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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 27, 2014

 The Wisdom of Patience

Isaiah 44:6-8; Matthew 13:24-30

              I know that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” I suppose that there is much truth in what Emerson said, but no one really likes weeds, and everyone who ever gardens or works in a yard must learn to contend with them. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood that cared about weeds, especially dandelions. I thought those little yellow flowers were lovely – my grandmother thought they were evil interlopers and needed to be eradicated – rooted out – which was hard work done on your knees. My grandmother thought back-breaking physical labor was good for the soul, I suspect, because more than a few times she enlisted the three of us, Luther, Linda and me, in long, tedious afternoon sessions of digging deep to remove this pernicious weed from our lawn.

             Jesus was no stranger to weeds, either. In one of His parables, He likened the kingdom of heaven to a field filled with both wheat and weeds. Biblical commentators are quick to explain that the weed He was talking about was bearded darnel – a plant that looked just like wheat as it grew, and could easily be mistaken for wheat. It was not until it sprouted seeds that you could tell the difference – wheat grew on ears that would grow heavy and droop, while the ears of bearded darnel would remain upright – perhaps suggesting that evil lacks the weight or the gravitas of good.

             This is a parable, though, about weeds, and that carries us into negative territory. Hear what Jesus was saying: There are weeds growing in the garden, and in Jesus’ parable, these weeds were planted among the good seed by “the enemy.”

             The Gospel is always good news, but usually it begins with bad news. The bad news is that evil is real and we encounter it wherever we turn. It is sown in the world by the enemies of God, and it grows like weeds among the wheat, threatening the wheat and sucking nutrients from it. I think that Matthew wants us to know that Jesus was not just talking about the world. He was also talking about the Church. There is both good and evil in the Church as well. They exist right alongside each other. Saint Augustine said famously that the Church is always a corpus permixtum – a mixed body. It has ever and always been that way. If it is true that Jesus took the Church to be His bride, as Ephesians says He did, it is equally true that Jesus married far beneath Himself.

             And evil is pernicious, especially in the Church, where so often it poses as good, and for a time, like bearded darnel, can look to all the world like good. To put it bluntly, the Church is full of hypocrites – which is a word that means “to wear a mask.” It always has been, and it always will be. People who smile and say one thing, but do quite another. Jesus says that this is how the Church and the world are. And while this is bad news, at least Jesus is being honest about it, which is good news. When folks tell me that they don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites, I always want to say, “Oh come on in, anyway. There is always room for one more!” We all have a touch of hypocrisy in us – it is precisely why we need so desperately to be here. Where else are you invited every week to confess your sins?

             You see, we each are a mixture of weeds and wheat. Our very souls are a corpus permixtum. The great psychiatrist Carl Jung put it more psychologically when he said that we all have a “shadow side” with which we must contend if we are ever to become the people God put it in us to be. The line between good and evil is not drawn vertically, with the good on one side and the evil on the other; it is drawn horizontally, and runs right through each of our souls.

             That’s the bad news. There is evil in the world, there is evil in the Church, and there is evil in our very souls, and the devil is real. The Bible never tells us much about the origins of evil, but it takes evil seriously. Jesus took evil seriously, and believed in the devil. We are wise to do the same.

             But now for the Good News. First, Jesus is suggesting here that God is patient with evil. The slaves note the weeds among the wheat and want to remove them. The landowner, in the parable, says, “No.” He says, “Let the wheat and weeds grow together, lest in pulling up the one, you destroy the other.” Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Be patient and trust God because God is patient. It is easy to confuse the weeds and the wheat, and God most of all wants the good seed to prosper, and does not want us ever to do anything to thwart or threaten its life. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says. I think Jesus here is counseling a generosity of spirit. Your job is not to conduct an inquisition. Don’t spend all your time trying to name and root out evil. Let it grow, trusting that it will be taken care of in due course.

             Our job is to wait and to trust. God’s job is to judge and to save. And the Savior God thinks it is wiser to let the weeds and wheat alone – let them grow together – and leave the final sorting to God. Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your own heart.” Jesus here is counseling the wisdom of patience – God is not in a hurry, so neither should we be. Jesus is not anxious about what a mixed bag the Church is – neither should we be. I loved seeing Sagrada Familia this summer in Barcelona – Antoni Gaudí’s life’s masterpiece. It is a church so grand in scope that it could not be completed in a lifetime. That never bothered Gaudí. He said, “My client is God, and my client is not in a hurry.” “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” The Old Testament repeats this powerful promise about God no less than ten times!

             God is patient and bids us to be patient as well, even with the presence of evil in our midst. There is a reason for God’s patience. You see, Jesus was convinced that in the end, God was sure to sort things out, to save all the good seed and good wheat that there was – to lose not even one grain of it! In the end, this parable of Jesus promises that when all is said and done, evil will not endure – that the goodness of God will prevail – that God will save every good grain that He has sown, and that evil will be eradicated – rooted out by God – and tossed into the fire. In the end, there will be only good, and only God, and God’s own. I love how Maltbie Babcock puts it in his hymn: “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”

             Jesus is the judge, and Jesus’ judgment is that while we were unworthy, out of great generosity God gave the ultimate gift that He could offer – the gift of His only Son, Jesus. So let Jesus’ patience become your own. Adel Bestavros was an Egyptian deacon and Biblical scholar. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “Patience with others is Love. Patience with self is Hope. Patience with God is Faith.”

             Our best witness is patience. Wait. Trust in the Lord, the great Judge and the Great lover of human souls. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

                                                                                     Amen.

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