SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE
ON JULY 20th, 2008
Matthew 13:37-38 “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world.” Most days during the week I walk to church. It has become a very familiar path as I walk down over the Vermont Street bridge, and then through the Uptown shopping centre to church. Over the years, of course, I have noticed familiar houses and people. On one corner has stood a lovely old house which looked as if nothing much has been done to it for years. So I was intrigued when earlier this year builders arrived and major renovations started. Appliances which looked as old as me were carried out, new ones arrived and were put in, and the place was repainted. Of course I was expecting a young family, perhaps with children, to move in – but to my surprise it was a senior couple. That was a couple of months ago. Last Tuesday as I walked past I could see the landscape gardeners were arriving complete with a little truck and a backhoe. When I returned back in the afternoon all the garden and lawn had been dug up – and not just the lawn, but the strip out the front as well. On Wednesday piles of dark soil had been dumped all around, and the backhoe was working like mad! All the old dirt was removed, and by Friday they were laying irrigation-pipes. By this time I had trouble remembering what it all looked like before! I couldn’t remember if there had been a garden, or lawn, or whatever. So were they just doing this for the sake of doing something new? Or was the lawn and the garden dying and needed replacing? Or was it perhaps because there were weeds in the garden? Had the lawn reached judgment day, as we heard in today’s Gospel? Today’s parable of the wheat and the weeds seems to be an image of just such a judgment day. Into the fire go the weeds, and the wheat is allowed to grow and flourish. Of course some preachers would like to focus on the second half of the story – a parable that is about God’s judgment at the end of time. But to me this parable illustrates something else. For me it is a parable about God’s love for his creation, as he allows the good and the bad to grow together until finally the time comes. To me it is a parable of God’s love – and his patience and forbearance. This theme of God’s patience and forbearance is also taken up by the first reading from the Old Testament and by the psalm. In Psalm 86, we hear: “Thou, O Lord God, art full of compassion and mercy: long suffering plenteous in goodness and truth”. I prefer another version: “Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. “Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. That is our God. Taking the parable of the wheat and the weeds to mean this, we can see its connection with last week’s parable of the sower and the seed, at the beginning of Matthew 13. The seed being scattered does not always fall on fertile ground, but sometimes falls on the path, and sometimes on rocky ground. The parable is described as an image of the growth, or non-growth, of the Gospel. So we understand that the Gospel does not always flourish – it may be rejected, or it may wither and die. Today’s parable continues that theme. It tells us that even if the Gospel seed does grow and flourish, it may grow alongside weeds. Just as last week’s parable could relate to us personally, so today’s parable relates to us personally. For many of us, our lives are a mixture of wheat and weeds. For many of us do not live our lives entirely with Christians, particularly in our working sphere. That is a fact of life. We live in a society and a world where Christians have to exist side by side with other religions, and with non-believers. Our young people are exposed, in this supposedly Christian country, to sinful behavior, and unhelpful values. It is the parable of the wheat and the weeds. To see a way forward I would suggest the agricultural metaphors that Our Lord gives us are very instructive. The points of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 are:
- Firstly, the need for fertile soil.
- Secondly, the healthy growth of the seed.
- And thirdly, the things that get in the way.
Taking that lawn and garden in Vermont Street as an example, we can see this. + Firstly, they cleared the ground. + Secondly, the irrigated.+ Thirdly, there is to be cultivation. So to take this personally, all of us need to clear the ground of our hearts and souls from time to time. A biblical term is “lying fallow” – a time for rejuvenation and for rest. Perhaps another word is a “Sabbath rest” – and not just on the seventh day of the week, but as a part of life more than just a 24 hour resting. We all need to stop and pause to think about our lives as we live them, and about our spiritual lives. We always do it in Lent as an annual exercise – but is that enough? Summer is also a good time when our schedules are not so busy. Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man”. So let’s make time for a Sabbath, if it was made for us. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of finding time. Sometimes circumstances may lead us that way. For example, we may be faced with a significant decision, or a change in our life, or with disappointments. So after the first comes irrigation. The image of watering soil is akin to Baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism uses water – and logically so. Not only is Baptism the primary Sacrament – it is the occasion for the planting of the Gospel seed in our lives, like in the parables. It is the beginning of growth as a Christian. And then, after irrigation comes cultivation. This is the necessary follow up to the previous steps. There come times even for the strongest Christian, when we feel mixed up with the weeds – a time when life can be frustrating, or we feel perhaps helpless. Where is love? Where is goodness? Where is God? As Psalm 63:1 puts it: “My soul longs for thee, like a dry weary land without water”. Water – and the absence of it – is one of the great images in the Bible – of God’s life. Remember Jesus said that the Holy Spirit was like a sprjng of water within us, welling up. What do we do? To use another example: here in San Diego we lack water so we pump it in and draw from it. So in our spiritual life we draw on the things Jesus Christ has left us to irrigate and cultivate our spiritual life:
- The Sacraments
- Bible Reading
- And for some, the Sacrament of Confession
I guess the disciples were surprised when Jesus told them the parable of wheat and tares. They would have thought of tares as out there somewhere. The mistake we make is to think that evil is out there. The line between God and evil doesn’t lie out there – it runs through the middle of everything. As Jesus said, “the field is the world”. To grow in it we need every spiritual gift and opportunity our Lord offers us.