Every generation has its “isms” which stand opposed to Christ’s message and threaten to relegate Christianity to the history books. “Islamism” and big S Secularism worry us most today. The media tries desperately to convince us that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims are peaceful; the religion itself proclaims peace upon the house of Islam, but in the “house of war” – well the name says it all. By big S Secularism I mean not the separation of church and state, but the attempt to create a world culture with God removed. These two “isms” are happy to see Christianity in decline, and sometime they appear to prevail. There are other problems, of course. The biggest challenges are apathy and revisionist versions of Christianity within our churches.
How Christians respond will depend in part on how threatened we feel. The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 helps us see how Jesus felt about opposition.
The kingdom of heaven, he said, is like a man who sowed his field with good seed, but an enemy came at night and over-sowed the crop with weeds. You can imagine the dismay of the farmer and his servants when the plants appeared. The only thing for it was a mammoth weeding exercise. Anyone who has had any experience of gardening knows this is the best thing to do. So the farmer’s decision to do nothing is more than surprising: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” It sounds like a lot of work for what is bound to be a very meager return. I think any farmer listening may have scratched his head and remembered that after all Jesus was trained as a carpenter!
What in fact Jesus is revealing here is God’s strategy for building his kingdom. John the Baptist announced that God was going to bring about a great separation of the righteous and the wicked; he would clear his threshing floor, gather the grain into his granary and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. He expected that the Coming One would get straight to it. But now comes the Son of God preaching forgiveness and sowing the world-field with his life-producing gospel. And as the new life began to appear, so did all the other growth of “isms”, mutant gospels and apathy that have characterized the past two thousand years. Far from carry out the great separation then and there, Jesus lets all grow together until the harvest. It was not as John imagined, nor did it please his disciples, but Jesus knew it was the best way to get the crop he longed for.
We should learn from this firstly that the kingdom of God will come. Jesus had no doubt about that; at the time of the harvest something will be found to garner, and it will be a better harvest for doing things his way than any other. Second, we should see that it is the Lord’s decision to allow his children to grow up in the midst of opposition. He could have ordered his servants to remove the weeds, but no, he allows all to ripen together. There must be a good reason for that.
Let us pause here and reflect how different Jesus’ strategy is from that of Islam. Muslims, like us, want to see the kingdom of God established on earth. But their strategy is to create here and now a pure Muslim society and remove from it all who might bring contamination. Jesus words are sobering: “No! In pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat.” Attempts to create a pure society have never succeeded. Not many years ago sixty million souls were rooted up in the USSR in the attempt. That was the “ism” of another generation. We must resist the temptation to think we Christians could do it better. The Devil masquerades as an angel of light, and so do his children. If preferment is to be had through the Church, they will soon find a way to take over. Sadly, most of those who were weeded out in the days of Church power were God’s true children.
The third lesson - from the parable’s interpretation – is that the great separation is to be carried out not by humans, but by angels. God once used Israel to make a separation, but much wheat ended up as weeds, and some weeds ended as wheat. At the end of the age – God will send out his angels, and notice that the first thing they will do is gather the weeds. This is the reverse of our usual picture of Christ’s coming. We imagine him coming to rescue his children from the world – taking them away to the home he has prepared for them. Not so! The weeds are removed first, and lo, the kingdom which God has been quietly preparing through the ages is found to be there all the time. And what a kingdom it is revealed to be! The Lord’s strategy will turn out to have worked: there will not only be a harvest, but it will be a harvest of good fruit. “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Jesus told this parable to instruct us about something vital. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” We should not despair at the prevalence of opposition and apathy. It has to be. We should get on with gospeling, sowing the seed that will grow the world–to-come. This is the way God has decreed that his kingdom will come.
1 November 2016