Pentecost 9A, 2002
DON'T WEED! MAKE SPACE TO DEAL INCLUSIVELY
We have just heard a story.
A story - or parable - about wheat and weeds.
Let me now tell you a parallel story from Andrew Greeley.
Once upon a time there was an eighth grade church football team
that inherited a tradition of losing almost all the games of a season.
The other teams were supported by their parishes...
after school training.
The kids from St Useless didn't have
or much parental support.
They were talented, but untrained.
Then one day a young man watched them stumble through practice.
‘Can I help?’ he asked them.
The team was ready to accept help from anyone.
‘You fellas are the best,’ he said. ‘There's no reason you can't win the premiership.
But you have to practice, be confident in yourselves,
and be good friends.
‘No more fighting among the team or with me
if I'm going to be your unofficial coach’.
The kids agreed.
The first thing the coach taught them was how be friends
and play together with one another.
Then he told them, training session after training session,
how good they were.
Finally he made them work, work, work.
And you know what happened?
They went on from there undefeated and won the premiership.
‘He made us believe in ourselves’, the kids said.
The next year the parents hired a "real coach"
and the team finished last on the ladder. (AGreeley web site).
A nice so-called spiritual story you can tell in church?
Or a story which not only critiques and subverts the status quo,
but re-imagines a world that could be?
If we believe this football story, or this parable attributed to Jesus by Matthew,
are to be ‘spiritualised’ - I think it is traditionally explained as
“earthly stories with heavenly meanings” -
then we will more than likely opt for the ‘nice story’ tag.
And we won’t be alone. Much of the church treats parables this way.
Simple stories with trite meanings.
Often lifted out of their social and historical context
and reshaped into theological or moralistic fables bereft
of any political or economic edge or consequence.
Which is somewhat disappointing because that is not what parables are.
Bernard B Scott, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar,
and a student of the study of the parables, says:
‘The parables give us access to the way Jesus re-imagined the possibility of living, of being in the world. They are not just religious, not just about God, although they are that too... they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possibilities of life’ (Scott 2001:6).
So if we opt rather for the ‘critique’ and the ‘re-imagining’
then we will have grasped Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ purpose:
To get his hearers to see the world differently.
And that can be summed up in this phrase...
God’s reign is not an other-worldly proposition.
They - politicians, newspaper editors, TV reporters -
say the world is now different since 11 September 2001.
And I am sure it is.
And one of those differences is the great polarity that now exists between
Christian and Muslim,
Jew and Muslim,
Hindu and Muslim.
The daily news of suspected terrorist attacks - the enemy -
takes hope away and tries to convince us that human cleverness...
spying on the enemy
having the smartest weapons
living in constant suspicion of strangers, can save us.
Right now does not seem to be a good time for hope, for reason, for patience.
To allow both ‘wheat’ (the good blokes)
and ‘weed’ (the bad blokes) to grow together.
One is seen as having worth.
One is seen as being worthless.
In this context Bill Loader’s comment is, I feel, telling:
‘A sense that there is an enemy marks many societies, religious and otherwise. It is almost as though we need an enemy, an other, against whom to define ourselves. This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for survival... A mild paranoia keeps some people going and gives their lives meaning. There's 'them' and there's 'us'. The simpler, the better. This is the stuff of prejudice. Religion is
(often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place’ (Loader/web site).
The Jesus of Matthew, in telling this parable, suggests another position.
But with our tendency to domesticate parables
we can give Matthew’s point and circumstance
less attention than it deserves.
So what is Matthew’s circumstance?
Possibly the division in the Syrian synagogue between those Jews
who seek to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus
and those who don’t.
And what is Matthew’s so-called ‘point’ of the story?
Don't weed! Deal inclusively.
It is in the midst of the mess of conflictive coexistence that God is also revealed.
Not in some hypothetical situation
where ‘good seed’ or ‘fair dinkum congregations’ or ‘real Christians’
- usually champions of right - grow in pure isolation.
This does not suggest confrontation should be advocated.
But it does mean that where there is confrontation:
never cease to act graciously or to have compassion,
never write people off,
never uproot people in your mind or attitude
by treating them as no longer of any worth.
Which, in reality, can be somewhat difficult at times.
David Ranson is an Australian Catholic priest.
In a recent article in the publication Eremos, on reconciliation,
Ranson records a comment by the Buddhist Dalai Lama.
When asked did he hate the Chinese, the Dalai Lama replied ‘no’.
‘He remarked that the Chinese were indeed dominant and that he had no possibility of overthrowing them by might. Were he to hate them therefore no change would occur in the Chinese. But change would certainly occur within him. His own heart would become more tense, bitter and rigid. The only way forward then was to let go of the hateful feelings that might arise. In the space that ensued perhaps there was a
greater possibility for peace’ (Ranson 2002:7).
Parables - earthly stories with heavenly meanings?
Earthly stories with heavy meanings?
I think so!
For that does seem to be more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus.
Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-imagine the World. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.