16th Sunday, 7-23-17
Wis 12:13, 16-19; Ps: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16; Romans 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-44
It couldn’t wait any longer. My hair had grown out, and was on the verge of going completely wild. It was time to go see my favorite stylist. She’s in her thirties, rather conservative in her dress and behavior. We don’t discuss religion or politics. Somehow though, she slipped single sentence into our carefully benign conversation about her brother who was a heroin addict, and now in prison. “We won’t go into that”, she said softly.
But suddenly, with great need to tell the story, she was sharing with me the details of her brother’s descent into darkness. Nice guy with the usual amount of youthful immortality and desire for a social group. He was a highly trained and skillful pastry chef. Tried drugs along with most the other people he worked with. Arrest. Rehab. Overdose…. 2nd Arrest…retraining to be away from the drug infestation in the food industry. One semester away from a Master’s Degree. Slipped. Needed money, sold drugs, used drugs, arrested and convicted for his third felony drug charge. Now he must attend classes every day for 18 months in prison. Then be in impatient rehab for 3 years. Then half-way house for 2 more years and find employment. Then parole, never allowed a single bad drug test or one missed appointment. Failure means a 25 year prison sentence – losing most of his adult life.
If Jesus was here today, he might tell this sad story instead of using an agricultural example of wheat and weeds. Weeds, Jesus said, were planted by the evil one. Illegal drugs are, no pun intended, one of the weeds of our time. When evil entered our world, the problem was not just with one woman and one man and one tree with apples on it. The problem was that people began to disobey, to choose badly, to do what was wrong while still knowing and wanting what was right. Drugs, those fiercely invasive and destructive weeds, make the apple incident look like forgetting to pay the electric bill on time and facing a small late charge.
Oddly enough, self monitoring has never worked well. We ignore or excuse our own bad behavior and loudly proclaim and condemn the wrong others do. We spend billions on weapons and guns and rockets and ammunition to kill and destroy, and yet manage to find reasons, which I don’t quite get, why God should bless us for this. Politicians and press of all stripes work to convince us who is an enemy and who is our friend. Most of us, in return, say we have too little time to verify their statements and moan about our “helplessness” in changing things.
Maybe you have had the same experiences as I have. I watch the evening news or read a newspaper or an on-line news article and wonder. I wish I could stop this insanity. I wish I could stop Christianity from being an excuse or even a silent bystander to this evil. I wish I could make my own little life clean and pure or even brave enough to make changes in my own little garden of weeds growing in my heart. I would get right in there with a hoe, I would yank those weeds out so fast, that garden would be clean and I would plant good seed to feed the needy! But that is not reality. That is a fantasy that leads right back to where we started, for evil is still here, with weeds and drugs and lots of other bad things that look pretty desirable sometimes.
What does this parable suggest we do? Well, Jesus, like the wise man who sowed the wheat, seems amazingly patient with us weedy-garden-hearted people. Don’t tear out the weeds, for if you do, you will damage the crop that you rely on for food. Be gentle as possible with those who are struggling with evil. Start with yourself and forgive yourself for the times a little meanness comes out of your mouth, or a little greed seizes your check book. Then move onto the addicts. It takes money, it takes –dare I say it- health insurance to get help with addictions, it takes lots of dedicated practitioners, of which we have far too few. It takes employers with zero tolerance for drugs in the work place but willingness to employ those who are rebuilding their lives. It takes treatment facilities, maybe in our own neighborhoods. In short it takes a commitment to focus on re-building a gentler world, and we need to love and forgive our selves and our churches and our society for pretending the causes of addiction can be fixed by just saying “no”.
Where to start? By proclaiming the love and faithfulness of God, the forgiveness of God? There is enormous power in the Gospel and the Christian story. By the courage to realize our own wheat crops aren’t in very good shape, either? By acknowledging that there is no us (holy) and them (evil)? By admitting that judgmental assumptions are bad behavior? If I read this Gospel correctly, the harvesters are God’s angels, and they will sort the good and the bad correctly. Good news: we can take judging people off our to-do list! Yes!
I learned a hard lesson once, many years ago. I had a minor car accident, and was unable to get my car back on the road. I had been ill, and I was coming back from a doctor’s appointment. I was stuck and had no resources to help myself. Who helped me? A young immigrant man who spoke no English, who had no job, who I had seen loitering around a business of bad reputation- he helped me. I would not have spoken to him in other circumstances. For all I know, he was an angle, sent by God to open my eyes. It made me think of Jesus, close to death on the cross, offering eternal life to the men on either side of him, who admitted to “deserving” their terrible death. And I knew then that I too am capable of the bitingly sarcastic response of the one who jeered Jesus.
So, what’s the take-away? First, I am so very proud of everyone who has been part of the effort to supply food for the children at our local Elementary School. I get tingles down my spine when I think of the extra effort the fine people of Holy Trinity made to supply treats for the end-of-school-celebration there in June. I smile when I remember the gift cards you purchased to reward the children. Well Done. Those kids may live in weedy circumstances, and you offered them love without judgment.
Last, there are those who will never choose God, it would seem. I might be wrong about that. I suspect I’m pretty blind to my own weedy-ness at times. But I think that most people would like to live good lives. I’m sure the power of Love is always and drastically underrated. I am absolutely positive that God is always ready to forgive us for being weedy, either a little or a lot, and that Love, not Round-up herbicide, is the way of God.