Alison video – https://youtu.be/C5Zw-d6qGG0
Bishop Peter video – https://youtu.be/7RlDPoZaS6M
Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
We can’t seem to be able to get enough of TV shows where panels of experts judge others. It all started with singing and dancing, but now reaches into the world of diving, ice-skating, pottery, baking, sewing, gardening, interior design and decorating and so forth. Sometimes the idea is that the people who act as judges also act as coaches for groups of contestants – which immediately adds bias (most visible on the X-factor in my opinion!). Sometimes just the judges have a say. Sometimes they are real experts in their field (but not always!). We have the spectacle of sewing or pottery or baking where it becomes about what can be achieved against the clock! I have yet to meet anyone who does these things for pleasure were speed of production is the most important characteristic, but in these shows the successful contestant needs to be talented as well as fast! Sometimes the public at large is also required to sit in judgement with phone or app voting as Big Brother – daddy of all reality shows had it – You decide. This can add another dimension into these judgements. At times I am mystified by what the voters like in relation to what I saw! We all add our own ideas, conceptions and biases to this process. This is probably the time to confess – I would probably count as a bit of a strictly super fan! (Oh dear), and sometimes it is more about the demographic that watches and votes than anything else!
That rather tricky parable we heard as our gospel today is also about judgement. Like many of Matthew’s parables its complicated. This time again like last week’s we get the story straight and then a few verses on the explanation of what it is about. I never think a parable is going to be an easy one when it contains the phrase ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. So let’s start at the beginning.
Good seed is sown by the farmer in his field and weeds by an enemy of the farmer. Where does this start and what does this say to us – Having an enemy in the first place has a part to play. As Christians trying to build for peace and harmony with our neighbours and not building up distrust and emenity in our relationships is important. Getting to the point where we would describe someone as our ‘enemy’ is quite far gone and is pretty strong language. Let’s find a way of peace of reconciliation long before that….
But if we have got to the place where the farmer had it is too late for that. The seed is sown so to speak. The first the farmer would have known is when the crop began to grow and both things sprouted. I find it it interesting that both good and evil grew up together. When we know something is not good – we often try and nip it in the bud so to speak. This is not advised here. A commentary I read said the weed in question was probably something called Darnel, which had an intricate root system. This would have surrounded the simpler root system of the wheat, which would have made it impossible to pull up just the weeds at an early stage… In life yet we often observe a mix like this – great good alongside great evil. The individual stories of heroism in times of great conflict – speak into this. Good fruit has come despite the conflict. There is some truth that the very great difficulties of our current circumstances have also brought some good fruit. If only the realisation about the importance of love, care and our relationships, and what really matters in life has been reset!
This story speaks to the reality – that we live in a world where the good can be readily alongside the bad. Eventually there is a time of judgement that will come where in the story the weeds and the wheat were separated. Ultimately there will be a time of judgement but it is between us and God. I am confident that this judgement will be in the heart of our loving God and will start and end with love and God’s complete love of us as we are – knowing God’s love for us is merciful and compassionate. In a way this parable also calls us to account on our judging of others. Having the wheat and the weeds growing together as they were should also make us realise we need to be very careful when in the judging business – sticking with how we want to be treated and being in the loving others business. As a national church we probably need to spend less time sitting in judgement and more time loving people into the kingdom and demonstrating God’s love in all its fullness, and what a life lived in the hope of God’s love for us is all about.
Where I go next in this talk is really about using our judgement discerningly in our lives than specifically the story of the wheat and the weeds. To help us in this area – Jesus recommends earlier in Matthew’s gospel that we treat others as we would want to be treated – Not judging or evaluating unfairly
Just the word judging has a negative in society today and though we may not be saying it negatively, it often feels closer to condemning. It does not have the same connotations as the word Jesus used which also meant evaluate, discern, separate and decide. None of those have the I’m ok you’re not realm of judging. The knack here is to use our ability to evaluate and discern properly and fairly. We have the capacity to make judgements and we need to make those we need to wisely, being careful to keep away from condemning others (and the I’m ok you’re not territory). We need to stay in the territory of the merciful as we would want people to be merciful with us.
If it helps – We will probably remember another story Jesus told of a servant who was forgiven a big debt, who then condemned his fellow servant for a much smaller one. Needless to say this episode as did our story today ended with wailing and gnashing of teeth!
A couple of years ago Fraser Dyer, who is a priest I met in London wrote a book called Who are we to judge – with the sub title – empathy and discernment in a critical age. I met Fraser a few times and found him a very interesting and intriguing person. So I bought the book. It turned out to be a very challenging read, so much so that I remember I read it and then I read it all the way through again, and it asks us to go back to first principles. To move away from judgementalism and to move towards being discerning with love.
One bit of it I particularly liked was when he was addressing the teaching of Jesus about judgement. Fraser reminds us of our tendency to use the phrase – ‘I’ll let God be the judge of that’. (Regrettably we usually say that when we are making a value judgement of the very sort we shouldn’t!). We should be letting God be the judge of it! And letting go of it of course
Fraser felt that our judgement of others can be unreliable as it is often an expression of our own fears, anxieties and insecurities and that it doesn’t come close to the pure judgement demonstrated by Jesus or that we will recognise from God one day when our time comes. If we recognise our judgement comes through the distorted lens of our own needs or experiences it helps us to be suspicious of it. Likewise it can come from a place of self-centredness where we put ourselves and our perception of our needs first and not God’s heart for us and God’s way. Christian living is all about setting self to one side and putting God at the heart of our daily lives. So that does mean at the very least we need to be cautious, careful and loving in approaching judgements we have to make.
Fraser also eloquently puts it – Jesus is offering us fullness of life. Life in which we flourish and grow as we become more like him, but religious judgementalism today so easily works against such abundant living, crushing the spirit and inhibiting the sometimes fragile work of inching towards wholeness. At its worst human judgementalism is self-centred, obsessed with how well or badly others match up to our expectations. Christ calls us out of ourselves and invites us to place God at the heart of our consciousness.
All of this is easy to say and not easy to do – but Jesus sets us a challenge and shows us what is best for us. Thinking about our judgements in relation to God’s judgement is about seeing ourselves clearly and being self aware – not just of what we are good at and where we have much to offer, but also on where our faults and failings are. Again, this is about the heart of our actions and our motivations matching what we believe and realistically knowing who we are as a beloved child of God.
So the next time we may be heard saying – I’ll let God be the judge of that – Let’s make sure we do just that. Amen
I am going to end with some prayers I found related to our gospel story. Pause and pray in the silence before the sentence – Lord in your mercy and the response – Hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, give us the courage to try and change only those things that you would have us change. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, give us the grace to accept other people who are different from us.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, give us the vision to share in your vision that all the world may be one. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to be patient with those around us – kind compassionate and loving. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, give us the strength to work for the healing in our own communities. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer
Loving Lord, hear our prayers and let your Spirit prepare us with joy for that great day when you will harvest the seed that you have sown among us.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Fraser Dyer – Who are we judge – SPCK – 2015