Leaving Divine Judgment to God
The Sunday Closest to July 20
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
JULY 20, 2014
JULY 23, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 28:10-19a (New Revised Standard Version):
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place– and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.
Psalm 139:1-11, 22, 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6 Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”
11 Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.
22 Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my restless thoughts.
23 Look well whether there be any wickedness in me
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 (New Revised Standard Version):
For neither is there any god besides you,
whose care is for all people,
to whom you should prove that you have judged unjustly….
For your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because they give repentance for sins.
Or This First Reading:
Isaiah 44:6-8 (New Revised Standard Version):
Thus says the LORD, the king of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts;
I am the first and I am the last,
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and and set if forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be?
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.
Psalm 86:11-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
12 I will thank you, O LORD my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your Name for evermore.
13 For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
14 The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
and a band of violent men seeks my life;
they have not set you before their eyes.
15 But you, O LORD, are gracious, and full of compassion,
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me;
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17 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.
Romans 8:12-25 (New Revised Standard Version):
Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (New Revised Standard Version):
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!”
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The reading from Genesis occurs also here: http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/week-of-proper-9-monday-year-1/. I refer you, O reader, to that post for a different emphasis.
The tares were probably darnel, a species of plant parasitic to wheat. Darnel looks very much like wheat, with the distinction becoming clear beyond a shadow of a doubt when the ear develops. So premature weeding of a wheat field containing darnel will lead to the destruction of wheat.
During the First Crusade (1096-1099) against the Muslims, many Crusaders killed Jews in Europe and Christians in Asia, as well as Muslims in many cities. These Crusaders did all this in the name of God and Jesus. They had a “kill them all and let God sort them out” mentality,” which is antithetical to divine compassion.
In 2002, in Statesboro, Georgia, I saw a horrifying bumper sticker. It said, “KILL THEM ALL AND LET ALLAH SORT THEM OUT.” Indignation over the attacks of September 11, 2001, was and is understandable, but nothing justifies the attitude in that bumper sticker.
Or shall I mention the Albigensian Crusade of 1209-1213, in which the Pope authorized mercenaries to slaughter the Cathar (Gnostic) heretics in France? Men killed many people (not just Cathars and each other) and fought over land claims, to enrich themselves. They did this in the name of God.
Who is darnel and who is wheat? Do we even know which we are? The parable from Matthew contains a powerful corrective lesson for those who presume to know the mind of God and to think they have the right to persecute and/or kill those they deem to be darnel. Puritans in Seventeenth-Century New England hanged Quakers as a threat to society. I think that the Quakers were the wheat and their executioners the darnel, but the Puritan authorities thought otherwise. Alas, those who need to learn the lesson of this parable are the least likely to do so.
The Biblical texts, including those read this day, speak of divine judgment and mercy. Both are attributes of God, who knows far more than we ever will. And I dare say that God’s targeting is more exact than ours. We tend to write people off when God gives them second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. Consider Jacob, a schemer too clever for his own good and that of some people around him. He had mystical encounters with God and matured spiritually, becoming the patriarch Israel, for whom the people and nation-state are named. God did not write him off. Jacob/Israel was wheat, not darnel, despite early appearances to the contrary.
There is great virtue in religious toleration and the separation of the state mechanisms and religious establishments. When the church and the state (or the mosque and the state) become united, one becomes an arm of the other, which is detrimental. James Madison, Father of the U.S. Constitution, believed fervently in the separation of church and state, mainly for the protection of the churches. And theocracy is notoriously detrimental to dissenters, whom the establishment considers darnel. But the theocrats act more like darnel than wheat–and always in the name of God.
As the Wisdom of Solomon 12:19 says, “…the righteous must be kind….” A great part of righteousness consists of loving our neighbors as ourselves and leaving divine judgments to God alone. Otherwise, we run the risk of doing more harm than good. We need not pretend to agree with others when we disagree with them, but civilized people can differ without resorting to persecution and bloodshed. Besides, we are mistaken about some points, too, and those with whom we disagree are partially correct as well. The judgment in this matter resides only with God.
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on December 31, 2010