Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 19th July 2020
Readings: Wisdom 12:13,16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43
In the film Jason and the Argonauts, one of the films that deployed the skills of the visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen, the guardian of the golden fleece sows the hydra’s teeth and Jason and the Argonauts look on aghast as seven armed skeleton-warriors spring up from the ground to fight them. I have been cultivating a shrub bed on the rough patch of grass down the side of the drive to the rectory. I look on aghast as no matter how many times I clear them, weeds shoot up like the children of the hydra’s teeth, and I am faced with a task as arduous as that of Jason in trying to eradicate them. The worst weeds are those that you cannot quite get the whole root out, and they spring up again. Furthemore some grow up close to the newly-planted shrubs. I have to be careful not to be too heavy handed with the fork and remove them with the precision of a surgeon.
Jesus today tells the parable of the weeds and the darnel. The darnel or couch grass that you will find in the churchyard looks very similar to wheat when in its early stages; they are not easy to tell apart. Upon discovering them the master says that an enemy must have planted the weed, what a dastardly thing to do! In India, a threat that is still used is ‘I will sow bad seed in your field!’ The servants want to root it out straight away, but the master is more circumspect, and advises delay lest the good wheat be rooted out with the bad weeds.
We can be all too keen to come down swiftly on the faults of others. Our society is increasingly unforgiving. With regard to certain issues there is no room for mistakes, no scope for mercy, and this harsh treatment is now applied to historical figures unable to defend themselves, with no accounting for the times in which they lived. All the good a person may have done in a life can be wiped away because of one error of judgement or outspoken expression of an opinion.
The parable has similarities with that the speck of sawdust and the plank. Do not take the small speck of sawdust out of your neighbour’s eye without first taking the plank out of your own, says Jesus. Do not come down hard on the faults of others without first considering your own.
There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.
One lesson of the parable of the wheat and the darnel is that though you may have to suffer injustice through a malicious act, in time what that person has done will be revealed. What is concealed in the darkness will be revealed in the light. But we need to be patient.
When we,or someone dear to us, are slighted, we may want to react instantly, and fight back. We may wish to challenge and expose what we perceive to be wrongdoing. But we must be careful not to go too far, not to vilify with an unbound rage, we must be careful not to be destructive in our condemnations, especially with those people with whom we have to maintain a relationship.
St Gregory of Nanzianzus said “We must overcome our enemies by gentleness; win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once wither the fig-tree, from which a more skilful gardener may yet entice fruit.”
We should not be destructive in our correction, but do so in a gentle and subtle manner, finding a way to encourage the other to recognise their wrongdoings, rather than batter them over the head with with them. For if we are too heavy-handed we may irrevocably damage the relationship and cast the other person away, like a weed. Is that what we really want?
When someone upsets us, and we are angry, we should put down the pen and turn off the computer. We should never send an email inager because once the 'sned' button is pressed, you cannot take it back. If we must retaliate we should write two replies the one that we write initially to vent our spleen and then a later one that we actually send.
There is something rather destructive and shaming in wanting to expose the faults of others. God knows all the secrets of our hearts, and he attends to everything in his own good time. As Robert Burns said:
Who made the heart, tis he alone
decidedly can try us,
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias.
As a wise old priest used to remind me: I am not perfect and you are not perfect. If he had made either of us perfect he would not have broken the mould.