In reading Matthew 13, one parable of a sower, we hear about wisdom, judgement, but it is difficult to know what to make of it. Here are some of my thoughts. In the first place, we learn that the best intentions can have at their root, a less desirable companion, impossible to discern until the crop is revealed. I think we all have this experience of planning an event perhaps, but discovering a problem at the last minute: I forgot about gluten free wafers, I didn’t know you were allergic to cats, or lilies, or whatever; I recommended that person without knowing the stresses would be bad for them. And so on. In Romans, Paul speaks of this existential dilemma. To act, to speak necessitates risk and a willingness to wait for the maturity of a plan before chopping it.
The “devil” in Job and in the story of Jesus’ temptation is just this principle of uncertainty, of a need for the “right” rather than the evolving answer. The devil is a test of our willingness to be uncertain. Faith is not about knowing what is right, so much as a trust that we are meant to learn and grow, naturally shedding the “weeds” of our nature as we develop. Faith means trusting that what is good will not be lost, but we will not know until the denouement, the harvest. And at that time, we will see clearly, and all that has tried to get in the way of joy will be cast away, all that has potential to harm, will be destroyed.
Summer garden at Kipling Avenue, Guelph.
I do not really think this parable is about the denouement, however. I think it is about how “disciples” trust that everything resides within the divine, as we hear in the Wisdom of Solomon. Disciples know that change and growth takes time and tending, patience and forbearance. We are invited to share in the process, with faith that the seed is good, the time of testing is limited, and what we feared could ruin everything, has no final substance.
This parable has relevance as we meet new people, and as they bring ideas that challenge us. We tend to be quick to defend the status quo, without considering that it may be flawed by what has grown up around it. Again, new things must be nurtured until they reach maturity. Then we will see that there are some ideas and actions that need to evaluated and discarded.
The church has had varying degrees of faithfulness in this. We have not defended women, or children; we have been complicit in the colonization and enslavement of other nations. We have been unwilling to release our hold of rigid definitions of gender, and have imposed our blindness on generations. We persecuted or ignored the prophets in our midst. We separated ourselves from Jesus’ own people.
And yet I feel and witness the possibility of change, of a willingness to let go of the “weeds” that grew with the good news of Jesus, a Jew of incredible insight. Jesus the Jew, with his rich heritage of oppression and liberation, of personal poverty and the wealth of community, that person has the power to define a more faithful way of engaging in the struggle to lift up the vulnerable, while refusing to be trapped by the roots of prejudice and ignorance. After this time of disease, we may discover that the healthy roots of our faith may look very different, our objectives may have clarified, that prayer and action may be indistinguishable from each other. Jesus did not tell us to weed the garden, but to grow it with our tears of both joy and suffering, with the compost of history and repentance, and with the sunshine that relaxes our souls and caresses us with a vision of the holiness in life, that great gift that inspires us.
In fact, the editors of the Biblical Archaeology Society have painstakingly curated a brand new Special Collection, Satan, to help you delve into the topic. It includes all of the scholarly points noted above, and all of these articles are from Bible Review:
- From Seraph to Satan: Shape-shifting in the Garden of Eden by Mary Joan Winn Leith
- Fallen Star: The Evolution of Lucifer by Ronald F. Youngblood
- Who the Devil is Beelzebul? by Bradley L. Stein
- Exorcising Demons by William H.C. Propp
- The Harrowing of Hell by Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons