Sermon: "God’s Forbearance"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Genesis 28.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-11, 22-23; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Last Sunday we focused on the Parable of the Sower. I quoted Barbara Brown Taylor’s interpretation:
The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.
We further noted Jesus’ interpretation of what was being sown – the word of the kingdom, and by extension, God’s love. Our God profligately sows love and would have us do the same.
This Sunday we consider another parable and another sower. Notice how Jesus began this 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” (Matthew 13.24-25; NRSV). Jesus is providing further insight into the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom which he came to establish on earth. The plants from the good seed and the weeds sprung up together. The master’s servants, having noticed the weeds, asked the master if he had not sown good seed, and if he had, how he could account for the weeds. The master replied that an enemy had sown the weeds. The servants then asked if the master would like them to gather the weeds. The master replied no, for in pulling the weeds, they would uproot some of the wheat; they were to wait until the harvest when he would tell the reapers to first gather the weeds and bind them in bundles to be burned. Having done this, they could then harvest the wheat.
Commentators believe the weed in question was darnel, a weed common to the region which resembles wheat. In darnel’s early stage, it is hard to distinguish it from wheat, but as the plant matures, the head on darnel grows straight up. In contrast, the head on a stalk of wheat fills with grain, becomes heavier, and bends downward. Thus, at harvest time one can easily separate the weeds from the wheat.
What lessons can we glean from this parable and the other lectionary readings?
The parable depicts the nature of God’s forbearance and forgiveness. Just as God profligately sows the word of the kingdom and love, God is patient and ever ready to extend forgiveness. Consider our reading from Genesis. Jacob was a bit of a scoundrel – he usurped Esau’s birthright, deceived his father that he might receive the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s, and fled to Haran where he encountered the God of Abraham and Isaac. We later encounter the story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God. As Jacob’s story continues to unfold, we see how God works through Jacob. Let’s admit it – most of us have a bit of the scoundrel in us and we wrestle with God!
God’s forbearance and forgiveness are further depicted in today’s psalm. The psalmist prays, “Lord, you have searched me out and known me … You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is so high that I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139.1, 4-5; BCP). The psalmist ends with this prayer: “Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting” (Vss. 22-23; BCP). These words, though in all likelihood not Jacob’s, certainly reflect Jacob’s experience – “Lord, you have searched me out and known me …”
In one of the alternative readings for today from the Wisdom of Solomon, we find these words: “Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins” (12.18-19; NRSV).
In the passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans, although Paul does not explicitly mention forbearance or forgiveness, what he writes is grounded in them. Not only do we experience forgiveness of our sins, we live in the Spirit, and we have received a spirit of adoption, for as Paul says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God;” and “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs” (Romans 8.14-17; NRSV). The Spirit of God helps us become the wheat God would have us become, some bearing a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
Let’s look more closely at becoming the wheat God would have us become. When we read the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we may find ourselves wondering – are we wheat or are we weeds? As the parable tells us, the kingdom of heaven presently contains both wheat and weeds. Indeed, most of us in the Church are part wheat and part weed, but God would have us become wheat. We have our faults which we strive to keep hidden from others, but when under pressure, the guard may fail such that people catch a glimpse of our weediness.
Jesus’ interpretation of the parable in verses 36-43 points to the establishment of the Church. Jesus’ ministry sowed good seed in the world, thereby creating the Church. The evil one sowed, and continues to sow, bad seed in the Church. Sometimes other members of the Church take it upon themselves to serve as disciplinarians. In some communities, people may be shunned, disfellowshipped, or excommunicated. Some of the darkest chapters in the history of the Church depict such actions, e.g., the Inquisition. As some are reputed to have said, “We may not be able to save your body, but we hope to save your soul.” Aren’t these the servants who would pull up the weeds before the harvest? But what does God say, “Be patient – wait until the harvest!” We are not to take matters into our own hands. When we do so, we typically resort to using violence to overcome evil, and in the process, we become evil. Rather than decrease evil, we end up increasing evil.
Jesus’ parables raised questions concerning the then prevailing image of God, and they continue to raise questions for our consideration. Although we are created in the image of God, I find myself wondering to what extent we have turned around and created God in our image. When we think of God as wrathful, avenging, and violent have we projected our own wrath, vengeance, and violence upon God. We tend to think of God’s love as limited, but the parable of the sower and the different types of soil reveal that God sows from abundance – God’s love is unlimited and God sows in a profligate manner. The parable of the wheat and the weeds reveals God’s forbearance and forgiveness – God is willing to wait for the harvest.
Our job is not to judge and to uproot the weeds from our midst; our job is to patiently love others as God loves us. Having said that, I grant there may be times when egregious actions merit judgment. For example, a priest engaged in sexual predation. But even then, we must carefully and prayerfully act in love lest we multiply evil. May God’s Spirit lead us into mature expressions of truth and love.
This collect from the Book of Common Prayer is suitable: “O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Cited by Susan Butterworth; https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/stones-wheat-and-weeds-proper-11-%E2%80%93-2017 )