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July 17, 2011
Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The passages this week challenge me to accept the complicated relationship between what is “good” and what is “evil,” and to not be satisfied with a polarizing view of either.
In Genesis, Jacob has a divine interaction which blesses not only himself but his family and community. Psalm 139 reflects God’s deep knowledge of and presence with the Psalmist. Romans and Matthew both look forward in time, to hope in redemption that is not a reality but which is promised.
At least, that’s my more positive take on the passages. What also is present throughout these narratives is a deep intertwining of “good” and “evil.” Jacob, after all, has his vision while running from his brother Esau, whose blessing Jacob has just deceitfully taken for himself. The Psalmist seeks deep within to test for wickedness. In Romans, creation itself painfully longs for redemption as if in labor.
Initially, the passage in Matthew doesn’t make this much easier. Hoping for a future of redemption for some which is also a future in which weeds (explained by Jesus as being the “children of the evil one”) are burned up where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” certainly fails to align with what I hope for at the end of the age.
Perhaps that’s the point, though. In his commentary on Matthew (Herald Press, 1991), Richard B. Gardner points out that the owner of the field has the choice to either uproot the weeds, or “let the wheat and weeds contend with each other.” In the parable, “God permits evil and good to coexist until the end” (p. 214).
Gardner suggests that the weed in the parable is possibly a darnel, a weed which looks almost exactly like wheat until both are fully grown. This, to me, is profoundly challenging. Externally, what is “good” in the field and what is “evil” cannot be easily discerned from each other. It is only when the plants have fully grown together that God – in God’s timing – separates the two.
Each passage speaks to this deep interconnection between what is “good” and what is “evil”. Both are present within Jacob and his family, within the individual Psalmist, and throughout creation. In the parable, to uproot what is evil is to uproot what is good.
It reminds me that when I believe I clearly see what is good in opposition to what is evil that my polarizing the two concepts may be the very opposite of seeing the kingdom of God – where judgments are saved for God to make precisely because the two are so closely connected.
Although it makes things messier than what is comfortable, these passages remind me that evil is not only outside of myself, but also part of my own struggles internally and with others. It also reminds me that where I recognize what may be “evil”, that good is not far off: Jacob is blessed with a vision even in his deceitfulness, and it is the Psalmists understanding of God’s deep knowledge of an individual that drives the Psalmist to ask God to test the wickedness within.
As an advocate, I hope not only to remember how the culture of policy can be incredibly polarizing – but to be challenged of how polarization has affected me and my ability to tell the stories of what is good even when all I see is the evil around it.
By Christina Warner, Legislative Assistant for Domestic Affairs, MCC U.S. Washington Office