My little church in Woodstock, St. Gregory’s Episcopal, has a part-time priest. So, one Sunday a month, we do Morning Prayer, a service without Eucharist that can be led by a lay person. I delivered the message at this past Sunday’s service of Morning Prayer . . . and, here it is:
The Lord stood beside Jacob and said:
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.
Ah, Jacob. Don’t you just see him as the fair-haired captain of the team? Later in Genesis, he will struggle with God and . . . overcome and be renamed Israel! But, hold on! Wasn’t it just last week that Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s birthright by making Esau give it up for food when he was starving? And, for some reason, the lectionary skips the whole section about him deceiving his father Isaac with the help of his mother Rebekah:
Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.
18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”
22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him.24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.
“I am,” he replied.
25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”
Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”
27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him.
And, this is who God chooses to bless all the families of the earth?! As we know, Jacob isn’t the only such character in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of such stories:
- Abraham, the first patriarch, and father of Isaac and grandfather of Jacob, lies in Genesis 12 about his wife Sarai, telling the Egyptians that she is his sister, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” And, Pharaoh takes Sarai for his wife! This is who God chooses to bless all the peoples of the earth?!
- And, what about David? He is truly the ‘golden boy’ of the Old Testament, described as “glowing with health and [having] a fine appearance and handsome features.” But, as we all know, after being anointed king, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, sends her husband into battle to die, and marries the now-pregnant-with-David’s-child Bathsheba! This is David, the righteous king of a united Israel and the all-important ancestor of Jesus.
The Old Testament goes on and on with figures like this. But, they’re in the New Testament, too. In fact, Jesus’ own disciples display quite a propensity for quarreling (over who will be the greatest) when, of course, they’re not just distrusting Jesus altogether or out-and-out denying him. This is the group that Jesus calls to carry on his ministry? Jesus, himself, doesn’t get off scot-free either. His encounter with the Canaanite woman at the well isn’t exactly, well, Chist-like:
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting [a]at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began [b]to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not [c]good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; [d]but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed [e]at once.
Even Jesus had his moments. So, where am I going with all this? In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks in another parable about the weeds growing up among the wheat of the Master’s field. Then, Jesus goes on to interpret the parable. Matthew likes Jesus to interpret his parables, seeing them as allegorical, while the other Gospels are more prone to just have Jesus speak the parable and leave the interpreting to us. Many scholars believe that the interpretations in Matthew were added later—they are not Jesus’ interpretations. Be that as it may, I certainly see an odd collection of ‘weeds’ and ‘wheat’ in all these Biblical figures, from Abraham on. But, nonetheless, God makes use of these characters. God finds the wheat amidst their weeds and keeps it, throwing the weeds away. In fact, I recently came across a book by Dr. Preston Sprinkle that tells us that we will “discover how really bad people receive good things from a Creator who stubbornly delights in undelightful people…like us”! I take great solace in these characters. A friend of mine likes to use the phrase, “people like us.” These characters are people like us. Like us, they do bad things sometimes, but God still uses them, finding their wheat and saving it. I fervently hope that this is still true for me—God will separate my wheat from my weeds, saving the wheat and throwing the weeds away. That wheat is the truer part of me—the part that “[groans] inwardly while we wait for adoption” as children of God. And, as the parable reminds us, God is the judge; not us—“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.’ Dear God, I know that in the field of my heart there is both wheat and weeds: I pray that you find and use the wheat to your purpose, burning away my weeds in your glory. In the name of your Son, Jesus, we pray. Amen.