Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Waiting for the Inheritance
If you know that you are in line to receive an inheritance, especially a sizable one, which likely affects the way you view the world. You may be a little less anxious about the future, but at the same time you might become impatient about receipt of the gift.
The realm of God is a bit like this situation. We know that we have received the promise that we will receive the blessing of God’s largesse, but the time of that receipt is not known. The promise is there, but we must live in hope. The difference, of course, between the realm of God and our typical inheritances, is that with the realm of God we share the blessings of God, and in reality we’re already sharing in that legacy now, just not fully. Some of the fullness of that realm is still in the process of being revealed and even created.
There are three texts before us in this week’s lectionary readings. In Genesis we find Jacob receiving a reminder of the covenant that God made with his father and his grandfather. It is a promise of land, which to this point had yet to be received in full. But it wasn’t just about land; it was about a people who would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Then in Romans 8, Paul lifts up our adoption as children of God, reinforcing the purpose of God in bringing blessing to creation. Note that the creation itself groans in anticipation. Then in the gospel we hear what seems like a different word. Indeed, in Matthew 13 we hear a parable of judgment. There are two kinds of people – those who belong to God and those who belong to the enemy. This word may be unsettling to us, especially we who see ourselves as progressives and focus on God’s love rather than God’s judgment. But, it’s there and we must face it!
We begin with the famous scene wherein Jacob is camping out as he journey’s from his home in Beer-Sheeba to his ancestral homeland to find a wife. While he is sleeping – a rock for a pillow -- he has a dream and in this dream he sees a ladder extending from earth to heaven, and upon this ladder angels are ascending and descending. As he is sleeping/dreaming the Lord (Yahweh) stands next to Jacob and speaks to him, renewing the promise that God made to Abraham and to Isaac: the land I’m giving to you will be a place for you to be a blessing to the peoples of the earth. And as before, the promise extends not just to Jacob, but to Jacob’s offspring or descendents. Not only this, the promise is made that wherever Jacob goes, God will be with him. Indeed, God promises to not leave Jacob or his descendents until the promise is fulfilled.
Jacob responds to this visitation by declaring: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Jacob’s response is one that we could easily make. How often do we not recognize God’s presence in our midst? How often do we find ourselves thinking that we’re on our own? But here in this place, Jacob declares that he has gotten the message. And in response he not only vocalizes his change of perspective, he symbolizes it by taking that very stone he had been using as a pillow and made it a pillar, pouring oil over it to consecrate it, and calling the place Beth El – the House of God.” Throughout the Pentateuch we find such monuments being erected as sacred reminders that God is active in their midst. What are the sacred reminders that God is active in our midst? In my tradition, the Lord’s Table, around which we gather at least weekly, stands as a reminder that God was in our midst in the person of Jesus and that God continues to be present and active in our midst in and through the Holy Spirit.
The Pauline text from Romans 8 contrasts flesh and spirit, death and life, but in the midst of this conversation Paul speaks of our inheritance. We have, if we’re willing to be led by the Spirit and not the flesh, Paul says, the Spirit of adoption, by which we have become heirs of God. As I read this text in conversation with the Genesis 28 passage I hear in this an expansion of the promised blessings. The children of God include Israel, but in Christ the doors are opened up so that the world might flow in and be blessed. Having the Spirit of Adoption, we can cry out to God “Abba Father.” Note that Paul uses both the Aramaic abba and the Greek pater so as to double down on the meaning of the relationship. But the point here is clear, having received this spirit of adoption, we have been made heirs of God. Now in the ancient world, the first born son received the entirety of the inheritance. Remember in Genesis 25, where Isaac gets Esau to sell his birth right – and thus the inheritance. Once he had received the inheritance of his father, he could do with it as he chose. Esau would have no claim. For Paul, this principle holds, except that we are made joint heirs with the Elder brother, Christ Jesus. In Christ we share in the birthright, and therefore we might be glorified with him.
There is a catch, of course. The fullness of this inheritance has yet to be handed down. We’ve been welcomed into the family and received the promise, but with creation we wait for the full revealing of this reality. Creation is groaning as if in labor pains as it awaits the coming of the realm of God in all of its fullness, and it will come with the revealing of the children of God – the heirs of God. So, now, at this moment, we wait in anticipation. We can taste the presence of God, but still we walk by faith, not by sight.
In the Gospel reading today, there is a parable, a parable that is told and then interpreted in a very stark way. This is the parable of the weeds. The kingdom of God is like this – good seed is sown in a field, but while the owners are sleeping the enemy (the Devil) slips in and sows the seeds of weeds. In time, both the grain and the weeds emerge from the field. I know all about weeds as they seem to grow everywhere, trying to crowd out the grass and the flowers. No matter what you do, they’re difficult to get rid of. In the parable, the workers come to the master and ask – what should we do with the weeds? Should we pull them out? The master responds by counseling them not to pull the weeds, because in pulling them out you might pull out the grain. Instead the counsel is to leave the weeds in the field and then when harvest time comes, they could separate them out – with the weeds being bundled up and thrown into the fire. Who or what do the weeds represent? The children of the evil one! Jesus reminds us that we live in a world where both good and evil are present. You can’t separate yourself out and you can’t rid the world of those with whom you disagree. But in the end, when harvest comes, the angels (reapers) will separate things out. Those who are evildoers will get theirs and those who are children of God will receive the inheritance – the Kingdom of God.
The word in the gospel about the kingdom is a good reminder that the promised inheritance is the realm of God. It is in the midst of this realm, which we both experience in some form now but not in its fullness, that the full blessings of God will be revealed. The suffering will be over; evil will no longer be a threat. To quote Philippians 2: Then “every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). I’m not sure I can resolve the tension present in this passage. There is a word of judgment and a word about two ways of being present in the world – one following in the ways of God and another the ways of evil. The Star Wars fan in me remembers that there Force can go either way, but I’m not sure that this fits.
But if there is a word that comes down through all three texts it is this: God has promised to bless creation and we can be part of this process. God, according to Genesis, began the process by calling to God’s self a family and through them began to share blessings. Then, in Christ, the doors opened wider, so that all of creation might share in this inheritance. But Jesus reminds us that not everyone wishes to share in the inheritance. Not everyone wants to be a blessing. How judgment takes place is in the hands of God, but it is a reminder that even as we seek to live out our calling, there are other forces in the world that are working against God’s desire for the creation.
So, as we contemplate these texts, are you ready to take hold of your inheritance and be the blessing that God would have you be?