Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, 2011 (11A)

The parables truly are the hard sayings of Jesus. Sometimes they are hard to understand but then other times like today, their message is clear and hard to follow.

Today’s parable shows us that some accept and some reject the Gospel.   Some are saved and some will not be.  That part is easy and while it is painful to realize there are people I love dearly who don't accept the gospel, it is black and white. You either accept or reject the Gospel.  There are no shades of gray.

This parable reminds us that in the end there will be separation between the just and unjust. Again, this is black and white. We are to leave it up to God to settle the score. It is for God to judge. That takes the weight off of us and that is a good thing. I judge myself, and sometimes others, much more harshly than God judges.

This parable also tells us there are two responses to evil and the evil one: pull out the weeds to maintain purity or instead to be patient, letting God have the final say. Now it isn't so black and white, is it?  There seems to be too much gray.

There was a young man who had just celebrated his thirtieth birthday. He had a beautiful daughter and three wonderful step children. He also had a woman who loved him deeply. He had much to live for.

As a young boy his mother left the picture. No one knows quite what happened, but she was not part of his life. He didn't talk about her or what happened.  His father coped by becoming hard and cold. It was easier than feeling the pain.  His father's way of coping left the young man with no tenderness or love in his life.

As a teen he turned to a group that made him feel as though he belonged. They also taught him how to dull the pain with drugs and alcohol. The increasing need for that dullness led to petty crimes. A burglary here or there to meet the need. Soon those break ins were not enough to cover the expense as the need to dull the pain increased. Next came a break in with people home. To get away he had to inflict harm. Perhaps that taught him to feel. Inflicting pain can feel good when you are dead on the inside.

Over time the severity of his need to dull the pain created a cycle of increasing violence and crime. He spent time in jail but never prison. He then met a woman who saw through his hardness and coldness. She saw the hurt little boy on the inside and tried to help him heal the pain. But his pain was greater than her love.

One spring morning, a series of events resulted in him taking the life of another. He felt  as though there were no other choices, backed into a corner with no way out. After the shooting he ran. There was nowhere to go. After many hours, he made his way to the woman who loved him so deeply. As she reasoned with him, he told her he was tired of the pain and hell of his life. As she watched, he ended his life with the gun that took another life earlier that day.

That spring day two lives were lost, nine children became fatherless, and two more widows now need our care. The events of the day a tragedy. We are tempted to sit in the judgment seat. This young man did wrong and acted as God in taking the life of another.

Yet this morning’s parable counsels patience and tolerance. We are not to know or to worry about how the end is sorted out. We can only trust that God is a good and just judge. God loves with a love we cannot comprehend. God loves each one of us and loves this young man just the same as you or me. In spite of wrong choices and crime, God loves this young man. And that is hard, isn't it?  At some level we don’t want God to love so fully, so completely, so blindly.

Yet it is good news.  As much as I might want to be the one to separate the wheat from the weeds, it is not in my job description.  Nor is it in yours, nor anyone else who thinks it is.  This does not mean we make no decisions about faithful or sinful behavior.  Nor do we stop teaching our children right from wrong.  And it certainly doesn't mean we close the church because it makes no difference whether or not we serve God. 

It means that the eternal difference it makes is not ours, but God's.   We can stop pretending it is our job.

The psalm Jesus quotes here is a plea to be heard and the promise of a parable not to hide but to make clear what God is doing. The point is that in order to understand what God is up to, you have to be up to the same thing yourself. This is what discipleship is – the life of the parable.  My life, your life, and the life of the church too.

This parable speaks of the kingdom of God, but this isn't simply to do with what happens in the future. It has also to do with the in breaking of God's future into our present by making us realize that we are living in the future, now. The present isn't just the present, what happens now forms us for our future.

The kingdom is a mystery. Yet we are not alone in the kingdom.  We sow and tend and weed and harvest, not just individually but corporately and it takes a community to do so as Paul reminds us. Paul also reminds us that in the end we are not condemned.

Worthless as we all are, we are counted worthy by God. Blind as we are, we will see and know, as we are seen and known by God. The kingdom is God's secret, freely revealed to those with the key to it, a key which is freely offered to all.  That’s right, to all, even this broken man who did wrong.

That is indeed good news.  So my sisters and brothers, may we continue to grow and bear fruit while leaving the tending and weeding to God.

Sources:  Tuesday Morning and Conversations with Scripture: The Parables by William Brosend.

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