Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43
In the centre of the South Island of New Zealand, is an area of outstanding natural beauty – the wilderness of Mt. Aspiring – which is truly inspiring. Obviously, the great producer Peter Jackson agreed with this description as he used the magnificence of the setting for his trilogy “Lord of the Rings” and for the Christmas blockbuster, “The Hobbit.”
“Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkein, is a classic work of high fantasy and like many other Artistic genres, the major struggle between good and evil is manifest throughout all the pages of the trilogy. It’s an epic story, apocalyptic in outcome if should evil prevail, but it culminates in the triumph of all that is good symbolised in the Return of the King, the Lord Aragorn.
JRR Tolkein berated his friend, CS Lewis for overtly religious references and truths in his stories – like the Narnia series, but it is hard not to assume that Lord of the Rings reflects Tolkein’s great faith and belief, however much he denied it. Good and evil march side by side throughout the trilogy, with emotions laid bare throughout. In the face of overwhelming odds, goodness never lies down to be trampled on, but rather marches gloriously and sacrificially onward, refusing to be daunted, facing evil with the altruistic belief that good will ultimately triumph for the benefit of all in Middle Earth.
Now if Jesus was living in our times he may very well have used this trilogy to emphasise the truths inherent in our Gospel Reading – but the story in the Gospel was told over 2000 years ago in Palestine and Jesus used an illustration from an aspect of farming life, that all listening to him would understand.
Today’s parable is the story of the “Wheat and the Tares.” ( page 979 , beginning at v 24) Tares are weeds that in growth looked very like a proper crop of wheat, but they were bad, sucking up nutrients and the cause of severe loss in the eventual harvest. In the story, Jesus tells us the farmer planted his wheat crop, but an enemy came during the night and scattered tare seeds amongst the crop. At the forming of the wheat ears the servants notice the look alike tares amongst the crop. They inform the master, and offer to try and pull out the weeds, but the master declares that he will wait until harvest to separate them so that the good wheat will not be destroyed inadvertently.
This is one of the few parables where Jesus actually provides an explanation of the meaning of the story. This is found in v 36-43. The field is the world, the farmer is the Son of Man, a favourite name that Jesus used for himself, the good seed represents good people and their actions and the tares represent those who perpetrate evil. Good and evil are allowed to grow together until the end of the age when goodness will triumph and “shine like the sun.” v43
So just like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, this parable is an allegory of good and evil. There are so many points that come out in this story but let’s look at three of them.
1. The Kingdom of God comes through a process of steady growth with patience. Seeing the tares amongst his wheat, the farmer had to await the outcome with patience. Sometimes, in the face of evil, and we have seen quite a lot it this week in the news, we long for God to act and put the world to rights, but as the theologian, Tom Wright, points out, “God has already done so – at Easter and what we are now awaiting and moving towards is the full outpouring of those events.
2. And this leads into the next major point, we are not expected to sit around waiting for these events to unfold like the guy who buried his talent in another story told by Jesus. We are expected to “shine like the sun in the Kingdom of God!”
You have probably heard on the news this week of the soaring temperatures in Southern Australia this last week.. Those of you who have experienced temperatures of 40+C know that the sun is unrelentingly hot and powerful – people hide from it, find shady corners and wear protective hats and veils. The people that Jesus was talking to understood this kind of sunshine, we, too need to try and imagine this kind of heat, because Jesus is saying that those who represent the good wheat are dazzling in their steadfast stance against evil and are unrelentingly powerful in seeking to overcome evil and its consequences by reflecting the dazzling glory of God here on earth. As the Thurs book group know, Tom Wright consistently declares that it our human purpose to reflect God’s glory on earth, but here, in this parable Tom goes a step further, saying that since we are all different, God intends that each of us should reflect a different facet of God’s glory, so that “when the human harvest is complete, we will not be like hundred’s of identical bundles of wheat, rather we will be as different as the flowers and shrubs in a well stocked garden.” In a nutshell we can’t sit around moaning and doing nothing about evil. We have to find ways in which we can shine like the sun, reflecting God’s goodness and glory.
3. The third point takes into account v 41-43 and the words here reflect the book of Daniel, in the OT. The Son of Man appears in Ch 7 of Daniel, the fiery furnace in the famous story in Ch 3 and the “righteous shining like the sun” in Ch 12v3. These words and the book of Daniel were very popular in Jesus’ time and by using them Jesus was asking his listeners to see these words afresh in the light of Himself. If we are to see them afresh and to understand what it means to “shine like the sun” then we have to live at a different human level to attain what our 2nd hymn suggested “wholesome grain and pure”.
Our third hymn(Lord, I come to you) will tell us to “rise like the eagle” with the Spirit leading us on in the power of God’s love. And if you think this is just flowery language we be-little our humanity. We have achieved so much in the field of science, medicine, athletics, sport, technology with lots more to come, so why limit ourselves spiritually. We can raise our humanity to infinitely higher levels of understanding of love and service, armed with “the heavenly grace” mentioned in our last hymn – we just need to “be still” with God as our 1st hymn suggested, so we can take the presence, glory and power of God into our daily living with all that might mean for each of us.
Once, in my previous church, the churchwarden preached a sermon on being perfect. He said how incredulous a phrase it was and how we all know that we can never achieve that, but he said that shouldn’t stop us from trying, rather it becomes our target, something to aim for. In deep communion with God through prayer and meditation we merge into the oneness that is God, and at that moment and for that duration we are perfect because God’s perfection is overlaid on us. We need to feel renewed, seeing God face to face in our prayers and communion so that we know no fear, only love as it powers through evil displacing and destroying it, so that the way of the King is prepared and restored.
Each one of us has a part to play in this restoration and we must not be overwhelmed by evil that seems dominant, but rise up like the eagle, undaunted. We may not see the results of our striving for good, but one day, as we soar like the eagle, we will see the God’s power manifested, changing renewing and transforming the world and we will know we have played our part in reflecting God’s glory into the world “like the shining of the noonday sun.”