Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In the middle of Paris, about two miles from the Eiffel tower, there’s a little marble shelf installed directly onto a building. This little piece of marble is about this long, and above it is etched the word, “meter.” See, after the French Revolution, and desiring a standard unit of length, the French government installed a number of public meter sticks all throughout the city. If you don’t remember from high school science, at the time of the French Revolution, a meter was defined as one-ten millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole. This particular meter stick, on some street that I won’t dare try to pronounce on YouTube, is still there in Paris. The idea, of course, is that having these meter sticks in public places everybody could agree as to exactly how long a meter is. The English followed suit and placed a plaque of the Imperial Standards of length - foot and yard - in Trafalgar Square.
It’s simple, but revolutionary, to think that units of length were no longer arbitrary but standard. That anybody could go to the certified place and take a measurement. No more eyeballing it. No more saying, “yeah, let’s close enough.” Things became standardized and everybody agreed upon the standard.
Now, why does this matter for a sermon about a troubling parable given by the Lord Jesus two thousand years ago in a time when they still measured using their elbows to fingertips? I’ll tell you why. Because before we start wrestling with the furnace of fire and the gnashing of teeth, we’ve got to come up with some standard, agreed upon, theological words. The most important word, of course, is “love.”
I think many of us modern Christians read this parable and Jesus’ explanation of it and think to ourselves, “this doesn’t sound like it came from the God of love.” From there, we either do some fancy theological footwork to get around it or we just say something like, “oh, those people back then thought God was mean, but now we’re enlightened; we know what love means and they didn’t.” But we need to step back for a minute and acknowledge what’s happened here. We are using our own meter stick to define God’s love. This is all backwards. And it’s dangerous. Because essentially we’re creating a religion unto ourselves and fitting God in wherever we find it convenient, wherever if fits our measurements.
Back to love, and what we mean by God’s love. Love is now this wishy-washy word that is associated with Valentine’s Day and romance and being nice. We take that definition, measure it against this parable, find that the parable doesn’t measure up to our definition, and so we shake our heads and move on.
But you know I’m not going to let you do that. This parable, I think, can actually help us understand the true measure of God’s love. Rather than us measuring this parable, we need to let this parable become the meter stick, if you will, of God’s love. The furnace of fire, the gnashing of teeth, and the harvest may not sound so nice, but these will help us understand what God’s love is all about. So here we go.
In this parable, Jesus describes a field that is growing with both wheat and weeds. Rather than trying to pick out the weeds one at a time, Jesus says that the wheat and the weeds will be sorted at the harvest time. The wheat, of course, is harvested. While for the weeds - “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41). I don’t know how to say it any other way - this is good news. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. This great sifting out is the true measure, the meter stick, of just how much God loves the world.
God has noticed those who are evil and those whose purpose is evil. God has seen the weeds growing among the wheat.
The evils and injustices that we see perpetrated every day have not gone unnoticed. God is watching. God knows exactly where the weeds are. And God has been watching since the beginning - since Cain took his brother’s life, since Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, since the Romans razed ancient Jerusalem. These evils have a name - Babi Yar; Srebrenica; Colfax, Louisiana. If you don’t what those are, Google them and let your blood boil as God’s blood is already boiling at those evil names. God has noticed those evils whose names haunt history and God has noticed the little anonymous evils. God has seen every single injustice ever committed under the sun and moon.
But what’s more, God is going to do something about it. God will not let the weeds ruin the wheat, God will not let evil be harvested. One day, at the harvest time, at the Last Day, there will be a reckoning. That is how I know that God loves the world. Because God will not let evil has its way. Because God will not allow injustice and oppression to ruin a good crop of righteousness and peace. Yes my friends, this parable is the standardized measure of the radical nature of God’s love - God has noticed, God cares, and God will not allow evil to win.
I understand if all this talk about judgment makes you uncomfortable. It should. Because we also need to confess that the wheat and the weeds are growing together, at the same time, in our own hearts. But the good news here is that will one day sort all that out. God will separate our wheat of righteousness from our weeds of sin. This field, this kingdom that belongs to the Son of Man in this parable - it is the human heart. And thanks be to the living, judging, loving God - for one day God will purge that evil from us. Then our hearts will be free to love as God already loves us.
And perhaps right now, in the comfort of your living room, maybe some folks have muted me, turned me off, or gone for another cup of coffee. I’ll never know. But I’ll be saying this as long as I have breath in my lungs - “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9). And as that meter stick in Paris is still there, as an icon to the world of standardized measurement, so the judgments of the Lord are the standardized measure of God’s love. Don’t hear what I’m not saying - I’m not saying that God judges like we judge; I’m not saying that God is capricious and mendacious and self-centered as we are in our judgments. Oh no, God’s standardized measurement of judgment is the meter stick of love.
So those judgments, that harvest of righteousness, that victory over sin and the destruction of evil itself is exactly what Jesus Christ accomplished upon the cross. And that, that, is the true measure of God’s love.