Wheat and Tares – Very Rev'd Keith Jones

While everyone was asleep an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…” Matthew 13 v 25Too much of my life is spent in committees, trying to find policies acceptable to enough people around the table to be put into action. If it is not your life already, it is likely to take up a good deal of your working time in the years ahead. It provides a good opportunity to watch your fellow human beings and their characteristics. In remember working for some time on a piece of work with a colleague who caused a particular problem. Being a highly intelligent man, he was for ever in search of the answer not to the matter in hand, but to the question that lay hidden behind the matter in hand. There was always, with him, a principle at stake which we were in danger of overlooking, and therefore a set of questions, not just one question, that needed to be answered first. And having broken our carefully prepared agenda with this semtex, he would then explain that what we were seeking to do was not the important thing at all, but would require (wait for it) a much more radical solution. With him, nearly all subjects went the same way: there must be first of all a major demolition of all that was there now. Then there would be space to build anew and without the impurities of the proposed design. I never decided whether this Jacobin was really a liberated radical committed to change and improvement or a mischievous reactionary who deployed this argument to prevent any change taking place at all. For the latter, as it happens, was far the most likely outcome of his interventions.People such as I am, who are less ambitious about changing things, but am genuinely interested to seeing how change can be steered and used have to learn patience. And therefore these words of the Lord about the tares in the field sown among the wheat are deeply reassuring. The farmer in Jesus’s parable has to live with the frustration of seeing his field far from the weedless prairie that our industrial farming techniques would make it. He knows it’s a mess, and the harvest in danger. But he must wait; wait for the sort-out that will surely come at the harvest time. And not lament or complain that it must be so: for the danger is that a radical solution is in danger of uprooting what is good along with what is bad.The kingdom of heaven is like this, Jesus said. That is the way God works with the difficult matter of our human world. He is holding back his hand, not because he does not want to uproot what is bad, but because he is most concerned not to destroy what is good. This is a clue to the way Jesus lived with his friends, too: if he saw, with the clarity that some people have, truly “uncannily”, about the people they meet, that Judas was a betrayer, he let him go on with what he would inevitably do. “Let it be so now”, Jesus said at his baptism. And as he is portrayed in the Gospels he is one who may provoke the troubles that fall on him, but who does not take the initiative in provoking them. He waits for what he calls the “hour”, the moment, the “kairos”, which is not his but the Father’s. In worldly things, we meet people who have a great gift for striking at the right moment: laying the right bet, buying the right stock, launching the right take-over, carrying out the radical restructuring of the business come what may. They take your breath away, these people, these children of this generation who are so much more effective than the children of light. Perhaps you have this gift: in which case I can only wish you well in your tightrope walking that may bring you to riches or damnation – or both.For Jesus’s restraint is no more the result of feeble will, or indecision, than the farmer’s in his parable. It is, what ours should be, a restraint of mercy. The farmer first of all, before he is horrified at the tares, concerned for the wheat. So we, in living with others, learn of the Lord to see and understand and cherish the good in them. Faith in Jesus helps us in other ways. That mercy is made easier by sharing His deep trust that God will care and protect what is good. I have no experience, I’m afraid, of living as if God was not there: an experiment I have ventured but had no stamina to sustain. Such glancing and temporary entertainments of atheism as I have dared have been for me intolerable and like a constriction to the spirits, and I don’t care to go there of my own will. A waste of life, moreover. For if somebody asks what does faith in the God of Jesus give you, I would say it gives me happiness in seeing what is good and confidence that it is lasting. For the good is not, in that Christian view, a threatened species, a beauty being hunted to extinction, or a doomed phenomenon with no lasting substance. The good wheat God will keep until His day. And this delivers the farmer from anger and keeps us from bad temper too. For God will have the last word, and his anger is kept until then. Jesus was not without anger: you feel it in his words and sometimes his actions. But it is summer storm, energy of decision fully owned and absorbed, not like a weak man’s outbursts and ill aimed fists and the cruel joke or sarcasm we too often repent of afterwards.God wants us, who hear his word, to be strong like this in our inner selves, that is our souls. We learn from Jesus Christ to desire steadily and deeply the flourishing of the wheat – that master image he used to describe the human life in its fullness. For that he labours rhythmically and expertly, doing all he can while he can do it, as a student takes care of the foundation of her study, assimilated to the deepest passions of what he desires of life: I’m sounding like John Ruskin, but no apologies for that. But then there are so many things, the world the flesh and the devil, that choke and frustrate his longing, and threaten great ruin. Only wisdom and being tuned to the heart of the Father will help us to discern when to act and when not to act. But mostly it is patience and fortitude that win. Anyone who wishes to manage human beings, and take them along a road, must have that quality of loving patience. And progress, measured by a genuine longing for another’s good, is glad of small advances, small changes. We rarely have a true chance of starting again. But we never cease to pray for the Kingdom to come, and to prepare for it with patience.

Very Rev’d Keith Jones, Dean of York Minster
15th November 2009

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