If you remember from a few months ago, we talked about the parable of the rich fool – this man making big plans for his retirement only to be waken up in the middle of the night by the voice of God telling him how he’s about to die and be faced with his judge this very day, all his goods lost and all his plans for the future doomed. Remember? That’s when I told you there was something really unique about Matthew’s Gospel and you have to leave it or take it, love it or hate it (and I know more than a few people for whom Matthew is their “least favorite Gospel” to put it mildly). But this is how it is: Matthew’s is spooky and eerie and disturbing and frightening and in Matthew’s Jesus tells you stories you find nowhere else, stories that just send you chills right down the spine – and I think this is exactly what we have today with the parable of the wheat and the weeds and the return of the Son of man.
As I was reading this story (over and over) I was wondering if Jesus was re-using already well known symbols and images or actually creating them: Death as a “reaping angel”, hell as the “furnace of fire”, pain and regrets as “weeping and gnashing of teeth” – One thing is sure, those expressions are strongly embedded in our imagination and so if you pay a little attention, the story of the wheat and the weed is really, really a scary story. Now as I was considering this, I wondered though: Who does not like a really good scary story? Who does not like a scary story? I know I do. Not a violent story, not a horror story, not a despair story – just a good story that sends you chill down the spine, the kind of story you really enjoyed hearing and telling when you were a child, at sleepovers and at camps, even if it kept you up all night after that.
And so I thought – well, maybe that’s the way we can reconcile ourselves to these difficult passages in Matthew’s,imagining a Jesus who loved to make up scary stories for a crowd who actually loved to be terrified by them – as we ourselves enjoy a good fright from time to time. It’s not a joke though, and Jesus was not an entertainer but Jesus told stories to help people think about their lives – and to do that, he had to capture their imagination by using powerful images. Jesus is not entertaining, but he is not threatening either – and I think this is what we have to keep in mind to be reconciled with the stories in Matthew’s. We’re often worried Jesus is threatening us with those stories when he is just trying to capture our attention to help us see things in a different way. When we threaten people, we scare them with something they should not have to be afraid of – that’s not what Jesus is doing. But when we tell scary stories, we awaken a fear that’s already there – and I think this is exactly what Jesus is doing. Jesus is talking to a fear that is deep inside of us, and doing so, as with any kind of literature since the birth of Greek tragedy, he helps us explore what it means to be human, what it is to be in the world, and what it means to be mortal.
And so this is how it goes. Jesus compares our world to a field and our lives to a mix of wheat and weed (we don’t know exactly if it is different kind of people, or different kind of things we have in our own hearts), and those weed and wheat grow together until one day the reapers come to get rid of the plants that haven’t given any fruit and burn them, while they only save the good crop. And so this is the point: either you grow into wheat and you’ll be saved and “shine like the sun” for eternity, either you’re a meaningless weed that will be taken by the angels of death and burnt to the bone, destroyed entirely although their will still be room for your soul to be tormented.
That’s really scary, isn’t it? With this story, Jesus is touching our deepest and most intimate fears and so it’s terrifying but it’s also a good way to actually release those fears, have a good look at them and move on to what God is inviting us to do about them – and I would like to explore that a little with you today.
What is it that we fear the most? I think our parable today bring answers to that question and takes us a little deeper than what common sense would agree on.
What is it that we fear the most? Death would be the immediate answer, correct? But it you think about that, death might not be the ultimate answer. In our story, both wheat and weed are taken from the field, only the weeds are meant to be burnt and destroyed when the wheat is collected to become bread, food for the world – which leads me to think that our deepest fear might not be death, our deepest fear might be rejection, meaninglessness and destruction.
What the story tells us is that we are meant to grow and being given away like wheat instead of perishing like useless weed. Our deepest fear is not (or should not be) the fear of death, it’s the fear of nothingness – of not being able to bear any fruit.
And you know, it makes sense to me, because I’ve met a lot of people in my life who weren’t that afraid of dying actually, and they weren’t that afraid of dying – not necessarily because they were “good people” having done everything “right”, patiently waiting for their “reward”. They weren’t that afraid of dying because they’ve had a full life – maybe not a life of great accomplishments – but a life that has been filled with love, creativity and generosity – a life that already shone like the sun – a life that has been lived for the sake of others and for something greater than just mere survival and selfish gain. Wheat, instead of weed.
To me, this is what the Gospel calls us to do and calls us to be. More than doing good, or being nice or right or pious: Bearing fruit.
And if you think about it, it’s maybe what the whole Bible is about. Being fruitful is the first commandment God gives to Adam and Eve, long before “Thou shalt not kill nor commit adultery” and in these past weeks we have been through many, many of those stories in Genesis and it’s always about people being called from barrenness to having an offspring. We can take it very literally – as did the Hebrews – it’s about birthing babies – but we can also see it in a more spiritual light: It’s about bringing forth life.
Our life is about bringing forth life and make all the choices that are life giving, life affirming, life sustaining. God revealed Godself as the God of the living – as Jacob encounters God in our text today: The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac.
So yes, of course, our deepest fear is nothingness but not because we are meant to be nothing, quite the opposite: because we are meant to be everything – to shine like the sun – to be part of a life that is so much larger than us, to be part of a life that is still to be revealed. Choosing everyday what is life giving, life affirming, life sustaining against destruction, status quo and morbidity. The world is maybe not so much the theater of the war between good and evil, maybe it’s more about being pushing against nothingness. Our world is the theater of being pushing against nothingness like the wheat growing among the weeds.
It’s scary, yes. Today, Jesus is telling us a scary story and it’s the story of our lives, but in the midst of that, we find God’s faithfulness and infinite patience, a God who isn’t willing to uproot anything that hasn’t matured yet, anything that hasn’t been given a chance to become what it’s meant to be. We meet a God who has all the time in the world when our time is short, a God who knows exactly when we are ready or not and what to do with us.
In a time when so many of our fears are being released, may we know that this is how it goes with God. May we leave behind our selfish and barren ways. May we find a God who is life giving, life affirming, life sustaining and not a judge. And may we dare to trust this God to sustain our growth and to lead us to bear fruit, and not be afraid.