Church of England Diocese of Carlisle Brampton

Goodness and fairness

Do you believe in concepts like goodness and fairness, justice and truth??? And, if so, where do you think these come from? Are they just floating around in the ether?

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower is followed by his Parable of the Weeds. Jesus begins: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.”

Jesus goes on in his explanation to tell us that He is the sower. Jesus is the one who sows the good seed, and the field is the world.

But while everyone is sleeping, his enemy, the devil, sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

Tares are weeds that resemble wheat. They are very similar in appearance. In the parable, the devil deliberately pollutes the wheat field by sowing tares (or weeds) among the wheat; an act of vandalism. Only after the plants are partly grown does the problem become apparent.

The Rejection of Dualism

At first glance you see an element of dualism in this parable. Jesus, the Son of Man, sows good seed in his field. The devil then comes and sows weeds among the wheat. And the wheat and the weeds grow up together.

Dualism is the belief in two equal and independent powers. As the parable unfolds, we see that the two protagonists are not equal. And eventually, the weeds are pulled up and thrown into the fire.

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:43, NIV)

Patience is a Virtue

When the owner’s servants see the weeds growing up among the wheat, and learn that the owner’s enemy is responsible, they are appalled! “Do you want us to go and pull them out?” they ask. Let’s take a moment to think about the owner’s surprising response.

Many of us would expect the owner to say, “Yes! Get on with it.” But instead, the owner shows an amazing amount of grace, patience and wisdom.

“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”

The Lord is a Righteous Judge

There are three points to be made here. These are based on the belief, and understanding, that the Lord cares about goodness, fairness, justice and truth. He alone is the just and righteous judge.

Firstly, the separation of the wheat and the weeds is not the job of the servants who volunteer. The fact is that there are people in every age who would like to appoint themselves judge and jury over everybody else. Modern Britain is no exception!

Jesus warns them that they are not up to the task. “… because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.”

Even at their fairest and best, human systems of justice are flawed. They are presided over by weak and fallible human beings. At their worst these systems are downright evil. Just think of the kangaroo court, and angry mob, that condemned Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus gives people time to respond to message of the kingdom. The wheat and the weeds are allowed to grow together until the harvest comes. In his kindness, the Lord gives people time to repent and believe.

J.C Ryle quotes a charitable saying from Saint Augustine: “Those who are tares today may be wheat tomorrow.”

Thirdly, and finally, the Harvest will come, and on that day Jesus himself will sort the wheat from the weeds. On that day, the Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. As the Nicene Creed puts it:

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

This is a vitally important statement of faith. If you believe this to be true, you can accept the wheat and the weeds growing up side by side in the church, and in the world.

You can learn to accept, within the limits of God’s law, human flaws and human frailty. And you can resist the temptation those servants had to set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner.

But when men no longer believe, where they reject the concept of divine judgement, they are much more ready and willing to dispense that judgement themselves.

On Tuesday of this last week, France celebrated Bastille Day, a significant date in the revolution that turned into a bloodbath. The abiding symbol of justice associated with that revolution is, of course, the guillotine.

The concept of God as judge has become unpalatable in recent times. But looking at human history, and the times when humans have assumed moral superiority over one another, makes me yearn for the justice of God. Because, as the psalmist says, “He will judge the world in righteousness.”

The servants in Jesus’ parable were keen to assume moral superiority and to be let loose with their own version of the guillotine on the field of wheat and weeds, which represents the world.

“No,” Jesus tells them. The Lord is the righteous judge. Justice is His alone.

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:43, NIV)

Let us pray to the Lord of goodness, truth, justice and mercy.

Almighty God,

you know our needs before we ask,

and our reluctance in asking:

Set your servants free

from all anxious thoughts about the future,

give us contentment with your good gifts,

and confirm our faith

that as we seek your kingdom,

we may walk ever more closely with you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Revd Stephen Robertson

19th July 2020