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Jul 23, 2017

Severus Snape

Passage: Matthew 13:24-43

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Summer 2017

Category: Daily Living

Summary:

A sermon exploring Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares with an illustration from Harry Potter.

Detail:

I am glad to be back at St. Patrick’s after a week-long vacation. I have returned to one of the judgement parables in the Gospel of Matthew. Thank you very much. There is nothing that makes me more excited than to talk about the separation between the good and the bad, the heaven-bound and those headed in the other direction. And, on top of that, it is a farming metaphor. I must tell you that even though I grew up in Nebraska surrounded by some of the best farmland in the entire world, I know nothing about planting things. Unlike my father, who had a green thumb (and was an expert gardener), I only have these flowers that have graced my living area for more than a decade.

As little as I know about farming, I still understand this parable. Even though weeds are less a problem for the modern farmer due to the advent of herbicides. The idea of the parable still makes sense. Jesus’ parable is about weeds (tares) that would invade a field, choke the harvest, and to the farmer looked like wheat.

Our instinct tells us to wrestle them out of the ground. But to an experienced farmer, so I’m told, that can result in losing the crop. Jesus teaches to wait until the harvest and then make the separation.

Now, this could be a farming lesson, but it isn’t. The Bible and the Gospels are about our relationship with God. Jesus uses this farming metaphor to teach his disciples (and us) about how to live. You can imagine that his disciples were asking Jesus questions about those people. Those people being the ones who lived in another town or followed a different ethical standard or who were born outside their group. They may have even been pointing fingers or standing in judgment about the choices and behavior of those people.

This is something that is part of human nature. Just like the original disciples of Jesus, we gather in our groups (family, church, or country) believing that we are the good seed planted and ready to be harvested and those other people are ruining our way of life and not living up to their God-given responsibilities.

We point our fingers at those other people because we expect instant transformation to our way of being. And the closer we live, or the faster we communicate, the more acute the pointing becomes, the wider the gap between the groups who are all judging one another.

That is the natural inclination, but it is not what Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus told them to wait. He told them to have patience, to reserve judgment, because through the challenge, the seed will survive and will even bear fruit in due season.

Let me give you an illustration. How many of you have either read the books or seen the Harry Potter movies? OK. If you haven’t, you should. Let me tell you that I went to the Harry Potter studios on my vacation. I went to the Harry Potter as Sacred text podcast recording earlier this week here in DC. Christian themes are embedded into the story line.

Now, I don’t want to ruin the books for you, but it’s been out for 20 years now. If you haven’t read or seen the movie, I want to introduce you to the character of Severus Snape. He is a professor at Hogwarts, wears dark clothes, hangs out in the dungeon, oversees Slytherin House and has sarcastic wit. Even if you haven’t read Harry Potter, you can imagine that he is suspicious. Harry and his friends throughout the books question his motives and can’t help but see bad in him. Yet, Snape is arguably the most heroic character in the entire series. We learn at the end of the last book (and movie), in the epilogue, that Harry’s second child is named after him.  Severus Snape looked like a weed ready to be plucked, but in the end, he was the one who gave everything to defeat evil.

This points to what Jesus is trying to teach with this parable. That we need to give everyone a chance, that we are not charged with making judgments of others, that we should open our arms to all people, because deep down they are good struggling through challenges.

We are living in a time when we make such quick judgments about everything someone from a different group does. We have forgotten to be patient, to wait, to mind the gap, until ideas have matured. We instead throw accusations and make hyperbolic statements. We don’t listen and we can’t see a way to compromise without losing the high ground of our own self-created world.

This is a spiritual issue that bleeds into our relationships and into our public life. It seems so easy to throw rhetorical bombs across the chasm that exist in our lives (and social media makes it easy to do this without having to deal with the destruction that it causes). But following Jesus means working together and finding common ground and really finding the good seed that exists at the core of even those who seem most dangerous.

We all struggle with the weeds planted around us, but in time we can overcome them and be part of the great harvest. It is a long path that requires our constant attention to the things that get in our way. It is why we ask, in our prayer, that God know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask.

All the children of God are good, we are all navigating the weeds thrown around us. And we must have patience and hope that we will all be harvested in the end.