Sunday 23rd July
Sunday 23rd July 2017 Gen 28:10-19 Rom 8:12-25 Mt 13:24-43
I have to admit that weeding isn’t one of my better skills. Little aptitude for gardening at all, though happy to do heavy work like digging as directed by Jean, but anything delicate just isn’t for me, and I can never tell how to decide when a plant should be designated as a weed. Indeed, some years ago, when Jean asked me to pick some spinach for Sunday Lunch, we finished up trying to eat cooked dock-leaves! Well, they were green and in the spinach patch, so how was I to know?
So I have considerable sympathy with the farmer we read of in our Gospel, who on discovering weeds in his newly-sown crop of wheat, instructs his labourers to leave the task of weeding until harvest. I’m amazed he could tell so quickly that there were weeds in his crop, where I’d have been blissfully unaware, for if, as is generally believed, the weed was Darnel, then I’m told that they are incredibly difficult to distinguish, even for an expert, until ripe, when wheat is a golden brown and darnel turns black. So how sensible to suggest waiting until harvest before separating these crops; a process which, at that stage, even I might have had a chance of getting right.
But this story, which is one of comparatively few that the Disciples later asked him to explain, is used by Jesus to illustrate an important point; that we who serve him, may well be indistinguishable from his enemies for most of our lives. How true of course that was for Judas, who all believed to be entirely loyal to the cause of Christ, right up until the very last. And Jesus further explains that, for that very reason, the ultimate judgement and separation of these two groups is the prerogative of the Angels, that they, with all their overall perspective, and not we from our limited vision, are equipped to make this decision. How often indeed we fail on that, as we so regularly pass judgement on those around us.
And that decision is for very good reason, as illustrated in our recent examination of the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs. What a nasty piece of work most of us would consider Jacob, as we read last week of his coercing his near starving brother to forgo his birthright in exchange for a dish of stew. And nastier still his actions in the following chapters as, with his mother’s connivance, he deliberately misled his aging father with lies and deceit to bestow on himself the inheritance blessings due to Esau. The understandable anger and hurt caused by this action led to Jacob having to flee quite literally for his life, never to see either of his parents again, going to Haran, his original ancestral home, to work for his uncle Laban, who proved every bit as good at deceit and deception as Jacob himself.
But if we’re tempted to write Jacob off as a thoroughly bad lot, who deserved all he had coming to him, we’d be doing him a gross injustice; putting ourselves in danger of making the very error Jesus warned against in his parable, of being so anxious to root out the bad, we finish up destroying the good as well. For despite his unquestionable guilt, Jacob, unlike his brother, truly valued God’s covenant with his parents and longed to be a part of God’s work, as demonstrated in today’s Genesis reading. For this picks up the narrative as Jacob heads out towards Haran. Doubtless exhausted after a long days flight, putting maximum distance between himself and his vengeful brother, Jacob finds somewhere to rest, using a suitably comfortable rock as a pillow. His mind, probably filled with a mix of doubts, fears and anger, his sleep is filled with a vision that’s far more than a mere dream, in which he finds himself confirmed and strengthened in his journey by none other than Almighty God.
And whilst perhaps it may be dangerous to spiritualise this dream too much, reading all manner of things into it, I’d suggest that we need at least to recognise a few key elements To begin with, the first thing Jacob was aware of was a ladder set nearby, stretching up into the far distance of heaven itself. Then second, as he studied the ladder further, he noticed Angels moving up and down, and lastly as he allowed his eyes to move beyond, he became aware of the presence of God Himself, who effectively completely took over the entire scene, so that Jacob was no longer conscious of ladder or angels, but only of the all-encompassing presence of the Lord and of the continuing promise that was being made to him, far greater than the blessing he’d swindled out of his father. This blessing was being given freely by the Lord Almighty, without demand, and knowing the full scope of Jacob’s failings.
And as I read this, I find myself seeing the positive in Jacob that God had recognised all along. And Jacob’s reaction? Nothing of the pride and grasping nature we’ve come to expect, but utter humility and fear. He realises he’d failed to recognise God’s presence in that place – the place of suffering, anguish and doubt as Jacob faced an uncertain future. Yes, God was there, as He always is, and we, so often like Jacob, see only our own problems, and need that bridge of Angels to help us recognise His presence. And in recognition of the awesome holiness of God, Jacob was afraid. The fears of brother, of the journey ahead and of his destiny in Haran were all suddenly as nothing in comparison with the awesome majesty of Almighty God. And it is most certainly true that the more we, like Jacob, can have a vision of God’s presence, His Holiness and magnificence, then the less seems the significance of any other worries or problems we may face.
So St Paul says in that fairly complex chapter we read from his letter to the Church in Rome “whatever problems or sufferings I may have to endure at present, they’re utterly insignificant in comparison with the wonder and glory that God has got lined up for us!” That, in many ways is Paul’s equivalent to the discovery that Jacob made in his vision. And it’s a vision we all so desperately need to discover. For too much of our lives are spent in judging others, and yes ourselves much of the time as well, instead of leaving such matters in the hands of God and of His angels. And so much of our time is spent in concern for our own futures and personal suffering instead of allowing ourselves to bask in the amazing Glory of God who actually has such incredible plans for us, if only we realised it, in the light of which our worst fears simply vaporise to be seen as nothing.
Duncan Burr, 23rd July 2017 at Mojacar
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Church of England