The Reverend David Stanton Canon Treasurer and Almoner
Sunday, 23rd July 2017 at 11.15 AM
For the first fourteen years of my life I grew up in wild, rural Devon. At this rather early and formative age, it became entirely natural for me to get to know those who looked after the land and tended the crops.
At a very early age it dawned quite suddenly upon me that humans and nature are inextricably linked, that none of us are ever really separated from nature; that the countryside is neither something set apart, nor purely an escape from urban living.
If only we realise it, we’re all very much part of the completeness of nature, for there, we’re intimately and closely related.
Over the years I’ve also come to realise that there’s a wonderful and elaborate network of interconnections in our ecosphere: among different living organisms, between populations, species, and their surroundings.
Relationships that take place at the atomic and molecular level, between plants and animals, and among species in ecological networks and systems. For example, how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics and forming soil.
This tells us that the environment can never be considered in isolation. Indeed the primary law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else.
Our Gospel reading today (Matthew 13.24f) talks about both the interconnectedness of the wheat and the weeds, and ultimately about their final separation. For some, there’s an overwhelming temptation to use this analogy to neatly divide the world into “Christians” (as the righteous) and “non-Christians” (as evildoers).
Yet for many others, experience of the Gospel tells them that such categories are actually extremely fluid, co-existent, and at best difficult to discern. I hazard a guess that most of us here comprise both plant-types and that we’re not purely one or the other.
At the end of the previous chapter of St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus declared his family to be those who do ‘the will of my Father in heaven,’ a description that I’m sure you all agree embraces a huge variety of people. Labelling people doesn’t really help us to see all people as bearing the image of God.
This parable warns us that now is not the time to make such discriminatory judgments. When Jesus spoke about the naughty neighbour, who quietly sowed while everybody else was asleep, he was referring to the weed zizania, often known as darnel or false wheat.
It looks like wheat, its roots intertwine with the roots of real wheat and at first glance they look very much the same. So separation becomes a complex business. This parable reminds us of our natural tendency to often try and identify those who are different from us and attempt to weed them out.
That’s what’s called scapegoating, and interestingly, its a human tendency that the French cultural critic, Rene Girard suggests is gradually and systematically unmasked and exposed by the Bible.
Firstly, because the people of Israel sacrifice animals as scapegoats instead of other human beings, as happened in the nations around them at that time, and then as God himself, in Jesus, becomes the ultimate scapegoat bringing an end to the need for any further scapegoating.
Here we see Jesus’ strategy, as the ambassador from a loving non-violent Father,
exposing the scapegoat process so that the true face of God may be known in the scapegoat, or Lamb of God, not the face of a persecuting deity.
This parable teaches us that, in any event, we’re not the ones to make judgment, we’re not the ones to uproot those whom we see as weeds. As Jesus says, ‘Let both of them grow together until the harvest’.
Our ecological understanding today helps us to embrace this vision of interconnectedness, that black and white thinking is ultimately fundamentally flawed because it inherently assumes a static world, with its dependence upon everything and everyone maintaining preordained thinking.
In this sense failure becomes ever harder to confront because one tends to place an inordinate amount of energy on being right. Its an unfortunate default against the complexities of the world.
That’s why we see Jesus being willing to wait and to be patient, and as we too wait we shouldn’t get too excited about the climax, the end of this parable because I’m sure Jesus didn’t intended it to be taken literally.
This parable is guiding us to refrain from exercising ultimate judgment against others. For ultimate judgment, the taking of life, is reserved for God.
In recognising this deep interconnectedness of life, we can learn something here from our friends of the Buddhist faith. When Buddha gained enlightenment, it was the realisation that interconnectedness is the true nature of all beings.
The fact that we’re not only connected to others, but through the fact that we all share the same air that we breath, our common created nature, and the light we all enjoy. For both Christians and Buddhists such interconnected relationships become powerfully symbiotic.
In the case of the environment, if we want to develop nature, we need to do so within nature’s ability to recover. Conversely, if nature is developed beyond its ability to recover, all beings will eventually be destroyed.
The fact is, in so many walks of life, we just don’t have enough judgment to discern the difference between the wheat and weeds. We are too likely to get it wrong and destroy the wheat when we only meant to destroy the weeds.
As a Church, we’re all called to exercise patience, diligence, and caution when exercising judgment. St Jerome, the 4th century Church Father, said that the words our Lord spoke in this parable ‘leave room for repentance.’ That’s very sound advice.
Knowing there is a final judgment, governed by God, should free us from our need to judge others today. Let us therefore be patient, tolerant and forgiving, allowing God to work out his purpose as is best in his eyes.