June 25th, 2017
Lord, consider my thoughts, guide my words and make them acceptable to you and accessible to those who would hear them. Amen
There is a tricky path to be trod between loving God’s creation, our fellow human beings, and condoning or not decrying hateful acts. We have seen that this week and in the last several months; the Gospel reading addresses that issue without necessarily providing us with a definitive answer. It provides an answer to one side of that dilemma but not the other.
Jesus employs parables to teach his followers about the kingdom of heaven. For the purposes of today, let’s assume that the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven (which is the term Matthew uses in todays lesson) or simply the Kingdom are all the same thing.
In this gospel, the spiritual kingdom of heaven is put in opposition to the earthly kingdom of the enemy, the evil one. The evil earthly kingdom that the Jews of the 1st Century lived in was the kingdom of the Roman Emperor, the tyrant who crucified thousands at the drop of a hat, who was out certainly the enemy and evil. The emperor’s kingdom was on earth. The kingdom of heaven is where God reigns. Jesus coming onto the earth represents the Kingdom of God breaking into the Kingdom of the Roman Emperor.
This makes explicit that the gospel is a political document. The writer of Matthew is proposing an alternative understanding of the world, one that would directly oppose the political leaders of his time. As such, clear lines were drawn. Which kingdom would prevail? Whose empire would those who listened to Jesus participate in? We can comfortably say that in this respect not much has changed.
We don’t in Canada currently live in tyranny, but it is present throughout the world.And even governments which are not tyrannical move towards evil rather than good sometimes. How about the residential schools in Canada, deemed an attempt at cultural genocide. Or the 2nd Iraq War (which Canada fortunately refused to participate in) which was built on the lie that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. I use obvious examples to make the point but many times governments make decisions, often secretly, that aren’t exactly on the right side of the line dividing good from bad. Expediency has been a part of government for a very long time, including the governing of the church.
Divisive battle lines are drawn in the sense that each one of us must choose our allegiance -- to God or to the enemy. While this might be obvious to all of us here, what choosing the enemy actually means is a whole lot less clear. Most of us here live somewhere between the two because to perfectly choose the Kingdom of God would be to live faultlessly. That’s beyond my reach and, I suspect, most of yours. So I would guess that we all choose the earthly kingdom over the kingdom of God some of the time.
Jesus begins the parable of the weeds by telling the crowd: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away”. The crowd is alerted to the fact that there is opposition to the kingdom of heaven; there is an enemy who seeks to do harm.
But the establishment of opposites, of dichotomies, is dangerous and has significant implications for us today. Opposites such as “us versus them” or “savage versus civilized” or “good versus evil” are ways in which we try to divide our world into two - those with us and those against us, as George Bush used to say. When we reduce our worldview to such sharp divisions, such opposites, we often lose the ability to see the best interests of the community as a whole.
We have had a good example this week of how highly divisive this can be. You will remember that a shooting occurred on the evening of January 29, 2017, at a mosque in Sainte-Foy, near Quebec City. Six people were killed and nineteen others injured when a gunman opened fire just before 8:00 pm, shortly after the end of evening prayers. In the aftermath, the Quebec City Muslims were promised a cemetery, something they had been seeking for sometime, as the nearest (and only) Muslim cemetery in the province is in Montreal. This week that request was rejected in a highly publicized referendum in Saint-Apollinaire and their have a number of hateful acts against Muslims since then. There appear to be no winners in this us-and-them battle, decided by very few but of importance to very many. The Muslims won’t get their cemetery there and the opponents won’t get a non-denominational cemetery either. The opponents were supported by La Meute, an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim group, celebrating the successes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, while equating all Muslims with terrorists.
It seems we are witnessing this kind of simplistic division between us and them a great deal in our current political environment, where similar lines have been drawn - liberals versus conservatives, Republican versus Democrat, pro-Trump versus anti-Trump for Muslims or against Muslims. Such distinctions most often result in conflict that can easily escalate into violence, which overshadows a desire shared by most citizens to identify the common good for all.
The solution to the tendency to divide our world into two is found in this parable. Jesus teaches: “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn”.
The farmer who owns the field understands that once they are together, the weeds and wheat must grow together since the destruction of one can lead to the destruction of the other. Likewise, our tendency to split our world into two -- believer or nonbeliever or Christian or Muslim -- is not useful. We are in this world together, whether this world is the planet, our country, our community, or our congregation. We should acknowledge that we need each other to survive. We must grow together and allow God to do the separating in God’s own time.
On the other hand, can we really decide to just live together with somebody who walks into a mosque and kills six people any more than we want to grow together with members of ISIS whose object in life is to eliminate non-Muslims in the most violent and abhorrent manner? We pass judgement on people like that and the text clearly imagines God’s judgement. “The Son of Man will send his angels, who will gather out of his kingdom every cause of sin and all whose deeds are evil; these will be thrown into the blazing furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” But that is the judgement of God, not by us.
I don't find judgement alone a helpful image. I can only understand judgement in this way: judgement is a logical necessity for us to function. If we are people of free will, truly human, we must be free to pass judgement on the enemy, the purveyor of evil, and reject God’s love of them. How otherwise can our society operate? We must find that tricky path between loving God’s creation, our fellow human beings, and condemning hateful acts.
But the love of God is such that God will wait forever in case an evil person should change his or her mind about carrying out evil deeds, even murder. So who am I to judge that from this day on, members of ISIS will never see the evil they have done. It is happening now and has been for some time. Canadians who have gone to join ISIS come back disillusioned from Iraq or Syria saying “I thought ISIS was a noble cause but I now see it is a grab for power and wealth.” As towns like Mosul are liberated, disillusioned women are coming forward to say they discovered the evil in ISIS, but too late. (I recognise that this can be a ploy to escape, but presumably that doesn’t apply to everyone.)
How can I know that people committing evil will no longer ever, in any circumstances, respond to the love of God? Who am I to define the reach of God’s love, saying that some are permanently beyond it? Jesus says “Have you never read in the scriptures: the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes?” One thinks of other rejected stones; Luther, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Bishop Romero. Perhaps it would be best if we passed judgement less often and did more loving, trusting God to sort out what needs sorting at the end.