Saturday, February 18, 2012

Our Job and God's Job

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.  And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?'  He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'  But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  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.'"
     What is the point of this parable?  Some people focus on the enemy, and develop from this parable a theology of Satan, that he tries to infiltrate the ranks of the faithful with subversives who will pollute the church and knock it off course.  Similarly, some people focus on the weeds, that there are among us those who are not true believers, and one day it will be revealed who those imposters are, and they will be removed from our midst.  And others focus on the final destination of the weeds and the wheat, that there are some people who will be gathered at the end to be burned in the eternal fires of hell, and there are some people who will be gathered together to spend eternity in God’s barn, in heaven.
I don’t think any of those is the point that Jesus is trying to make.  In fact, I think all of those reflect a point of view that Jesus is in fact trying to correct in the telling of this parable.
     When Jimmy Carter gave an interview in which he talked about his Christian faith, he used a term that was familiar to Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, but unknown to most others, including a lot of Christians: born again.  The national media jumped on it as a means of saying that Jimmy Carter was claiming to be a different kind of Christian.  I don’t think he was, he was just using terminology that was common to his particular Christian upbringing.
     Well, then evangelicals, and, in particular, Fundamentalists, who had always kinda been using the phrase, really jumped on it, as a means of distinguishing between the weeds and the wheat.  In other words, there were people who called themselves Christian who really weren’t, and then there were the born-again Christians who believed in the fundamentals of the faith, who didn’t preach a works-religion, who didn’t baptize babies, who had walked down the aisle, prayed something called The Sinner’s Prayer, been baptized, had Quiet Times, witnessed to sinners, and served on church committees.  And so “Born Again” became something of a shibboleth: a word or phrase that showed you were one of the faithful.  If you had to ask what a born-again Christian was, it’s because you weren’t one.
Religion often tends to separate people into the ins and the outs.  This mindset was rampant among the Jews of Jesus’ time.  There were all kinds of groups that operated at different levels of exclusivity.  There were the Essenes, and very exclusive group that thought that all Judaism was corrupt and retreated to the caves around the Dead Sea to get away from the impurity of the faith.  There were the Sadducees, an elitist group that tended to be the wealthy and respectable, who held to an orthodox, conservative belief system but also advocated getting along with the Romans.  There were the Pharisees, a lay group that was actually the more liberal group theologically.  They believed that the reason Messiah hadn’t come was because Israel was unfaithful to the law, and so they set about to be extremely obedient down to the jot and tittle, and were judgmental of those who wouldn’t do the same.  And there were even two different groups of Pharisees that followed the teachings of two different rabbis and didn’t get along all that well with each other. 
     Each of these groups spent a lot of their time trying to weed out the fields, trying to separate the weeds from the wheat, the unfaithful from the faithful, the pretenders from the true believers. 
     Jesus says that’s not for us to do.  I think the point of the parable is in the interchange between the slaves and the landowner.  The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them (the weeds)?'  But he replied, 'No’. 
     It’s not our job to decide who’s in and who’s out.  God will do that, and he’ll do it in his time.
     The role of faith is to bring people together, not separate them.  Reconciliation, not judgment, is the job of the follower of Jesus Christ.
     It is this kind of life that Jesus calls us into.

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