The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2020
The Rev. Andre Stephany
Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver BC
The popularity of weeds has increased dramatically during Covid-19 lock-down. Everyone with a garden, or at least a flowerpot, has never been happier to find these green little invaders among their nice flowers or tomatoes. While weeds were always seen as a pest, collecting weeds suddenly turned into a very pleasant activity to keep us busy and outdoors when there was not much else to do.
Interestingly, this Gospel passage has been unpopular even before many of us developed this new emotional connection with weeds. The idea that the good wheat goes to the barn, while the weeds are burned has always sat uncomfortably with us.
We, mostly, don’t like the idea of good and evil and especially not the mere thought of any holding to account after this life. When I say ‘we’, it is most probably a Western point of view, more even, a white, and in my case male point of view. There are rare occasions when someone like me encounters real evil that goes beyond little arguments.
Yes, for someone like me it is easier to speak about the good in all people and that hell is an empty place and heaven will be as crowded as English Bay these days.
It is a noble intention to depict all humans as good and gentle and to picture the barn with wheat and weeds in happy unison.
This is easy from a perspective where people can watch the news and see images of war, corruption and racism and then comment on the dreadful weather forecast for the next day.
There is evil in this world and I think there are evil people in this world and if you are suffering hell because of the evil of others, then the promise of justice in this Gospel can be a powerful source of hope and to deny the existence of evil is to deny the suffering and reality of millions of people.
But the idea of our Gospel today is not simply to point our finger at others- the really bad people.
Jesus does not only identify the weeds with evildoers. Jesus says: The angels “will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers […] Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:41b; 43).
So, there are the evildoers but there are also other causes and sources of sin.
When the sower forbids the servants to collect the weeds from the field before the harvest, his argument is that they couldn’t collect them without also uprooting the wheat. I think we have to look for these other sources of evil within us. The weeds and the wheat have grown so closely together that you cannot separate them.
Next Sunday, a new book discussion group will start with the Rev’d Helen Dunn. We’ll speak about Robin DiAngelo’s book: White Fragility.
One of DiAngelo’s main points is that because of our misconception of racism as only the open acts of racism, the violence committed in acts, we are quick to see it as an evil-people-only problem. Racism, DiAngelo argues, is so much more than open acts of violence.
In fact, racism is like the weeds so strongly interwoven with all of us, with our society and our institutions that you cannot separate the one from the other because it is a pest which we all, each and everyone of us, inherited from our society and which each and everyone of us keeps alive.
What DiAngelo wants us to do and the Gospel as well is to recognize the weeds that are part of us and to acknowledge that they are there. Because to make your conscious aware of what your subconscious is doing, is the first step to trim the weeds, to get their influence under control at least.
Today’s Gospel does not naively tell us to ‘just’ turn into pure and good wheat, good people.
Jesus wants us to be aware of our complete being with its beauties and its shades.
Jesus wants us to be aware of the things that are open before God who sees into our hearts.
Jesus wants us to be aware that even the wheat can’t boast about its purity and goodness, but is in need of God’s grace and cleansing forgiveness.
And then, after bringing us right down, Jesus gives us hope. The weeds will burn and “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:42b).
Thanks be to God! Right? Yes, there is hope in this grim picture.
The evil within us will be taken from us and we will be freed of everything that separates us from God.
Of course, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So many things that God counts as weeds are actually quite close to our hearts and it will be painful to let convictions and privileges go and to see how deeply rooted some parts of the weeds are in us – and racial prejudice is one of them.
But then, “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of God” (Mt 13:43). The Good News is: The Kingdom of God is a place where all the evil will be left behind and where we will be freed of our own shadows and of the pain others have done to us. It will be a place where our inside will be equal to our outside and everyone will see it as good.
Don’t misunderstand this sermon and especially not this Gospel passage as a delaying tactic. The message is not, it’s all fine and just wait for the Kingdom of God and everything will be even better.
Yes, we can’t right all wrongs, not even in ourselves, and, yes, we are who we are as children of our up-bringing and shaped by our society and surroundings, but to open our eyes to our true and full being and to be honest to God and ourselves about the good and the bad united and intertwined in us, will be the very first step to prepare ourselves and this world for a time when we will be able to leave our weeds behind. And it is the very first step in order to get the weeds under control and to be more self-aware of our actions and the consequences of all we do for others now, in this world.
Shame about our true self will just keep everything as it is or make it worse. As God’s children we know that we are loved unconditionally as we are! So, let’s be honest to ourselves, to God and to one another about the part we play in this world for the good and for the bad. Then, we can do something about it and grow and learn together.