Sermon podcast: Trinity 617 Jul 2017 By Sermon Podcasts
Canon Sue Oliver, Vicar of St Mark's, Pensnett, 23 July 2017
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Today’s Gospel reading starts with Matthew saying quite clearly what it is: “another parable”. So, we have Jesus putting before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his fields”.
We have to hang on to this being a parable because we can so easily read this, not as a parable but as a straightforward allegory. The difference? In an allegory something stands for something else. This is a common literary device. A classic, rarely read today, is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christian or Everyman journeys from his hometown, the “City of Destruction or “this world”, to the “Celestial City” or “heaven”.
Jesus though uses parables as his teaching method. And a parable is not an allegory. It is something quite different.
But we have a problem, don’t we? Today’s Gospel of the wheat and the weeds, or “tares” as they were in my childhood, we can read like an allegory and does seem very like an allegory. It seems obvious doesn’t it, that the wheat are the good people, church people and the weeds are sinners who will come to a bad end.
Before we consider what a parable really is; let’s look at an interesting illustration Jesus uses, that it is the slaves or servants who bring to the attention of the master that there are weeds growing as the wheat springs forth from the ground. It sounds like god sense. Good gardeners know that you have to get the weeds out before they get deep rooted.
Or you an end up having a garden like mine. When I moved in five years ago, the garden had been much neglected. It is terraced but was so overgrown we did not know there was a lawn potentially at the top of the steep bank. My husband has worked so hard, uprooting hundreds of self set saplings and generally restoring a pleasant place. But the brambles so persist in the steep bank that his latest strategy is to cut back everything in sections, all the groundcover so as to expose the root space of these pesky brambles. He’s confident the groundcover will recover....I can only pray.
If our parable were an allegory, that example would suggest that at harvest time everything is cut down and everyone is doomed! The good ground cover is being sacrificed to purge the horrid brambles.
I’m a Vicar of an urban parish these days and don’t see fields with ripening wheat around me very often nowadays. I don’t know whether in these days of weed killers being put into the seed mix, twenty first century non organic farmers have much problem with weeds. But in my mind’s eye, at harvest time there are fields of golden wheat with poppies in them. As was his way, Jesus was teaching using illustrations from the common life around them.
And Jesus is not like those slaves, just thinking of the short term need for a neat and tidy field but his Master takes the long view and is prepared to wait.
You have had to wait for a little bit on what parables are...and there’s no simple one phrase definition as you can do for an allegory. All too often, the only way of showing the new truth Jesus is using the parable to teach is by re- telling it: there is no “point”, just many meanings. They are more like a poem, a piece of music that you have to put yourself into to make something of. Jesus’ parables come from the everyday world as we have seen, not the churchy or synagogue world. They are not really metaphors either, hints of something else directly but they sound as if there is a story. They allow for new meanings to emerge in new contexts.
Shimmering behind this parable of the weeds is the experience in the Church as Matthew knew it. It can come as a shock to us that all those quirks and issues that are in our church were in his too. It is as if the even the church is not an entirely trustworthy place: one minute glorious and courageous, the next, petty and faithless. Good does indeed mix in with the bad.
And we are not to be passive in the face of evil, seeing the master’s forbidding the servants to uproot the weeds as a “we are just to sit back” and wait for the Master to sort it all out. No, we are Kingdom people, to bring love and compassion to the world, to bring in justice throughout and freedom to those whose life is limited. We should not ignore the injustice in the world, its violence and cruelty. But in this multi meaning parable, there is a reminder that if we try to uproot all evil ourselves, in our own power, we can do more harm than good. This is the way it is.
But we should not lose hope, we are not utterly compromised in the world. In this parable is the promise that evil will ultimately be defeated, the weeds will be uprooted. Evil is temporary; only the good endures. So the parable leads finally to a place of joy and hope for our imperfect world. As mere humans that must give us some comfort, to know ultimately the defeat of evil is God’s task not ours.
Ours is to live as faithfully and obediently as possible, living Kingdom values, believing the harvest is assured.
- Are you more likely to see the weeds or the wheat? The good or the bad?
- How do you feel about your church?
- What can you do to live out the Kingdom values of Love, Compassion, Justice and Freedom?