Donald R. Elly, M.Div.
SCRIPTURES: Gen. 28:10-19a; Ps. 139:1-12, 23-24; Rom. 8: 12-25; *Matt.13:24-30, 36-43
When you hear someone say “Kingdom of Heaven” what picture comes to mind? Where do you imagine that the Kingdom of Heaven is in your understanding of the cosmos? Growing up when someone said “Kingdom of Heaven”, I immediately thought it was the reality we as disciples received as a reward for living in this world and suffering cross-like experiences being his witnesses. It also came after the experience of death and judgment where Jesus served as our advocate before God who would decide our eternal destiny. Would we receive heaven or go to hell? Quite frankly it was a very scary thought and seemed a long way off.
I must confess my picture of grace and how Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit operated was very small and did not change much until I went to College. If that is how you still picture the Kingdom of Heaven you will miss the richness and challenge of Matthew as we think about growing in discipleship right now. Matthew 13 makes clear that Jesus’ goal is to instruct us in responding to life right now so we can bear witness to and participate in the Kingdom of Heaven that breaks into our life and interrupts our best laid plans. It may be an uncomfortable analogy, but the Kingdom of Heaven, like the coronavirus is breaking into our lives and disrupting our usual control. It is capable of turning life upside down and inside out. In fact, having this Good News to concentrate on can give us a new perspective on the coronavirus and give us, paradoxically, a life of meaning and purpose that in disrupting us makes us more aware of needing God’s power and purpose in life.
First, we are invited to be partners with Jesus in transforming life right now. Jesus quietly, but with authority, directs us to open our ears. We are to obey, which is what “listen” means. Living as “good” seed in the world God has created will not be easy for us and for those we talk with about it. What will be required is giving up our control, our agenda and being open to what God has to say to us through scripture, our interactions with loved ones, and as we move about in the world full of conflict and suffering. Living as “good” seed will bring us into conflict with political power and systems that do now want to give up the old ways of living that has given them comfort, status, wealth and hardened their hearts. We will be rejected and accused of not being patriotic enough, or being too liberal (whatever that means) and too fanatic for God. We may at times find that we don’t fit in and be a disappointment to family and friends.
In six parables Jesus describes for us what life will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven. Unique to Jesus’ rabbinic style, these parables draw their power from being ordinary and his examples are what everyone can picture. Today we focus on the parable of the weeds and wheat. Here Jesus shares the change the Kingdom of Heaven offers in dealing with what we might consider not just sinful, but evil. The parable really opened my eyes to how realistic Jesus is about the rejection he experienced and the conflict created for his society (i.e. family and neighbors) by him breaking into their lives. By announcing that God wants to operate in new ways, Jesus disrupted the tradition that kept some people in power at the expense of others. Evil for Jesus is a fact of life and in responding to it Jesus demonstrates that evil can only be overcome by good.
Jesus is right. The only solution to violence is non-violence. In my experience I still struggle with the temptation to respond to anger with more anger. When I step back and give it “five minutes” I can see that all the angry response does is increase defensiveness and a hardening of positions. When the twin towers fell in New York on September 11, 2001 it was the objective of the terrorists that we would fall prey to fear and see the world as darkly as they did. These are, in my opinion, evil seeds planted among the good wheat. Yet what happened was exactly the opposite. The world came together at that moment to give us in the United States support we would never have anticipated. The acts of love and sacrifice (and there were thousands) did bear witness to God being right there with those who suffered and died. It gave hope to their families all around the world who still cope with grief and loss even now.
It is striking that the solution offered by Jesus is what we practice in celebrating Lent before Easter and Advent before Christmas. We are required to wait actively for the Good News to continue breaking forth because God is still at work. The wheat is still growing. We are not to pull up the good wheat to try and remove the evil tares. We are to concentrate on growing in unity with God till it becomes clear that the work of God’s love overcomes evil. You see, the Kingdom of Heaven is the reality of God’s energy and strength cultivating love in unexpected places so that evil will be transformed by love. It may not be the way we would do it if we were in charge, but according to Jesus it is what God desires of us—work on becoming more loving ourselves and let God have God’s way with evil. After all, in God’s gift of love in Jesus good does overcome evil.
July 19, 2020. Cycle A. 7th Sunday of Pentecost