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Today we look at two parables of Jesus as we wrestle with the questions of where is God and is God up to anything in the hot mess of 2020? Rev Eugene Peterson says that the parables are ‘Jesus’ favorite form of speech. They sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels, only one has its setting in church, and only a couple mention the name God.
Parables are subversive. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they put the listener’s imagination to work. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.
Parables subversively slip past our defenses. Once they’re inside the walls we put up to protect ourselves, we taste a new freedom. God’s truth is not an alien invasion but a loving courtship in which the details of our common lives are treated as seeds in our conception, growth, and maturity in the kingdom.’
I’ve always been taught that the first parable is about us; me. W hat type of soil am I? Am I getting better or worse? But when my imagination runs wild I remember that soil can’t change itself. It takes another force to add compost to improve it. And so maybe the parable is more about how God interacts with us like a generous and crazy farmer who plants seed potential with abandon in the world; than how you and I can better in our actions and words.
The second parable is about wheat and weeds (tares). A tare is a plant that commonly grows in fields of grain. And although it looks similar to an edible grain, it isn’t suitable for food. In fact, many feel the specific tare, or weed, referred to in this parable is the darnel, a poisonous weed that is very similar in appearance to wheat.
While growing next to wheat, tares cannot be distinguished from the real wheat. It is not until near the time of harvest that you can discern which of the two is the real item. As I let the parable inhabit my imagination, and then subvert my judgments I begin to realize that although I try to keep things organic in my garden, in my life I tend to all too quickly to reach for Roundup. I quickly judge who is evil, unworthy of my loving-attention, or forgiveness. I blame it on the divisive partisanship of today, and on systemic racism and injustice. But how much is due to my own selfish desire to not allow space for reconciliation and forgiveness to take root in me?
I reflect on the parables today in the hot mess of COVID-19 and all of 2020 and I realize that I’m a bit stingy in my gardening and planting, in how I envision others and what I expect of them. If I’ve given my life to following the Way of the Crazy Farmer. I need to embrace crazy not as a negative or destructive adjective but as more of a proscriptive one inviting me to generous action, fierce love and relational empathy rooted in the commitment to reconciliation and peace.
Questions for Examen
• What grabs our imagination in these parables?
• How do you they disarm you in the fatigue that we’re all facing in this moment?
• How do they speak to you about the hot mess we find ourselves in?
• How is the Spirit of God inviting you to act, speak, be(come), and shape your relationships through this word?