He put before them 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.’”
Imagine it is time to elect a new world leader, and everyone in the world will be able to vote. There are three leading candidates:
Candidate A – associates with crooked politicians and consults with astrologists. He’s had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 Martinis a day.
Candidate B – was kicked out of office (twice), sleeps until noon, used opium in college, smokes cigars, and drinks a half a bottle of whiskey every evening.
Candidate C – is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn’t had any extramarital affairs.
Which of these would be the candidate of your choice?
They are all based on real-life famous leaders. Candidate A (with the astrologists, mistresses and Martinis) describes Franklin D. Roosevelt. Candidate B (with the chequered past, sleeping-in, opium and whiskey) describes Winston Churchill. Candidate C (clean-living, maritally faithful, vegetarian) describes Adolf Hitler.
What’s the point of all this? The point is that it is very difficult for us to judge people. There are occasions where we need to Judge – elections being one, if we are interviewing someone for a job is another, or deciding if we trust someone to look after our children, or coming to a verdict in a court of law. There are times when judgement is necessary. But even then, we must judge with humility, and recognise that only God knows all the facts. One of reasons (though not the only one) that I oppose the death penalty is that human judgement is always fallible. We are swayed by all kinds of influences, some of them trivial, some of them irrelevant.
But often we judge other people when we do not need to.
This is a central theme in the Gospel that most Christians today seem to miss. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Jesus faced other people’s judgement all the time. He was constantly faced with the accusation that he associated with ‘tax collectors and sinners.’ In the face of this constant criticism Jesus told a parable:
A farmer has a field of wheat; a rival scatters it with the seeds of tares – weeds. The farmer has to work out what to do. His servants suggest pulling up the weeds. But he farmer is worried that if he pulls up the weeds he is likely to pull up some of the wheat also. So he tells his workers to wait until the harvest, and it will all be sorted out then.
Jesus goes on to explain the parable – something he rarely does. The meaning is clear – we are leave judgement to God, the Lord of the Harvest. It is not up to us to decide what is wheat and what is a weed.
Jesus tells us not to judge others. He did not look on the prostitutes he welcomed into his company with judgement. He did not look at the collaborating tax collectors with judgement. He did not look on the zealots and fanatics who came to him with judgement.
We need to read this parable at all levels of our Church life. What does it mean for the institution of the Church of England? What does it mean for us at the Ascension? And what does it mean for you? And me?
As a national institution, and as a worldwide institution we are bitterly divided over the issue of homosexuality and equal marriage. Are gay and lesbian lifestyles compatible with Christian commitment? In particular, what about homosexual Priests and Bishops? And what if those Priests and Bishops want to marry their partners or bless the partnerships of others?
Our judgement is strangely coloured on this subject. The Bible condemns gluttony; but we have overweight clergy. The Bible condemns drunkenness; but we have clergy who drink too much. The Bible condemns usury; we have clergy with bank accounts. The Bible have very little to say about homosexuality, yet it becomes the most important issue when priest wants to marry his male partner.
Some people say it is a complicated issue. I don’t think it is. Jesus tells us to refrain from judgement.
Even if we are still unsure as to the rights and wrongs of sexual ethics, in the case of consenting adults we should refrain from judgement.
Judgement is God’s department.
In the Hebrew Scriptures there is a recurring phrase: ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord,’ ‘Vengeance is mine.’ This does not mean that God is out for revenge; it does not mean that we should seek revenge because it’s the kind of thing God does. The context typically would be when Israel wanted revenge on those who wronged it the prophet would say ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord.’ In other words, “don’t you seek revenge, justice is ultimately in the hands of God, God is the only one who has a full enough picture of the situation to judge people.’ Even when people behave badly, we do not know what inner pain they are in causing them to act that way. “To know all is to forgive all” famously said Corinne De Staël. When people are behaving badly they may simply be unaware of the consequences of their action. Only God knows the whole story. God’s judgement is the only judgement we can trust.
And this includes how we are to look on those whose views are totally alien and incomprehensible to us – including those who voted against Women Bishops in this week’s General Synod. It includes the people who are judgemental and we would consider sexist or racist or homophobic.
We are commanded not to judge, but yet we come to church and we judge each other. There are dozens of different ways in which people in this Church will be judging one another this morning. From a simple “those shoes do not go with that dress, what does she think she looks like,” to “he can’t sing” to “they are not very serious about their faith, this is the first time they have been in weeks”
One of my pet niggles is when people judge noisy children, or perhaps judge their parents. I have to say, I think this is the first Church where I have ministered where this is not a major issue – we are a very understanding group of people, but it’s worth reflecting on it because it would be easy to lose our ethos if we don’t reming ourselves of why we are like this… In this day and age coming to Church is out of the ordinary. The normal thing is not to attend. A parent has to get their child ready for school every other day, a dance class or rowing on a Saturday, they have a chance for a lie in on a Sunday, but they decide to go to Church. Often its one parent on their own bringing more than one child to Church. It’s a rush, feeding, dressing and cajoling their kids. Then they arrive in Church, and instead of being greeted with a “well done for making it, can I help by taking a turn playing with you child if they get bored?” they are glared at if their child makes a noise, or told “in my day we instilled discipline into our children, we were silent through hour long sermons.”
This Church belongs just as much to the noisy child who wants to climb on top of the altar and do a dance as it belongs to you and me.
We may want to teach the child that there are better ways of worshipping God than dancing on top of the Altar, but our priority is to be welcoming, loving and helpful. Not judgemental, critical and rude.
We do not have the full picture of anyone’s life. And we should refrain from judgement.
And there is a final point to make from the story of the wheat and the tares. And that is that Jesus tells us God will judge. We may see weeds all around us: We see people in the Church with whom we disagree so fundamentally it almost seems they are worshipping a different God; in our society we see people standing up for causes that make us quiver with anger.
In the later Christian tradition Judgement came to seen as an individualistic matter – we all stand individually before God and make account of our lives. However the Biblical vision of Judgement is God Judging between nations to bring a world where Mercy and Truth embrace one another while Justice and Peace kiss, when God will cast the mighty from their thrones and raise up the lowly; filling the starving with good things, while sending the rich away empty.
Judgement is not about God reminding you of how you used to lust after Jenny Agutter after watching American Werewolf in London as a teenager (oops I think I’ve given too much away there!); judgement is about a world where all are free, where all our efforts to raise money for the poor, all our campaigns for justice, all the protests for peace, all our twinning of our toilets and our efforts to help, educate, inspire people all will eventually, in the end, bring in the Kingdom.
One day there will be a better world. One day the wheat will flourish. One day there will be a joyful harvest. We do not have to worry. The field belongs to God, and all will be well.