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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Kingdom of Heaven Is a Mixed Field

The Parable of the Tares (Weeds / Darnel), found only in the Gospel according to Matthew (13: 24 - 30), is a curious story - not easily understood. And, unfortunately for us, the explanation put into the mouth of Jesus by Matthew (13: 36 - 43) does not really help us to understand it any better.

Jesus tells of a farmer who planted his field with wheat then, as he slept, an enemy of the farmer came during the night and oversowed the field with tares. The farmer’s servants recognize what has happened and ask for permission to root out all of the tares, but the farmer instructs them to be patient, and to instead let the wheat and the tares grow up together, saying that if the tares were yanked up, the wheat would be damaged as well. He tells them to wait until the harvesting time to separate the wheat from the weeds; the weeds will be bundled together and burned at that time.

The “tares” of the parable (Greek - ζιζάνια) have not been specifically identified, but are commonly thought to be not just “weeds” but Poison Darnel, also known as Bearded Darnel (Lolium temulentum), a ryegrass that looks almost identical to wheat, at least right up until the harvest time - and is susceptible to the Ergot fungus which can cause hallucinations, irrational behavior, and even death when consumed. It’s not just a prank. It’s not a minor irritation; the oversowing of darnel into the farmer’s wheat field was a deliberate and malicious act of sabotage. And, apparently, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the ancient world. There was,in fact, a Roman law against this kind of malevolent sowing. (Digest

The parable seems to be an injunction against an overzealous attempt to root out heresies and other objectionable elements from within the Christian community. “Let them grow up together” is the instruction, at least for now, they’ll be separated and burned by the harvesters. But the explanation of this parable ostensibly given by Jesus a few verses later neglects this apparent meaning, and makes the parable into a stiff, apocalyptic allegory of the end of the age.

This disconnect between the apparent motive of the parable and the explanation, combined with a variety of other peculiarities within the explanation cause many biblical scholars to suggest that “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the interpretation of the parable of the Tares is the work of Matthew himself,” (Jeremias 81 - 85) and not directly from the mouth of Jesus.

It is even suggested by Sherman E. Johnson that the Parable of the Tares itself may be a literary construction composed by Matthew (by rewriting his source material in Mark 4:26 - 29) to provide a twin parable for the Parable of the Sower (to fit alongside the twin parables of mustard seed / leaven and hidden treasure / the costly pearl) who then provided his own allegorical explanations for them both (Johnson “Introduction” 239, “Exegesis” 415), explanations which may or may not have been what Jesus intended in the telling of the parable.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a mixed field - the good wheat seed sown by the farmer muddled with the toxic, seed mingled in by his enemy. Both grow up together. But we are to carry on our work in spite of mixed results. (Kee 625)

“O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! The harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who can make the separation, and who cannot make mistakes. ... I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days” (Augustine)

The servants of the farmer wanted to rush out to the field to pull up the plants sown by the enemy, to storm the fields yanking the pernicious plants up by their roots. But this would have caused damage and trauma to the farmer’s good wheat. Patience. Patience is what the farmer urged on his servants and not zeal, not furious anger, or even righteous indignation, but patience. This is not to say that we are unconcerned with bad doctrine or heretical theology, but it is not our job to go rip-roaring through the fields tearing up the plants and throwing them into the blazing furnace. The self-appointed sentry who takes it upon him or herself to rid the field of these weeds by confrontation and belligerence has taken up a task that the master has not given us and will not further the growth of the kingdom, but will instead cause damage and division.

Be patient. Let the kingdom (a mixed field though it be) grow as the farmer has told us.

Augustine, Sermon #23 on the New Testament.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1972. Print.

Johnson, Sherman E. “The Gospel According to St. Matthew: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

Johnson, Sherman E. “The Gospel According to St. Matthew: Introduction” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

Kee, Howard Clark.  “The Gospel According to Matthew” The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1971. Print.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

(Not Quite) Biblical Limericks: Good News Today

I’m telling no lies, playing no tricks -
the good news today has me transfixed: There’s a publisher who is ready and set to
publish my biblical limericks.

The acceptance email came this afternoon from Wipf and Stock. I’ll share more details as I have them. And, of course, you can still get a copy of my first book, Muted Hosannas.

