At the Intersection of God's Omnipotence and Compassion
God's omnipotence is established in the OT reading. "I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God." (Is. 44: 6)? God's compassion is established in the Epistle. He "groans" and "intercedes" for us (Rm. 8: 26-7). The Gospel reading shows the mystery of the relationship between God's all-powerfulness and His all-lovingness.
This is a busy intersection. A lot of wrecks happen. The Novatians collided with the Church in the 3rd century and the Donatists in the 4th over weed pulling. The so called "Holiness Churches" which date to the post-Civil War and are around today wreck over this same issue. Even lone, Christians longing to be faithful to only God's Word, get into accidents at this intersection. They want to wade out into the wheat fields and rip out the weeds as soon as they show themselves. The Novatians, Donatists, and holiness groups said if you're not willing to do that, you weren't faithful.
Of course, you can wreck on the compassion side of things. This is the liberal church that has been around America since the 1920's. They eventually denied basic doctrines of Christianity from creation, to hell, to resurrection, to marriage, the Virgin Birth, and salvation only in Jesus' name, all in the name of compassion. Read the article at the end of today's newsletter. The emerging, non-denominational, parachurches are going the same way. Non-judgmental Christianity means there are no boundaries delineating who is in and who is outside the Church. There is no church discipline based on Jesus' saying, "Let both grow together."
The wreck I'm most prone to getting into is a big one: What I can't reconcile in my mind can't be true about God. I can't understand how God can be all-powerful and all-loving. If He is all-powerful that He can stop the lovelessness of mob violence and the pitiless coronavirus, can't He? And the Parable of the Weed and Wheat has what I can't reconcile about God in spades. God in flesh and blood depicts the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps according to Psalm 121 sleeping while the Devil does as he wills.
At the intersection of God's omnipotence and compassion a lot of wrecks do happen, and the Devil is in the details. I always told my kids that when it came to hunting or fishing stories, the devil was in the details. If someone asks what you caught? You can say, "We caught some" as long as you don't specify. If they wanted to know where, you can say, "Out by" and no details. The problem came with the details. A 10 inch fish is "a nice fish" compared to no fish. A spike buck is a nice deer compared to no deer. The devil is in the details and that's a problem. But in our text, they are the answer.
In the parable the Lord's servants are confounded by the presence of weeds in His field. You can't tell it from the insert but when they saw the weeds they asked the Lord expecting that He did only sow good seed. They asked literally, "Lord, surely good seed you sowed in your field, didn't you?" Then they asked like we do in our prayers: Where then did the weeds come from? How did they get past your omnipotent hand? How could your compassionate heart allow it? Sound familiar? Where did this scourge of a virus come from if not by Thy omnipotent hand Lord? If I have to deal with it, why doesn't Thy compassion at least deliver me from my other problems?
Jesus tells them and us where evil and suffering in the world come from. In the parable it's an enemy. In the details given to disciples we're told that the enemy is none other than the Devil and that what he sows isn't just weeds but "the sons of the Evil One." The God who is holy cannot be the source of evil without ceasing to be God. Just like He can't cease to be all-powerful or all-compassionate without ceasing to be God. So we're heading for another collision, before we get there lets turn aside, and at least avoid the wrecks of the Novatians, Donatists, and holiness churches who demand a strict clearing of the weeds before any sheaves can be brought in.
Jesus plainly tells the disciples: "The field is the world." It's not the Church. It's not the one Holy Christian Church we confess to believe in or the local congregation we're a member of. The field is the world not the Body of Christ. In the world, you uproot weeds and you may uproot wheat too. That's a truth anyone who gardens can grasp and has probably done. In fact, some translations leave no may' about it, translating not what you may do but what you will do. In the world good and evil grow together and that is by the Lord of the world permitting it to happen not for the sake of the weeds but for the sake of the wheat. But as Augustine said in the context of the Donatists wanting all weeds rooted up now -, "'They who today are tares [weeds] may tomorrow be grain [wheat]'" (Buls, Exeg. Notes, Gospel A, After Pentecost, 30).
