Sunday 20th July – Timothy Miller
Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 12.13, 16-19; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
May I speak in the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Amen.
‘For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ (Rom 8.24-25)
I am not sure what kind of relationship you share with the lectionary, but if you are anything like me you find yourself constantly thrown between the extremes of hearing words that resonate with your very core, and ones that are so foreign that they might as well be written in an alien language. I don’t think I have to tell you where I prefer to find myself. There is something very comforting when you hear scripture and find that you have, without much effort, crossed the chasm of time and culture to hear your own voice echoed in these sacred texts. It becomes much more disconcerting when the chasm seems not only too large to cross but when it appears to widen the more you seek the other side.
Over the centuries, different members of the church have sought ways to cross the divide of our present with the church’s past. One practice of contemplation, which I find very useful in this task, was set out by St Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a firm believer that God could speak to us as much through our imagination as through our thoughts and memories; contemplation was about exercising the imagination and allowing God to speak to us in new and perhaps different ways. When I was introduced to Ignatian contemplation we were simply asked to imagine which character in the reading we felt ourselves most connecting to. We were encouraged to allow our imagination to give life to us in that character and then we were asked which character we didn’t find ourselves connecting with and why. If you are looking for different ways to engage with Scripture, imagination and characters are two places I would commend to you.
In our gospel reading we hear tell of the parable in which slaves of the master are concerned when they find weeds growing amongst the grain which their master has planted. In this passage I find myself resonating with the master’s slaves. They remind me so clearly about what I used to believe of plants; to me plants were inactive, passive bits of creation that were dependent on humankind to reach their purpose and have meaning.
I was not unaware of vegetative life; both of my parents were avid and active gardeners. There was always an array of flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables to be found in our garden. Mom and dad gave time and attention to plant, tend and care for their garden. I knew that plants were alive but that really meant nothing to how I understood them.
When I was fourteen we moved to a rural town in the Canadian prairies that was extremely dependent on agriculture. Our town was drastically affected by the livelihood of the local farms and the markets they sold to. I worked in our local coffee shop and heard day in and day out of the ups and downs of the farms, the good and bad of the crops and harvest, and yet the plants remained dead to me. They were simply commodities in the wheel of life. Amongst other things, this low view of vegetation meant that passages and parables around plant life held little value and meaning to my life.
When I was twenty I worked for a company that specialised in vegetation management; basically, we drove around hundreds of miles of land spraying people’s unwanted weeds. It was seasonal work that I ended up doing for three years. Each year we had more expensive and specialised chemical, and each year I found the resilience of the plants greater than the year before. It was at this time that my view of plant life began to change.
Customers contacted us for one of two reasons, they either wanted all vegetation growing in a certain area to be killed off or they wanted specific weeds killed off so the desired vegetation continue its natural growth. We were specialists who had the best money could buy so that you could have the exact outcome you wanted; well, that is what we aimed for. Every year, regardless of the strength and type of the chemicals we used, there was always some vegetation that seemed determined to survive. I saw first hand the resilience and strength that a plant could have, and often needed to have, if it were to grow and flourish wherever it was planted.
In the gospel the Master tells his slaves to leave the wheat and the weeds to grow together. He tells them that if they were to pull the weeds they would also uproot the wheat. The master is not unaware of issue nor of the possible solutions to the problem at hand. What seems like a solution to the slaves is, as the master tells them, actually a quicker means to death for the wheat they desire to save.
I know I am not the first person to look out on the world and think that God is not quite getting things right. This week our news has been overrun with stories of death, destruction and war. Yesterday, there was a massive protest in the city for the people to stand in solidarity with others in the world who dare dream, hope and demand the freedom of Palestine. Everyday, we as with many others, find ourselves praying for peace in our world. We pray for lives which have been stolen and sold into slavery. We pray for those who are sick and in need. We pray for people when their loved ones die; for comfort for all who are bereaved. Why aren’t the weeds simply collected to be burned so the wheat is able to grow?
My time with vegetation taught me that the life and growth of the plant is not a docile exercise in long-suffering. Patience is not the passive waiting for something to happen, it is the active participation in the possibilities we hope for, in the growth we are yet to see. A plant does not wait to see if it grows; it seeks to grow and aims to be found bearing good fruit for the purpose it was created. In a field of wheat, if weeds are sown amongst the crop, the wheat will have to fight for its roots to find depth, water and nutrients. It will be necessary for it to grow tall if it has any hope of drinking in the sunlight that the weeds will block out. The strength and perseverance of the wheat is necessary for it to grow in the face of opposition and through the dynamics of the surrounding climate.
The good seeds, we are told, are the children of the kingdom, the righteous, and they will one day shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. This glory, this light, the life of the wheat tells of the life of the Father’s kingdom. Paul writes, that it is the Spirit of God, in us bearing witness to our spirit by which we say ‘Abba! Father!’ We are children of the kingdom because in baptism we are welcomed into the family of God. This welcome we do not earn, nor are we asked to repay this adoption, it is a gift. The Father welcomes and embraces his children, and his children are planted. Planted not so they can validate the father’s love but so that they may grow, live and flourish and testify to God’s kingdom which we and the whole of creation eagerly await.
This revelation, the growth of the wheat, is rooted in patient hope. We are not naive to the problems of our world, but we are not overcome by the weeds that seek to cover our lands in darkness; for our patient hope is in the master who has not abandoned his fields and is not afraid of the enemy’s plot. Our hope rests in our God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and in this hope we find the strength to drive our roots deeper into this world, through the tangle of weeds. We root ourselves in the life of the kingdom through prayer, the reading of scripture, the Eucharist and fellowship. As our roots become more established our stalks grow stronger and taller and we reach toward to sun; that through our lives, in our day to day living, we testify to our present God who we worship, magnify and proclaim.
Patience is not the passive waiting for something to happen, it is the active participation in the possibilities we hope for, in the growth we are yet to see.