Workplace Safety

This morning, around 9:00 my supervisor at work came round to tell us that there would be a mandatory plant-wide meeting in the break room. "This can't be good," said one of my workmates. There's usually a meeting like that every 90 days without an injury - that comes with a special meal as a reward and incentive- but we're currently only at 84 days without injury.

The news was indeed, not so good. Our plant manager announced to us that overnight there had been a fatality in one of the other company plants in Oklahoma. He didn't  have any real details to share with us - other than the fact that the plant where the death occurred is laid out differently than ours  and that thier issues would not be our issues specifically. But he did use the opportunity to remind us to follow the safety procedures, and the OSHA regulations, and to wear our protective items properly.

We've come a long way from the beginning of the industrial revolution when workplace accidents were common and laborers were cheap; we've come a long way from incidents like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 (resulting in the deaths of 146 garment workers).

Maybe the plant where I work only emphasizes the need for safety so as to avoid lawsuits and expensive settlements; maybe thier motive is purely fiscal. But I don't think that's the case. There seems to be a genuine interest in making sure that we are safe.

So don't take shortcuts. Don't grumble about the encumbrance imposed by OSHA and the Department of Labor. Look twice before crossing the street, and always wear your helmet and seat-belt. Make sure everyone goes home alive at the end of the day.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Biblical Limericks: An Apocryphal Guy

Tobit was an apocryphal guy,
while he slept a bird shat in his eye;
his sight and vision failed
so he cried, and he wailed,
and he prayed to God that he might die.

Tobit 2: 1 - 3: 6

Friday, July 14, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Let’s Dig Up the Body of President Lincoln

My name is Holt, Judge Allen Holt.  It’s not a title; I work - worked - at Alvin’s Speedy Lube and and Parts until recently. Until David George convinced me to join him in his plan to dig up the body of President Abraham Lincoln.

“Let’s do it,” he said to me after work. We sat in Lindsey’s Tavern, as we occasionally did after our shift at the Lube and Parts. David George was the lead mechanic. I switched back and forth between mechanic and sales; David George said I wouldn’t know a wrench from a wrestling match. He said stuff like that ‘cus he was clever, I suppose.

“I mean it. I’m serious, Holt.”


“Why, what we’ve been talkin’ about for the last week,” he said. “Let’s dig up the body of President Lincoln. We could do it. No problem. It’ll be easy.”

“Dig up??” I sputtered. David George had some weird ideas now and then - like the time he wanted to spray-paint the Lube and Parts’ manager’s car pink.  But this was the craziest. “Why would you want to do something like that, anyway, David George.”

David George ignored my question. He usually did. “It’s easy. Lincoln’s buried less than an hour from here, in Springfield. We can do it all in a couple of hours overnight, when it’s dark. Sneak in and out, no problem.”

“Yeah, but why?” I insisted. “Why would do you want to do this?”

“Listen,” David George looked  up and down the bar, then leaned close and whispered. “It’s not exactly a secret, but it’s not widely known - President Lincoln kept secret, important papers inside his hat. The stovepipe hat, right? That’s why he wore such a tall hat.”

David George is from Enid, Oklahoma. I don’t know if that’s important; maybe they do things differently in Enid.  Maybe they know things in Enid that the rest of us don’t know.  It’s all crooked lines from there to here. There are murderers living side by side with CEOs and investment bankers, slave-owners and rapists next to venture capitalists.  At least that’s the way that it is here. Enid, Oklahoma’s gotta’ be better than this, right?

“That’s the way the world is, Judge,” said David George. “It’s the only way to succeed,” he said. “It’s the only way to make something of ourselves. Suspicion, rumor, innuendo, unchecked allegations of obscene tax evasion, recriminations - these are the watchwords of successful leaders. We’ve been workin’ at the Lube and Parts since high school; do you really want to be working there for the next twenty years? I sure dont.”

David George downed the last of his beer. “I want to be something. Not like my old man.”

“What happened to your dad?” I asked. I’d known David George for a long time and he’d never said much about his dad, or any of his family really.

“He died.”

“Oh.” I said and sipped my beer as I waited for elaboration. I waited several minutes.

“It’s not so much that he died.” David George continued. “I mean, everyone dies. It’s the way he died.” I waited in silence again for more details. Then, “He was run over by a truck as he slept in his bed.” I waited again. Then he asked me a question: “What about your old man? Is he dead?”

