It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine. (Lyric by R.E.M.)
Apologies. This is going to be one of those blogposts that put earworms in your head.
Sunday's gospel reading is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
On first reading, this parable and its interpretation bothered me. Not least because of its hellfire, end of times, apocalyptic feel.
I also had my rabbi (my boss) in my head saying: "That's anti-Semitic." Whereupon I cringe in horror and try to explain that that's not how we Christians read it now.
Anyway, so what to do with this troublesome passage?
I read copious commentaries (Feasting on the Word, an ancient Interpreter's Commentary and a circa 1960s Wesleyan commentary on the KJV translation) to no avail.
I was about to give up on the idea (after all, I am on retreat) when staring out at the Santa Barbara hills, I decided to look at my beliefs to see if they could be reconciled to this story.
I believe that with the resurrection of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is here. Not near, not some angelic afterlife, but here, now. We co-create with God until the world is made anew, God's kingdom. In Judaism, this is known as tikkun olam, healing the world.
Jesus describes the field in this parable as the world (v. 38): whether it's the entire planet, the Roman Empire, or the kingdom of Israel, is not really important because the parable works in all three spaces, and transcends them.
The harvest of the wheat (the good seeds) cannot happen until both wheat and weed are ripe. Most of the commentaries referred to the weed as darnel, which looks just like wheat until the heads are ripe. Worse, the darnel is poisonous, so it's important to wait.
This is good and evil growing together, plans and actions ripening, working together or loving each other just as Jesus continued to work with and love Judas, even through the Last Supper.
God's promise is to make all things new. All things. Not just good things or righteous things. Most (if not all) of us are a mix of the two anyway.
God will make all things new through love and reconciliation. There will be much gnashing of teeth as we struggle to find our way through and it may get hotter before it gets better.
The "furnace of fire" in today's gospel? While it immediately brings to mind hellfire and brimstone sermons, let's not get into the whole "how good do I have to be to avoid that?" guilt inducer, and turn instead to Handel's Messiah:
"And He shall purify:
And He shall purify
The sons, the sons of Levi
That they may offer unto The Lord
An offering in righteousness,
In righteousness." (Malachi 3:3)
In the refiner's fire, all shall be purified and that is why the righteous will shine like the sun. We'll have been polished and been polishing, alongside God, until we are all made new through love: God's patient love for us, and our love for each other.
[There are four earworms in this post. Admittedly one is a little obscure. The first was R.E.M., the second was David Haas' "God You Make All Things New", and the last two were from Handel's Messiah "And He Shall Purify" and the bass solo that either comes before or after that and bounces through the i's in "refiner's fire". You're welcome.
This is also my first post through the BlogGo app.]