformist Jews
who seek to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus
and those orthodox Jews who do not.

Act graciously!  Deal inclusively.

• given our popular context...
since September 11, and Bali and Madrid and London,
and the great polarity that now exists between
Christian and Muslim,
Jew and Muslim.

Weed out!  Eradicate!

Perhaps that is one way we can hear this parable and re-imagine a world
where compassion and understanding 
rather than fear and suspicion shape our experiences.
That would certainly be a telling modern twist!

On the other hand, it also needs to be noted that some within Christianity
have used this story to condemn those
who think differently to them.

If we look back to the fourth century of the Common Era for instance,
implications were already being drawn that ‘difference’ (usually called ‘heresy’),
was the work of an evil one.

While ‘sameness’ or ‘orthodoxy’ was the fruit of the good seed!
Weed out!  Eradicate!

Likewise during the Reformation, as Episcopal priest Harry Cook points out:
“Martin Luther was content to exclude heretics but not to kill them, while, by a kind of twisted logic, was willing to have the ruling secular authorities do both” (HCook, Findings II, 7/2011).

Continuing in the contemporary time frame, a few years back
Bishop Jack Spong’s in his eMail collumn on 7 August 2008,
told of one of his visits to a small Episcopalian Church in Fairlee, Vermont.

The priest, John Morris was preaching on this story.  It was also around the time of the Lambeth Conference.
Spong recorded John Morris’ words:
“You cannot declare those whom you do not like to be 'tares' that can be set aside and not engaged. This is what the Archbishop of              Canterbury has done by not inviting Gene Robinson, our openly gay bishop of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference.  He has defined Bishop Robinson as a 'weed' with which we do not have to deal."

Mmm.

oo0oo

Returning to the parable itself,
there is every chance that Jesus’ audience of
peasant farmers and unemployed day labourers
would have really enjoyed this story.

Their sympathies would have been with the labourers who planted the crop.
Not with the ‘Macquarie Street city farmer’ who owned the land.
Because he was foolish.
Because he didn’t know the first thing about farming.
Because he was greedy to the core.

I mean... the first thing about farming, as everyone knows, is
you remove the weeds by hoeing as soon as they appear.
That way their roots don’t get intertwined with the wheat,
and compete with the wheat for
space, soil, nutrients, moisture and light.

So while they might have pocked fun and laughed all the way through this story,
they would have also been left in a quandary.
To hoe focuses on hard work and family well-being and frugal living,
and to serve the interests of a wealthy ruling class.

Not to hoe is to risk their very own existence.
How to respond?

oo0oo

A man sowed good seed...  It really is incredibly challenging.
As this collection of parables shows,
Jesus created his parables within the context of village realities.

He critiques the expectations and assumptions
and conclusions of the city farmer,
as well as those of the peasant farmer and day labourer.

No one escapes the challenge - the surprise - of this story.

The realm of God, Jesus seems to say, is always...
is always more than you can imagine.

It contradicts our normal notions of
who belongs and who does not,
of who is worthy and who is not.

It’s contradiction is given expression by the way we live
- that is, open to being changed
by the ‘worth’ rather than the perceived ‘worthlessness’ of the other.

Our response...?
To accept the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully
and to be all that we can be.

And to have faith with Jesus in the never ending and ever changing
re-imagined world of the parables.

Notes:
Scott, B. B. 2001.  Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge
Press.

rexae74@gmail.com