It is an old story but the church is a period of transition, change, and ultimately trouble. This is nothing new. Every since religion, be it Christian or otherwise, became organized, it has found itself in transition and change. It has always been in battle with outside forces which seek to change the church and which the church seeks to change. It is just that now these changes are more apparent and more public.
It does not matter what the issue is. It could be war, the economy, abortion, or sexuality; the church finds itself struggling with the nature of the Gospel and what the outside, secular world wants to do. As Jesus said in Matthew, the Word is planted in fertile soil, it is planted in some poor soil, and it is planted in rocky soil. Only in the fertile soil does the Word grow well. But the fertile soil also allows weeds to grow and it is possible that the weeds will choke out the Word.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus seems to say that we should not worry about this growth of weeds and wheat; that when the harvest has come, the weeds will be separated and destroyed and only the good wheat will be stored in the grain house. What bothers me is that many people seem to think that they are the ones who should destroy the weeds.
Yes, when one is growing a garden, one needs to keep the garden in good shape. That means keeping the weeds out. But it is an on-going process; unless one has prepared the bed in which the garden is to grow very carefully, there will always be weeds and, thus, one will always be working on the garden.
But at this point I have a problem with the analogy. What measures should we take to keep our garden neat and “weed” free? Should we condemn those whose lifestyles do not match ours? How should we destroy the weeds? I am always amazed that some of the most beautiful wildflowers in nature are often called weeds when in someone’s garden.
The problem is that the church is part of the secular world and if we destroy the secular world, we risk destroying the church. And the church cannot always remove itself from the world. Yes, there are probably going to be times when the church should remove itself from the world, put up walls and keep the forces of evil outside. Where it not for monasteries in medieval times that served as the repositories for knowledge, much of what we know today would have been lost in time of the “Dark Ages.”
But even then, the world continued and eventually the good that knowledge brings overcame the evil that accompanies such knowledge. So too will that occur in this day and age. Paul, writing to the Romans at a time of great stress and conflict, pointed out that there will be times when things do not look well. But they will always be accompanied by the hope and promise found in the Gospel. And that as the children of God, that hope and promise are for us. So we must persevere and have patience.
Jacob met God on the road one day and was told of the great promise God had for him. As descendants, spiritually and physically of Jacob, we have inherited that promise. It is a promise that this is our world. But in giving us this world, we are required to take care of it. We cannot wait for the harvest to cast out the weeds; we must make sure that the weeds do not grow.
But this does not mean that we cast aside those whom we disagree with or whose lifestyle or thoughts are different from ours. Ours is not a garden of one variety; it is a garden of many plants, many colors, and many fruits.
We are constantly reminded that we are in a war against terror. But our fight against terror cannot use the same weapons of war or thought; for to do so simply fuels the flames of hatred, persecution and injustice that began the terrorism in the first place. It was noted the other day that extremists, be they Islamic fundamentalist or extreme right-wing white hate groups, seek the disadvantaged and the disillusioned for membership. These young people find in the words of the extremists recruiting them the hope and promise they do not find in the world in which they live. They see a church that excludes them, or treats them as second class citizens. They do not see the hope and promise of the Gospel.
We cannot end terrorism in this world by violence, for violence only breeds more violence. We cannot end terrorism by hating terrorism, for hate only brings more hatred. Terrorism is bred in the hatred, injustice and persecution found in this world. To end terrorism, we must end the hatred, the injustice and the persecution. We must make the hope and the promise of the Gospel the outcome of the world.
The challenge that the church today faces is not a new one. The battles that the church faces today are not new ones. And the answer, the means are also not new; we have heard the Gospel for over two thousand years. Isn’t about time that we listen to the words? Do not the sounds that we hear outside our walls tell us that we need to focus on the Gospel?
The Gospel message that Jesus brought us tells us to take care of our garden. Paul is telling us that it will be hard work but in the end it will be profitable work. We have heard from Jacob that this is the place we must be and this is the place where we will find God. We take care of our garden, this world, not by destroying this world, but by destroying that which causes the world to become full of weeds. When we heed the message of the Gospel, we kill the forces that breed war, injustice, hatred, and persecution. When we heed the message of the Gospel, the harvest is fruitful and there is plenty.
Yes, working in the garden is hard and sometimes it seems as if it would be just easier to burn the garden and destroy the fields. But that destroys the world and us as well. So tend to the garden and see the rewards in due course.