At the intersection of God's omnipotence and compassion a lot of wrecks do happen and the Devil is literally in the details, but that doesn't solve the dilemma of reconciling what an all-loving, all-powerful God lets happen in the field of His world. You haven't talked to many of the new atheists, agnostics, or as they are now called the Nones. When asked about church affiliation, they say, "None." You haven't talked to many if you haven't had the accusation spat at you: how could a loving God allow child abuse to go on? It can be anything where God does doing nothing to stop the evil or help the suffering. Where's your all powerful God? Where's your all loving God? Huh? Huh? Huh?
First, God isn't interested in answering them. At least not in this text. I mean Jesus left the crowd with nothing more than an enemy has trespassed on God's field and the distinction between the weed and wheats will be made at harvest time. That's all the answer that unbelief got, but apart from the crowd Jesus explains more to us disciples. The upshot of the explanation is that God is Lord even at the intersection of His omnipotence and compassion where so many do wreck and the Devil is in the details.
You can't read or listen to a part of the Bible as if it sits there apart from the rest. Jesus says here, "The field is the world." In John 3:16 Jesus says, "God so loved the world." Not a part, not a piece, but the whole field of the world God loves. In 2 Cor. 5:19 we hear, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people's sins against them." After His Baptism, the Spirit reveals to John the Baptist that Jesus is "the lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world." 2 Peter 2:1 has this startling statement: "They [false prophets] will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them." Get that? Even false prophets were bought and paid for by Christ on the cross. He's Lord even of the fallen, the lost. He went to the cross bearing their sins too.
Though God indeed appears to sleep this is what incenses the Nones God's apparent sleeping He knows exactly what the Devil and his sons are up to. And even in the parable Jesus uses a word that must have caused even non-disciple's ears to prick-up. When the Lord of the field answers His servants what to do about the weeds, He says, "Forgive them." A-fe'-a-me is the word used for forgiving sins by sending them away, but it can also be used for letting something go on. That is the meaning here, but Jesus uses this word to pique interest in forgiveness and to show another wreck that happens at this intersection. Many mistake God's "letting something go on" for God forgiving something. God not judging quickly and decisively is no indication of God's approval let alone forgiveness. He allows weeds to grow in His world along with the wheat for the sake of the wheat. He even allows them to flourish. Read Ps. 37 where evil men are compared to green and growing plants. David even sees "wicked and ruthless men flourishing like a tree in it's native soil" (35).
But none of this means God is asleep at the switch or not in control. None of this means Jesus has ceased to be Lord. In fact, the flourishing of the wicked and even of a disease, often drives people back to the Lord. Read Psalm 73. There the psalmist is driven by the wicked prospering in health and wealth back to his Lord. The wrecks going on at the intersection of God's omnipotence and compassion drove him here. In verses 16-17, the psalmists says, " When I tried to understand this [the prosperity of the wicked], it was very troubling to me, until I went to the sanctuary of God. Then I understood their end." Likewise, it wasn't till the woman of Luke 8 had spent all her livelihood on doctors to treat a disease that she turns to the Lord.
The God who gave His only beloved Son over in your place; the Father who gave His perfect Son over in place of all befouled, fallen sons and daughters of Adam, is going to do at the end of the ages what unbelief demands He does now. Kids do this sort of thing when young. When they're little and you have painstakingly built a structure, they will insist on putting something in or on pulling something out. You try to tell them you can't do that now because it will wreck it, and they will do it anyway. When they are small, it results in tears for them; When they're bigger it can result in tears for you.
The Lord promises that at the end of the age, when it's the right time, the weeds will be collected, literally "picked out", bundled and burned forever in hell. The wheat is gathered into the Lord's barn. The wheat is separated, set aside. And did you hear Jesus slip in two words at the end. The barn is the kingdom of their Father and it is the righteous who are gathered. That is you who are in Christ. That is you who have no righteousness of your own. By way of His righteous life and death is the only way you and I can be righteous before God. In your Baptism, He clothed you with it, and in your Absolution, he brushes off the accumulated dirt of another week's sinfulness. And in Communion Jesus is your body and blood-brother.
So put on those clean clothes and stand at the corner of Omnipotence and Compassion confident that whatever happens the Lord doesn't want to wreck you and the Devil can't. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (20200802); Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43