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The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2023

The Rev. Samuel Torvend

Sermon for July 23, 2023 | Pentecost VIII
Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

At first glance, we might imagine that this parable told by Jesus is about farming. After all, there is mention of sowing seed, sowing weeds, a harvest, and the landowner’s insight that by uprooting weeds, the laborers would harm the growing sheaves of wheat. But, then, the disciples – never the brightest group of students (for the word “disciple” does mean “student”) – have to ask Jesus to interpret or make sense for them the meaning of the story and so he offers an allegory focusing on the end of the world. But there’s more.

In ancient Mediterranean culture, you and I would each be a part of a tight-knit family unit and our lives would be devoted to preserving the honor or good reputation of our family. If you’re familiar with the Godfather film and Don Corleone or the HBO series The Sopranos and Tony Soprano – both of these men Mafia bosses – you know that protection of the family’s honor and its power is a major concern. And if that honor or reputation or power is questioned or diminished by another family, a rival family, all hell will break loose and someone will pay a hefty price in retaliation. Now consider this: every single peasant listening to Jesus would grasp this dynamic and nod their heads in understanding. For what does Jesus say? “An enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.” And what was the purpose of doing this? To dishonor, to shame, to diminish the power of the landowner with the hope that as this family’s honor was diminished, the reputation of the enemy’s family as a group not to be messed with would grow. The enemy’s intention was to show the supposed weakness of the landowner as someone incapable of watching carefully his fields.

Now we might assume that the landowner, seeing weeds grow among his precious crop of wheat, would go on the hunt for the enemy and take revenge. “You hurt me and I’ll hurt you back.” But please note that he doesn’t do this. Rather, he instructs his laborers to harvest the weeds first, bundle them, and thus guarantee for himself and his family a source of kindling for heating and for cooking. Only then will the wheat be harvested, a crop to be transformed into bread that will sustain his family in the coming months. Rather than follow the expected path of revenge, the landowner actually shames the enemy by his strategy of using the weeds for a good purpose and preserving the wheat for another good purpose. What could have been a source of shame or perceived weakness has become honorable in the demonstration of the landowner’s strategy.

Now, I would be surprised to hear someone in this parish tell me that they have never been hurt by a comment, action, or inaction by someone else in life. I would be surprised to hear someone say that the thought of getting even, of revenge, of striking back has never entered their mind or heart. Why? Neurologists point out that the impulse for revenge – not the act itself but the impulse to “get even” -rests in that part of the brain known as the dorsal striatum.  And they report that when someone is hurt or harmed, the impulse to punish the harmer begins to glow in the dorsal striatum and, indeed, it can lead one to retaliate as if the act of retaliation will make one feel relieved or even wonderful, triumphant. “I got you back, you dirty bird.” But – and it’s a big but – they note that getting even, that retaliation, actually extends the harm done in the past into the present and future. That is, the act of revenge keeps the original harm alive: it does not diminish or do away with it. And furthermore, the act of revenge produces only more retaliation. In other words, the spiral of violence, great or small, continues.

From 1948 to 1991, Black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in shanty towns or rural areas. Their citizenship was revoked and their right to vote overturned. They were subjected to arrest, torture, and rape by the white government establishment and its military police. Those who spoke against this social cruelty were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. Resistance by the Black population and international sanctions eventually led to the dismantling of this system of institutionalized racism known as apartheid. Now, you and I might well imagine that retaliation could easily have been the response of those who suffered abuse, rape, and grief at the death of their loved ones. But instead, Black Christian South Africans – led by the Black Anglican archbishop, Desmond Tutu – established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission was one of the first instances in human history in which retaliation was avoided by allowing victims to meet with their abusers and persecutors: allowing victims to tell the truth of the shame, harm, and bitterness they experienced at the hands of white military police. At the same time, the persecutors or abusers were given the opportunity to express their sorrow and ask forgiveness from those they had harmed. The purpose of this practice was to restore relationships so that the social fabric of the community would not be ripped apart by violent acts of revenge. The purpose of this practice, grounded in the teaching and practice of Jesus, was to let the power and presence of God bring resurrection, a new chance at life, for both victimizer and victim. To say the least, this was no easy thing: but then to let go of revenge or nursing a bitter grudge and choose forgiveness is no easy thing. It is, to be sure, one of the most challenging of Christian spiritual practices.

Perhaps this is why we hear these words at every single Eucharist: “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The intent of these words is to offer you and me the opportunity to be persons who promote forgiveness rather than retaliation, rather than striking back, rather than holding a grudge. And if you pay attention to the news these days, you must know – you must know – that the world in which we live is in desperate need of people who are committed to the practice of Pardon, whose fruit is nothing less than Peace. Come, then, I say, to this altar and eat and drink with our Merciful God and welcome his Presence anew in your heart, mind, and soul. Amen.


Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’”


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.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”


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