A biblical reflection based on Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
When I stroll the four-acre grounds of Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, where I am blessed to live, my eyes savoring the rich and varied flora, often the Genesis creation story comes to mind. A marvelous depiction of differentiation. Of order, characterized by diversity, arising from the primeval chaos, evolving out of the amorphous void.
The story doesn’t explain what happened at creation. Unless I believe that once upon a time there was a mystical garden populated by a talking serpent, two nakedly naïve people hungering to know the difference between good and evil, and God, who, during a late afternoon walk, evicted them from the garden as punishment for not knowing their proper place.
Rather, the story, of its manifold aspects, in rhapsodizing Hebrew poetic narrative, describes the human condition. That we are knowledgeable of good and evil. That our hearts overflow with noble aspirations, yet our hands often are wretchedly clumsy in attaining them. That we hunger to do good, to be compassionate and just, yet have appetites for evil, feasting on judgment and condemnation.
And it seems to me that both the people and God reflect these aspects of our humanity. (Not a farfetched, much less, heretical thought, particularly as I believe that the Bible, albeit with God as the central subject and however divinely inspired, is a human creation, therefore, by definition, unavoidably self-referential.)
Adam and Eve represent our longing to know good from evil, right from wrong and God, our tendency to condemn and cast out those who believe and behave differently.
“Someone sowed good seed in his field, but an enemy came and sowed bad seeds.” Jesus tells a story about wheat and weed growing together. The latter, the farmhands want to rip out. The farmer is the voice of reason, knowing how hard it is to distinguish between the heavily entwined plants, and the voice of wisdom, telling the farmhands to wait until the harvest.
As the farmer is a symbol of the divine, then, for me, in one sense, Jesus has rehabilitated God’s image! God no longer, as in days of old, walks through the garden hastily posting eviction notices, but rather waits patiently for harvest time; a metaphor for an unknown and unknowable future moment.
Here, too, as in the Genesis story, I see in this godly image an aspect of our human ontology. We are creatures of reason and wisdom; able to examine and learn from our experience.
Nevertheless, today, it seems to me that the farmhands – all who want to rip out the “weeds” – are running amok! So, where and who are the voices of reason and wisdom?
In America’s political and religious spheres, I perceive that God, ever the Reconciler, is the dividing line between left and right, liberal and conservative, progressive and traditionalist; with each side threatening to expose the errors and excesses of the other, all righteously proclaiming, “We’re just weeding the garden!”
Where, who are the voices of reason and wisdom declaring the uncomfortable truth that we all do not and never will agree on what matters, yet, in the political arena, the vitality of our 244-year national experiment in liberty, and, in the religious sphere, the common mission of love and justice, commend and command that we wait until the harvest?
I wish I had this all worked out personally, theologically and ethically. But I don’t. There are times, too many times when I only want to see and be and talk with those who share my worldview…
Too many times when I have little patience with those with whom I disagree…
Too many times when I want to weed the garden, ridding the world and the church of all those whom I judge to be too narrow, too exclusive, too doctrinaire (which is to say, indeed, confess that I would be too narrow, too exclusive, too doctrinaire!)…
Too many times when I can’t hear or I ignore whatever voice of reason and wisdom there may be within me…
Too many times, finally, when I can’t tell the difference between wheat and weed within myself.
So, I’d better wait. Wait with the patience of continuing discernment. Wait without rushing to judgment. Wait until God’s harvest.
© 2020 PRA
Illustration: Parable of the Tares (c. 1900), Ellen Gould Harmon White (1827-1915)