Jesus LOVES teaching in parables, these earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. Today we hear several whose meanings intertwine. I invite you to listen for what message of truth Jesus offers YOU today, keeping in mind that often God’s grace shows up in our lives through a moment of conviction.
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while everybody was asleep an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden since the foundation.”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
What heavenly meaning are we to take from this earthly story? In general I begin with a question Dr. Jackie Smallbones taught me nearly 20 years ago. Prayerfully wondering, “Who are YOU, God?” For as much as the bible offers us guidance in our lives, it’s a love story in which God is front and center. Every teaching that directs us to consider living into God’s kingdom is an invitation for you and I to accept God’s love and truly live as if we believe it.
This week, I felt a strong connection between Jesus’ words last Sunday “do not judge, lest you be judged.” and the moment in this parable when the servants (eager as they are to do the Master’s bidding) ask, “Should we tear up these weeds?” and the Master says, “No. That is not your work to do. Leave them be for now, I’ll take care of them when the time is right.”
In fact, even when the time does come, it’s not we humans who do the judging. Ever. The only instruction we’re offered in these parables is to be patient, like a person who sows a mustard seed and waits for the growth. Like a woman kneading dough, in anticipation of its rising. Like a child of the kingdom, relying on God’s grace to overpower all the weeds in our lives and in this world.
Yes, weeds are in this world, we know this! We also know how easy it can be for us to lose sight of who’s in charge when the weeds are allowed to overtake good growth. Jesus knows the weeds. They tried to entangle themselves ever so cleverly within his earthly ministry. Think of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by those intent on torturing him…and he asks God to forgive them. How? Because he knows even death itself cannot trample the good seed planted within our souls. And because of Jesus, we can now experience this too- this unending love that more powerful than hate.
This is how we trust the weeds do NOT win. They will never win. Not the weeds in our own hearts, not those that surround us. We have to believe this in order to live bravely into each new day. The good seed that God planted within us since the day of our birth will come to full fruit in God’s timing. So we wait. We may not even be able to fully understand the work God is up to around us, letting weeds grow among the good seeds. And that’s okay. We don’t have to have all the answers to hold onto faith. That’s the power of belief, it transcends our earthly experience. As we prayerfully wonder, “Who are you, God?” we begin to catch a glimpse of a new heaven and new earth where truth and order and divine goodness are restored to their rightful place, smack dab in the center of our souls.
This week during our Monday scripture study, Sandra read our text today from a version called the Amplified Bible. It caught our attention and I thought it would be good share today’s bible story from Matthew 7: 1-14 in that same language today:
Do not judge and criticize and condemn [others unfairly with an attitude of self-righteous superiority as though assuming the office of a judge], so that you will not be judged [unfairly]. 2 For just as you [hypocritically] judge others [when you are sinful and unrepentant], so will you be judged; and in accordance with your standard of measure [used to pass out judgment], judgment will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the [insignificant] speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice and acknowledge the [egregious] log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite (play-actor, pretender), first get the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give that which is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, for they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
7 “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will [instead] give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will [instead] give him a snake? 11 If you then, evil (sinful by nature) as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.
12 “So then, in everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you, for this is [the essence of] the Law and the [writings of the] Prophets. 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life, and there are few who find it.
Why is it SO HARD to keep from judging others? It’s hard, right? I’m not alone? I happen to be reading a book this week called The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom; without intending to be so, Don Miguel Ruiz’ book is a perfect companion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount here in Matthew 7. Ruiz wrestles with the reasons we judge ourselves and others- and offers a pathway out of those destructive patterns. His wisdom is remarkably similar to what Jesus said long ago.
For just as you [hypocritically] judge others [when you are sinful and unrepentant], so will you be judged.
I’d like to outline Ruiz’ four agreements for you and connect them with Jesus’ gospel teaching which promises freedom by living in the way of Christ.
The first of the four agreements is the hardest to both understand and do. 1. “Be impeccable with your word.” Ruiz describes the power of language to shape our identities and relationships. And a lot of the words that rest in our souls are not our own or God’s. They come from people who are need of redemption. It is our life’s work to re-examine those harmful words that rest in our hearts and claim a new narrative. We bear God’s image, which means we are most fully alive when we use our energy to bring love and light into this world, not harm and judgment.
Where to begin? We must first learn to let go of self-judgment. The book explains, “Being impeccable with your word is not using the word against yourself. If I see you in the street and I call you stupid, it appears that I’m using the word against you. But really I’m using my word against myself, because you’re going to hate me for this, and your hating me is not good for me.” p. 31 “Being impeccable with your word means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself [...] We have learned to use the word to curse, to blame, to find guilt, to destroy. [...] Misuse of the word is how we pull each other down and keep each other in a state of fear and doubt.”
What is the solution? As Christians, we turn to Jesus, who is always one step ahead of us humans. “So then, in everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you, for this is [the essence of] the Law and the [writings of the] Prophets.” We can make life pretty complicated, that’s what I love about the golden rule. It’s SO straightforward. This is the road to abundant life Jesus longs for us to take; it is not easy, the path is narrow, but it’s available. We can take it anytime we’re ready.
The second and third agreement Ruiz suggests are difficult, yet more easily understood. 2. “Don’t take anything personally, and 3. don’t make assumptions.” He goes into detail I won’t today, but I encourage you to take a whole day and observe your behaviors and thoughts and feelings in light of these first three agreements. I did this, and it’s fascinating how many times I said things I didn’t intend, I took on someone else’s feelings that weren’t my own, and I assumed something without asking for clarity. I can confirm the truth in Jesus’ words: “But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life.”
Thank God that Ruiz’ fourth agreement makes the other three possible. The final agreement is this: 4. “Always do your best.” He says, “Just do you best–in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.” p. 78 Always doing your best is NOT the same as “strive to be perfect.” In fact, it’s the solution to perfectionism. Rather than demanding perfection, doing your best means you WON’T be and NEEDN’T be perfect.
Ruiz says, “The first three agreements will only work if you do your best. Don’t expect that you will always be able to be impeccable with your word. Your routine habits are too strong and firmly rooted in your mind. But you can do your best. Don’t expect that you will never take anything personally; just do your best. Don’t expect that you will never make another assumption, but you can certainly do your best. By doing your best, the habits of misusing your word, taking things personally, and making assumptions will become weaker and less frequent with time. You don’t need to judge yourself, feel guilty, or punish yourself if you cannot keep these agreements. If you’re doing your best, you will feel good about yourself even if you make mistakes.” p. 86
My favorite part of these four agreements is this: if we commit to them in our lives, we will find ourselves living the golden rule as a matter of integrity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When in doubt, follow this path and see what new life it may discover in you! You and I are beloved children of a loving God who has given us every tool we need to choose the higher road, the challenging path that leads to everlasting life. Praise God for the gift of each other for support and solidarity on the journey.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.