The big score, the big treasure, the big jackpot is in some way a dream of many of us. All around us, we see ads for lottery, and casinos and all kind of contests promising a prize of some kind. We see rewards. Miles and all sorts of gimmicks. In Jesus’ time, there were no banks and people’s valuables and treasures would be buried for safety and later access. If a landowner died, the treasure could remain and be unknown until found. The finder would try to purchase the land to make his find his own. So Jesus is telling us today that there is a dreamer in all of us to some extent. The treasure he speaks of is himself and of course his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is a treasure of everlasting life of union with Him. The price is the gifting of ourselves in believing and loving and committing to his word. It is a whole new way of looking at relationships and thew world and loving and caring for all. God after all is creator of all and looks after his creation as only a loving creator could. His love brought his presence to us of His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is through them that we can find the way and be with them forever. In this case, our treasure is real and our pursuit is one that should encourage and drive all the days that we have. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection were real, and so is our pursuit of the same life Jesus offers us with eternal life.
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.
My yoke is easy and my burden light. The Priests and Scribes and Pharisees and Elders of Jesus time represented the wisdom of time and the law of the land. It was to these leaders of the temple that the people looked to be faithful followers of God in the tradition of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and king David. These men over the years had codified laws and rules and prescriptions that were specific and numerous and were controlling of every part of life. These rules and laws went from the washing of hands before eating to worshiping. Lost in all this was the personal nature of God. Jesus today is telling them that the revelation of his Father is hidden from the wise because they are blinded to Jesus. It is through Jesus that they can see and experience the Father. In this way they come to know the father because they know Jesus and only he can reveal and bring the father to them. So, Jesus is revealing to them the true wisdom, and that is his person. He is the way to the father and he is telling those so strongly bound and burdened with so many prescriptions to come to him and rest and give up their burdens. His yoke, his burden is easy in comparison. His call is love and concern for others to live in the person of Christ.
Today, we should remember Christ’s words and remember that wisdom is in his person and actions. Rules and laws are meant to be a service or guideline for order, yet without compassion and mercy and living in the person of Christ are they meeting the test “My yoke is easy and my burden light”? Truly our real rest and peace is in him.
When Differences Bring Understanding
St. John’s description of the gift of the Holy Spirit is very different from St. Luke’s. Luke waits 50 days after Easter, until the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which celebrated God’s gift of the Law at Mt. Sinai. John, on the other hand, tells of the gift of the Spirit occurring on the evening of Easter day. How do we know that? Well, verse 18 of John, Chapter 20, was Mary Magdalene coming directly to the apostles from the empty tomb, announcing that she had seen…and talked with… the Risen Christ. Our reading today starts with verse 19, the very next verse: “On the evening of that first day of the week ( Easter)..”
John used this same expression, “that day”, when Jesus, at the Last Supper, promised the disciples, “The Father will give you another Advocate…the Spirit of Truth…On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in You.” John’s community understood that Easter was “that day”.
Consequently, John’s community was highly centered on the Eucharist, which almost immediately became the custom of the disciples on the first day of the week. And here in our Gospel, is the risen Jesus himself, on the first day of the week, with his disciples, just as he is with us in our Eucharist and in the Spirit.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is seeing his disciples for the first time since they abandoned him at his arrest in Gethsemane. They have a lot to answer for. They deserved to be fired, have their reputations blackened for life. What does Jesus say? “Peace to you.” Then he reveals himself by showing his hands and his side. He literally opens himself up to them. It seems to be in part self-identification. We might call his wounds his “credentials” to minister to all who suffer. Next, he repeats “Peace to you.” Upon hearing him and seeing him, then the disciples rejoiced and believed He was risen from the dead.
“Peace to you” is a Hebrew phrase which meant that something sacred was about to be revealed. It is not just, “Hey Guys, relax.” No. It is a declaration of peace, a proclamation, an announcement. The risen Jesus brings them peace, gives them peace. (You know: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.) Having prepared them to open themselves to the Spirit, he breathed on them. This takes us right back to Genesis 2, where God breathed into Adam the breath of life. It is as if the Spirit “re-creates” the disciples.
Early on, the breath of Holy people was presumed to have supernatural and healing powers. In fact, an early Patriarch of Alexandria filled a skin bag, like a balloon, with his breath, and sent it off to Ethiopia to ordain a Bishop. Here in John, this breath, a sign of creation, is linked with the power to forgive sin, becoming a sign of restoration and fullness of life.
The differences between Luke’s and John’s Gospels can’t be reconciled. We have no chronological historical documents which focus on the exact time line. Besides, much of our scripture was written not with the intent of keeping a play-by-play, but with a much more important goal – that is- to explain the revelations of God to the generations to come.
These revelations are given in a way to help us understand, they help us make sense of what happened, in ways that are not bound by the swing of a clock pendulum, but by the movement of the Spirit in the heart and soul. Our job is to attend carefully and embrace the mystery.
Perhaps the best way for us to really enter into the revelation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to talk about it in ways that we have experienced and with issues that we face. The Holy Spirit has been called “the love that God and Jesus have for each other”. The Spirit brings closeness. Think about the image found in Luke’s Pentecost of everyone in Jerusalem hearing the Good News in their own language. We view that as being able to draw close and talk with someone we had never been able to communicate with before. The barrier of language is removed, and we can share with a “foreigner” the truths we base our lives on. We can listen intently to them, hearing them speak from their innermost self. We are then drawn to love the very human-ness of each other, without stumbling over the clutter of culture or social customs.
What if this Spirit who is Love gave us the ability to listen to people we dislike, those people who drive us nuts, and the people we can’t talk to without getting into an argument. What if suddenly, with the Spirit, we could hear what they were saying, really saying, and suddenly realize that is so very much like what we, too, are really trying to say. What if we wanted to share our time with them, what if our faith suddenly felt big enough to embrace someone else’s understanding?
This week, Trinity Episcopal Church in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, offered the use of their chapel to a Jewish congregation who had lost their synagogue, saying, “Let’s loose the keys to the church to the community.” Wouldn’t that be the sense of Pentecost?
In John’s Gospel, immediate after saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus brings up forgiveness. Without the Holy Spirit, the “power” to forgive sins – or not forgive – seems enticing. But with the Holy Spirit, suddenly the thought comes – “When I offer forgiveness, the sin is gone, forgiven. What if all the pain and hurt between me and that sibling I haven’t spoken to in years is gone? What if my estranged friend and I could once again enjoy each other’s company?
What if then, we shed some of our defenses, let some perceived insult or meanness be forgotten, what if we felt the person who formerly had annoyed us was, in fact, really of great value. Wouldn’t that be the gift of the Holy Spirit?
Let me end by quoting Pope Francis. “Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to ‘God’s Surprises’? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness set before us?”