“No.” I said and took off my ball cap to scratch my head for a second. Dandruff.  I got pretty bad flakes.  “No. My daddy’s a missionary in an undisclosed location. It’s top-secret priority.”

“He’s a preacher?”

“I suppose you might say it that way.”

“I ain’t known many preachers modest enough to be good at it.”

I thought that might have been the end of it. I thought he’d maybe order another round of drinks and that we’d sit in LIndsey’s another couple of hours. That’s we’d go to work at the Lube and Parts just like always and that David George would forget all about grave robbing. But no.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “Alone if I have to. I’ll walk with a firm step through a thousand of his friends to find out what’s in those papers, Holt. I need something more tempestuous than this gilded lithium-salt regulated equilibrium. If I can’t shoot the president, I'll steal his corpse.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Return to Normal - and - A French Film

As my life starts to return to something like normal (though a new normal!) I hope to return to something like regular blog posting again. It is a creative outlet that I've missed in the last 8 weeks or so...

To that end, I share with you today a French film entitled Charles - it is about a poetic film about a baroque actor with musique by thatjeffcarter.  Enjoy.

CHARLES from Abel Llavall-Ubach on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Biblical Limericks: They're Usually Right

The fortune of the rich is their might,
a fortified city sealed up tight;
they think that it's a wall,
that it never will fall -
and, what is more, they're usually right.

Proverbs 18: 11

A (Mostly) Fitting Reading

It has not been many days since my last Sunday as an officer (pastor / administrator) with The Salvation Army and I am still adjusting to being a lay member in the pews on Sunday mornings. The past two weeks we've joined with a UMC congregation not far from our new home, and enjoyed the friendly welcome there. This congregation is also going through a transition period as they have a new pastor assigned to them by the bishop.

The new pastor spoke this morning from Genesis 24 about the "leap of faith " exhibited by all those involved in finding a bride for Isaac - trusting God that their union would bring joy and blessings.

It was a fitting reading of that text for the congregation's situation (the unnamed servant = the bishop arranging the match, the congregation = Isaac not knowing what to expect, and the new pastor = Rebekah entering into this new relationship on faith). A fitting reading even if it ignores the historical/cultural context in which arranged marriages were less about attraction and personal compatibility than profitable economic transactions, and didn't even mention the probable historical anachronism of camels in the story. Camels weren't used as beasts of burden until much later in Israel's history. (Alter 114).

And what happens if we press the reading a little further?  Who would be equated with the greedy and insincere Laban?

Alter, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. NY, NY W. W. Norton & Company. 1996. Print.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It Is Great Fun

The simultaneous firing of a thousand black and chrome motorcycle engines will not drown out the drone of bagpipe inflation. Fire truck sirens scream and the people gathered on the square clap and shout: the parade of death is begun. The Parade Marshal, dressed as Old Man Unle Sam and seated on the back of a borrowed convertible, next to the Poultry Queen (wearing her tiara and ceremonial sash of feathers and throwing chicken feed to the crowd) waves, and the people cheer again. The armed honor guard follows close behind to ensure the audience, the whole audience, and everyone in the audience makes the necessary, and obligatory salute to the glorious flag.

We seat ourselves again as a motorcade of classic cars with aoooogah horns passes by. They are followed by a hundred different tractors (Farmall, John Deere, International Harvester) each one towing a nuclear tipped ICBM behind.

A troop of tap dancing children and star-spangled gymnasts waves at us. We wave back. The high school marching band blared out the school fight song. We sing along. Behind us a trio of unsupervised teenagers light a string of firecrackers and throws them into the street.

War veterans of the last seven wars in a fleet of jeeps and humvees with mounted machine guns drive by us now. They swing their machine guns back and forth in an arc along the crowds on either side of the street. They pull the triggers and fire. The crowd screams in delight; the guns have been fitted out with water cannons. It is great fun.

The trio of teenagers light another explosive. Larger this time. One of them loses a finger in the blast. The crowd cheers again. It is great fun.

Soldiers on tanks throw candy bars and chewing gum. Hellfire missile drones fly over dropping t-shirts and bumper stickers. Bombs burst in midair and in the rockets' red glare red glare we scramble in the gutters for free candy and merchandise. It is, everyone agrees, great fun for all.
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