This was the homily from this week’s worship service, delivered by Hugh Hollowell. The text was from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
The Rabbi Harold Kushner says that all conversations about God either start with, or end with, the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people.”
The fundamentalist Christianity of my youth would answer that there are no good people, that the question is not why do some folks have it bad, but why are we not all burning in hellfire, because of our inherent unworthiness next to God’s righteousness.
That was not very helpful, you know?
I know a woman who spent her whole life working in a rural Mississippi school, teaching rural country kids to read. On the weekends, she taught Sunday School and in the summers, ran her church’s Vacation Bible School. She and her husband personally helped at least a dozen kids to go to college. The woman was a saint.
She was retired and serving as volunteer librarian for her small town when she found out she had cancer. The phones in this small town lit up, spreading the news that Martha was sick with the cancer, and that the family was asking for prayer.
The town prayed. All five churches in the town held prayer vigils. Every Sunday school class in each of those five churches put her on their prayer list. I bet it is safe to say that over the next six weeks or so, there were thousands of prayers for Martha.
But Martha died. Her last few days were horrible, as she coughed up blood and was drugged beyond sensibility on morphine to make the pain bearable.
As deaths go, that one sucked. Not sure where our prayers helped.
And then there is a guy I know, who has impregnated six different women, taken responsibility for none of them, who is a crack addict, who is always stealing other peoples things, who defrauds the government and churches… and he is doing fine. He seems to thrive, actually. If I could pick who would get afflicted by cancer, this guy would be a candidate, for sure.
But no, he keeps rocking along, while good folks like Martha die horrible deaths.
And anyone with sense thinks this is sorta jacked up.
Why do people get raped? Why do people end up homeless? Why do good people lose the job they desperately need to feed their families?
Why, why, why?
I used to scream at God about this. I used to get so mad at God – I mean, God is in charge, right? God has a plan, right? Is this the plan? If so, it is a pretty stupid plan.
Then I read this parable.
In the parable, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who plants good seed, but an enemy comes at night and plants weeds. When the weeds show up, the workers want to pull them up, but the farmer says no, because if you pull them up, it will hurt the wheat. So they let them grow, and get rid of the weeds at harvest time.
One thing you probably ought to know is that this was no ordinary weed. It was a weed called Darnel, and it looks a lot like wheat while it is growing. In other words, it is hard to tell it’s a weed. It also was poisonous and had a pretty intense root system that wrapped itself around the roots of whatever was nearby, so if you pulled up the Darnel, it would pull up whatever was around it – in this case, the wheat.
OK, make sense now? Maybe not. But you are not alone. It made no sense to the disciples, either.
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!
So, Jesus is saying, “God has a plan. There is an enemy to God’s plan, who seeks to disrupt it. The weeds are mixed in with the wheat, and to pull the weeds means I hurt the wheat. But one day, the harvest happens. Then, the weeds will be destroyed and the wheat harvested and God’s plan will be fulfilled. ”
In other words, I hear in this that God is not yet completely in control. God has enemies that disrupt God’s plan. So right now, God’s plan is not fully realized. But one day, it will be.
And until then, we have each other.