Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86
Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-4
To listen and read the news these days takes wisdom and courage. Wisdom to discern the truth which seems more and more obscured. Somehow, our media culture has blurred the role of news anchor and reporter with commentator and pundit. It’ s hard to discern the two when often the motive is to confuse them. And it takes courage to withstand the hopelessness of the acts of violence, war and inhumanity splayed out before us on an almost daily basis. The word terrorism has become a refrain that obsesses those who deliver and those who consume the news. And anything that obsesses becomes an idol. We need to tear it out and discard it. All this comes to mind as we read today’s lessons and try to learn from them, find strength in them, and ultimately gain and live in the hope they give us.
The writer of Wisdom, Solomon, as tradition has it, is convinced about one truth: . . for neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people. This one God who cares for all people is also the God whose sovereignty over all causes you to spare all. The writer of Wisdom had a highly advanced understanding of the Creator as one whose righteousness would not allow him to destroy those whom he created.
St. Paul, another writer whose huge brain could enter into an understanding of the nature of the Creator God, reaches this conclusion in his letter to the Romans: Hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage and decay and will one day obtain perfection and freedom as the children of God.
And in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus is telling another one of his parables, the weeds in the wheat. The servants are wondering where the weeds came from, and they ask for permission from the sower to go and pull out the weeds. The master says, No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest, then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
There is great comfort and hope in all three of these passages.
But in the world we live in there is much confusion about right and wrong, good and evil, wheat and weeds. Just this week I was watching a news program in which two political pundits were facing off. In their attempt to assess blame in the situation, one was arguing what was legal and one was arguing what was wrong. There is no longer simply right and wrong but what is legal and what is wrong. This political whitewashing certainly isn’ t anything new. Same thing goes for the truth. There is no longer simply true or false, but rather what is truth and what is credible. That’ s a tricky distinction because what may be considered credible certainly could be either true or false. And now, after the recent bombings in London there is renewed polarity between good and evil, the wheat and the weeds: Christians and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Muslims, Muslims and Muslims.
So it seems this is not a good time for hope, for reason, for patience to allow both wheat and weeds to grow together. These times are not conducive either to understanding St. Pauls enormous assurance that by surviving our labor pains we and all of creation will be redeemed. When we feel persecuted, we might be tempted to ask: why doesn’t God act decisively? Many people have tripped on that inquiry. We answer with impatience and despair instead of trust. Our voices clamor for the evil to be punished, destroyed immediately. Confused and frightened, we turn to the Bible and search for the assurances that the evil will be punished, and so we justify war; we justify violence. The constant tension St. Paul saw between our desire to obey the law, live by the flesh in his words, and our desire to live by grace, the spirit, is not seen nor understood. So we all flounder.
But just when I think that the enemy has sown the weeds of hate and fear in our hearts I am reassured. The daily news of terrorism attempts to take hope away and tries to convince us that only human cleverness and living in constant fear and suspicion of strangers can save us. The cleverest ploy of the enemy has been to make us forget that we belong to the God who created us and has compassion for us.
Listen to Marie Fatayi-Williams, an immigrant Nigerian mother of a London-born son, Anthony, who stood in Tavistock Square, near the massacre in London, and gave the following impromptu speech, holding a picture of her son. The oration speaks for itself. Perhaps in times like these, the rhetoric of ordinary people forced to confront extraordinary evil, is the highest form of rhetoric there is. When it is powered by a mother’s love, it reaches new depth and height:
(I quote) This is Anthony, Anthony Fatayi -Williams, 26 years old, he’s missing and we fear that he was in the bus explosion. My son Anthony is my only son, the head of my family. He has dreams and hopes and I, his mother, must fight to protect his values and to protect his memory.
The suicide bombers are not warriors. Which cause has been served? Certainly not the cause of God, not the cause of Allah because God Almighty only gives life and is full of mercy. Anyone who has been misled to believe that by killing innocent people he is serving God should think again. Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, their discipline, their self-sacrifice, their conviction made people turn towards them, to follow them. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide?
Its time to stop and think. We cannot live in fear because we are surrounded by hatred. Look around us today. Anthony is a Nigerian, born in London, worked in London, he is a world citizen. Here today we have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, all of us united in love for Anthony. It is time to stop this vicious cycle of killing.
Innocent blood will always cry to God Almighty for reparation. How much blood must be spilled? How many tears shall we cry? How many mothers hearts must be maimed? I grieve, I am sad, I am distraught, I am destroyed. I need to know what happened to him. (End Quote)
Pray for her, and her only son – and take note of her grace, the way that in her grief she does not call for the blood of the perpetrators, does not cry for vengeance.
Believe it or not there is an answer to this madness. It has nothing to do with free will. It doesn’ t even have to do with original sin or the fall of humanity. It has to do with what happens after the bad things happen. The explosion of love that followed the despicable London attacks, September 11, and the same explosion that followed this past December’ s tsunami in Southeast Asia resonated louder and prouder than any man-made device could muster. When the suicide bombers murdered in London, there was an almost simultaneous global explosion of heartbreak and compassion. Such is the bond of love and empathy between us all.
For many people, especially for those whose lives are directly affected by these natural and wholly unnatural disasters, their faith may falter, especially when tragedy is experienced in isolation. But when we look at the tragedy in terms of the human and spiritual reaction it provokes, then the tragedy may serve only to fuel the fire of our faith. It sustains our hope. This is why the terrorists can never be victorious when they explode bombs, they explode something within us, all of us, which can never and will never be extinguished.
Let us draw hope from the lessons today. The writer of Wisdom sees God the Creator as full of righteousness; this righteousness, he declares, leads God to mercy, not vengeance. Because God’ s power is so overwhelming, he can be magnanimous. He rules with patience and clemency, allowing for repentance and forgiveness. Yet, he rebukes those who confuse his kindness with weakness. Never, ever, confuse God’ s kindness with weakness.
Same goes for Jesus. It is not our job to pull out the weeds, to wreak vengeance. The gospel of Matthew tells us: The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers. I find particular relief in these words. We’ re let off the hook. We’ re human, we make mistakes. We’ re prone to confuse who is wheat and who is weed.
And the words of all three writers are full of hope regardless of the reality of evil around them. The clarion truth that rings forth is that God, the Creator, cares for those whom God has created, and that even includes our beautiful earth and all of nature. The reality is that we will continue to live together with those who do not trust in Gods goodness, that we, believers, are not meant to be the sole inhabitants of this earth – we are to share it with believers and non-believers alike, with those who do good and those who do evil. God knows all this; let us put our trust in God. We will not be abandoned; we will not be left hopeless.
Let us pray with the psalmist of our lessons today: Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me (86:17).
Adopted and edited for length from the website: AndrewSullivan.com.
and The New York Times, July 17, 2005