16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 23, 2017)
Did you ever wonder how parables became famous? I heard a fascinating story about the origins.
Once upon a time, there was truth. Truth remained as naked as the day he was born. He was also called “unvarnished truth” by some hardwood finishers, “bald truth” by some barbers. “unadulterated truth” by. . . Well, let’s move along.
Truth was different. Truth wandered thru the city, completely naked, stripped of every embellishment - and when people got one look at him, he was shunned. Many could not face him.
One day, parable met truth and stayed long enough to ask a question: why do you look so woebegone? Truth answered that people avoided him because he was old and -- because he could not communicate, he had no sense of purpose in life.
Parable disagreed and said that it was not age, that he, parable, was as old as truth, that older was more attractive. Parable felt that he got better with age.
Parable offered to tell truth a secret. The secret was this: people do not like things bare and plain; they like them dressed up. Parable then offered some of his clothes to truth and truth accepted the offer.
When truth was clothed in the clothing of parable, truth then became welcome where he was previously avoided. From that time on, truth clothed in parable has been esteemed and loved by all.
Jesus knew this, so much of what he told us is truth, clothed with the clothing of parable.
We have been hearing several of Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel. Last week we heard the parable about the different kinds of soil that the word of God falls upon. This week, we hear the parable about wheat and weeds. We hear mini-parables in the similes about mustard seed and yeast. These are not like Aesop’s fables that simply entertain; these are Jesus’ parables that convey profound truth.
Last week’s and today’s parables tell us the way that the kingdom of God grows. They have come to be called the “growth parables.” The simple, unclothed truth is: the kingdom of God continues to grow in the presence of those who work against it. Also, small, almost unnoticed beginnings - like the tiny mustard seed and the bit of yeast -- have wonderful, unforeseeable, and vitally important results . . . But only later.
We can listen to these parables at two levels: the individual, personal level and the community level. As individuals, we realize that you and I are composed of both wheat and weeds. The old adage is true: “There is a little bit of bad in the best of us and there is a little bit of good in the worst of us, so, it never behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” As Jesus said, “ Who of you can throw the first stone?”
At the other level, the community level, the parable also speaks to us, it reminds us there is an inclination among some to go against the lesson of Jesus. Some - even “pillars of the church” - are ordained as shepherds to feed lambs and sheep and protect against wolves. Wolves are readily recognized. Shepherds are not weeders; Jesus called some followers to be shepherds, not weeders.
As Jesus points out in today’s gospel, identifying and rooting out weeds is a dangerous enterprise. Dangerous, first, because the chance of injuring the wheat is great; innocent people may get hurt. Second, it is dangerous because the one who is rooted out is all too often not a weed, but another strain of wheat unfamiliar to the one who is doing the weeding.
There is a saying: “Everyone is someone else’s weirdo.” Isn’t it true that in the larger Christian community, everyone is someone else’s weed?”
Weeders tend to be legalistic rule keepers, and tend to exclude with ruthless judgment and harsh condemnation. Weeding is the work of the self-righteous. Self-righteousness is an evil that gives false security - like the Pharisees who did not see the wheat from the weeds, the Christ from the crowd.
Jesus reminds us today in parable to be patient and non-judgmental, not self-righteous and arrogant with those around us who are different. We have been told on divine authority that we do not have the skill necessary to be weeders.
Jesus reminds us that our father is in charge and that we must not rush to judgment. His kingdom will continue to grow slowly, relentlessly, and . . .surprisingly.