The Wheat and the Tares

A sermon on Matthew 13:23-43, preached by Fr Philip Ritchie on 19 July 2020.

Taking a book of my shelf last week a little card fell out, it read ‘Who is God for me?’ then underneath it said ‘I seek to pray from the space of my inner mystic and commit to a daily period of silence and solitude. I consent to God’s presence and action within’.

I have to admit that I have never been very good at silent prayer. I hope silence and stillness will start again soon at Bartlemas Chapel but if you’ve been and stayed the distance , an hour is a long time to be silent.

‘The pursuit of silence is actually a very human activity, its an attempt to silence the clamour of our minds.’ The philosopher John Gray writes:

‘If silence is no longer cultivated, it is because admitting the need for it means accepting that you are inwardly restless…If you accept your need for silence, you accept that much of your life has been an exercise in distraction. He quotes some one saying ‘Men who are naturally conscious of what they are shun nothing as much as rest; they would do anything to be disturbed’.

There’s a whole lot of very interesting stuff he goes on to say about the difference between animal and human silence – or at least the way that Humans tend to think they are doing something special when they are silent whereas animals just get on with it. We are too arrogant or just wrongly wired so we can’t access this silence – human silence is a struggle and a break from our constant chatter.

But I would claim that the attempt to cultivate silence in our lives is a good thing because it draws us close to something that I would call the forbearance of God.

Matthew Chapter 13 is full of the parables of the Kingdom, last week we had the parable of the sower and this week the parable of the wheat and the tares. While all are sleeping an enemy comes and sows tares – weeds – amongst the wheat. The slaves come to their master and say do you want us to gather all the weeds, but the master says no, let them grow together til the harvest then we can collect the weeds and burn them before harvesting the wheat.

Although hopefully we avoid it there is a tendency hearing this parable to read it as a parable about how some people are bad and some good and in the end God is going to punish the baddies and rescue the goodies. And in the worst case scenario Christians can think that they are the good wheat growing healthily in a world full of lots of weeds who are going to burn. And even if we don’t go quite this far we still often think that this is a parable about the need to divide the good from the bad. And mentally in our minds we can list those people who we think are probably tares compared to our healthy wheatiness!

But in saying this we miss the heart of this parable which is about God’s forbearance. We are nothing more than fallible human beings. We act out of love but we also act out of anger, envy, selfishness, ignorance, pride. Humility, like silence is a quality we have a troubled and tenuous relationship with.

Learning to inhabit humility, patience, forbearance is genuinely a life long project. When the workers want to go and rip out the weeds to leave the good wheat the master stops them. It is not our job to decide who has entered the Kingdom of God and who is outside of it. There is a judgment but it is not ours. As Christians we should be a people who refuse to be hurried, and stop short of hasty judgments on others actions or lifestyles.

There was an amazing bit in ‘Married at first sight Australia, episode 14’, where a couple go to meet the friends of the girl. The girls friends are interrogating the man saying why are you so quiet? Why aren’t you expressing your emotions? What is your problem? And the man who has been just so quiet through the whole series suddenly says that at age 21 his epilepsy got the better of him, he became very ill and literally had to spend months learning to speak again. It had really knocked his confidence.

Always the first task is to seek to be alongside people not to interrogate – this is what it means to explore the forbearance of God. To be Christian community is not to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is maybe later, but it is, in patience and humility to seek out our need of God’s compassion. Churches might be one

of the places where we can begin that journey so let me end with R S Thomas’ poem In Church:

Often I try
To analyse the quality
Of its silences.
Is this where God hides
From my searching? I have stopped to listen,
After the few people have gone,
To the air recomposing itself
For vigil. It has waited like this
Since the stones grouped themselves about it.
These are the hard ribs
Of a body that our prayers have failed
To animate. Shadows advance
From their corners to take possession
Of places the light held
For an hour. The bats resume
Their business. The uneasiness of the pews
Ceases. There is no other sound
In the darkness but the sound of a man
Breathing, testing his faith
On emptiness, nailing his questions
One by one to an untenanted cross.