Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sundays after Trinity (5)
Matthew 13. 24-30, 36-43 :
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Can you think of a situation, at a local, national or international level, where it would have been better for people not to act but wait rather than to act and make things worse?
Reflection on the text
In his parable of wheat and weeds, Jesus outlines a difficult-to-live-with but wise strategy in the furthering of God’s rule in the world, mindful of the great damage that evil opponents can do, without resorting to evil means.
Following the tension and conflict of Matthew 12, where Jesus is heavily criticised (12v1-8) and his life threatened (12v14) by the Pharisees who refuse to see the Spirit of God at work in his actions, chapter 13 is full of hope and promise. The parables here deal with opposition and evil threats to the fragile shoots of God’s growing kingdom. In this particular parable the kingdom is growing in hostile ‘soils’ surrounded by harvest threatening ‘weeds’. Jesus is confident that, in the end, nothing will frustrate God’s good purposes for the world but he cautions his hearers that there are wise and foolish ways of handling evil.
As we look at our world, and at the church, we can see both good and evil at work. They often exist side by side. The good is a source of hope and promise, the evil a source of despair arousing outrage and anger to the point of action and ‘quick fixes’. But our actions to rid the world or church of evil may not always result in the desired outcome and may leave us worse off, perpetuating a cycle of violence.
This parable points to the potential for good and evil in every human being and in every group of people.
Our lives, individually and collectively, are like a field where wheat and weeds grow together and we need always to recognize the potential for good and evil within ourselves and in every human being and group of people. We must avoid the mistake of projecting all evil onto others. The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us but lives in the hope that we will embrace the good and not let evil destroy us.
Jesus is clear: a kingdom of peace and justice cannot be brought into being by unjust, underhand or violent means. Violence is not an option for Matthew’s community, nor ours.
Maybe the best way to begin to respond to this parable is to grieve the plight of humanity.
some questions for group discussion:
- Some years ago, following 9/11, President George W Bush spoke of an ‘axis of evil’ which he was determined should be crushed by whatever means available. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq followed, conflicts in which many western nations remain embroiled with no end in sight. What alternative strategies could have been followed to deal with the evil of Al Qaeda?
- How does your Christian community go about handling serious issues that arouse deep anger? Think of serious disputes between members that spill over and affect everyone or serious misconduct by a member that brings the church into disrepute. Share examples of good and bad practice.
- Britain’s prisons are full to overflowing. Is a policy of filling up prisons with ‘evildoers’ the best answer to public concerns about rising crime levels in society? What alternatives might we follow?
- The imagery in this parable of burning up the weeds at the harvest is similar to that of the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 with vivid images of the fire and brimstone of hell (25v46). How do we reconcile a God who seems to be portrayed here as resorting to the violence of hell in dealing with evildoers with the God of the Sermon on the Mount who eschews violence? What alternative ways might Jesus’ words be understood? (If you have time, you may wish to listen to the podcast interview with Brian McLaren on this theme, or read Barbara Reid’s reflection, see below)
This will require a little preparation beforehand but we suggest you place a collection of weeds in a pot surrounding a cultivated plant (vegetable or flower).
Let this be the focus for your time of prayer. As you pray, become aware of your opwn personal capacity for evil as well as good. Then think of situations in the world (e.g. Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, etc.) and in your communities where evil and good are intertwined.
Pray for all who are wrestling with very difficult and complex problems where the potential for evil is heightened (e.g. churches wrestling with the issue of homosexuality or women in leadership).
Conclude your prayers with the Common Worship Collect:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
More background information
- The weed in this parable is bearded darnel (zinzania), a bitter and slightly toxic plant. In the early stages of its growth it looks very much like wheat, and is almost impossible to identify. The roots of darnel intertwine with the wheat and are virtually impossible to separate. Pull the darnel and the wheat comes out as well. So the farmer waits until the harvest and removes the weed before milling into flour. It is a labour intensive exercise as each grain must be removed by hand. This can be done because the darnel is a different colour.
- Note how Matthew 18 provides a way of confronting wrongdoing and evil in the community of faith.
- On grieving, Walter Brueggemann says ‘any effective criticism of the way things are now, and thus any change towards what they might become, must begin first of all in the capacity of the human heart to grieve, because grief is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.’ (source unknown)
- On (mis)conceptions of hell and biblical language of destruction listen to the following two interviews with Brian McLaren at http://www.enteuxis.org/leifh/bleedingpurple21.mp3 and http://www.enteuxis.org/leifh/bleedingpurple21b.mp3.
- For an interesting reflection on the text go to Todd Wei’s website at http://bloomingcactus.typepad.com/bloomingcactus/2005/11/matthew_132530_.html Barbara’s Reid’s reflection at http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/ParablesArticleReid.pdf is also helpful with regards parables with violent endings.