Sunday, 19th July is ‘The Sixth Sunday after Trinity’ in the Church’s calendar.
Our Gospel reading from Matthew (Chapter 13. Verses 24-30, 36-43) contains a challenging parable. We hear about crops and weeds growing alongside each other. The natural temptation is, of course, to remove the weeds, but in doing so the crops could be damaged or removed also. What to do?
Waiting to see what happens in an effort to preserve the good crop sounds easy, but is so difficult in reality. ‘Wait’ is hard advice for all concerned people who can see the growth of good and evil side by side, when they don’t know how things will turn out. The danger is that when well-meaning people try to root out evil, they often root out much that is good at the same time.
However, in ‘waiting’ there is encouragement. The field in which the crops and weeds grow is the world - this baffling blend of beauty and brokenness. One day, there will be a universal sifting. Then it won’t be a matter of introducing a good kingdom that was not there before, but of collecting out of God’s world ‘all causes of sin and all evildoers’. This isn’t a picture of a mean and spiteful God pouncing, but rather a picture of a God who comes down hard upon everything and everyone who deliberately causes others to fall into sin and upon those who persistently initiate and perpetrate wickedness. Such a God is good news for the sinned against, and for those who sense their moral weakness, who find themselves longing for the good and bewailing how they fall short.
What of those who can’t wait for the sifting to begin?
The trouble is - as I guess Matthew knew - those who follow Jesus may be tempted to be more impatient than anyone else for the sifting process to begin. Disciples are often the ones most tempted to premature and zealous weeding, secure in the supposition that they are ‘wheat’ themselves! But that, in itself is to be a stumbling block and Jesus, in Matthew, has harsh words for stumbling blocks - who destroy the possibility of good in others instead of nursing it along. As one commentator put it, the kingdom of God as announced by Jesus was not, like some of the sectarian groups of the time, ‘the exclusive coterie of self-elected saints’.
But that’s the glory and relief of knowing that the kingdom belongs to God: knowing that it is God’s business to sift the good from the bad. Knowing that restrained waiting can enable the good to grow - in all sorts of surprising places, even within ourselves.