October 17, 2006

Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

In the parable of the wheat and tares sown simultaneously in a farmer's field, Jesus explained the symbolism to his curious (and unimaginative) disciples (vs 36-32). So, we don't need to go over the basic allegory again. Still, there is the nagging quesiton: why does God allow the 'tares' to keep growing until the end of the age? Sure, Jesus gives a brief explanation. However, there may be a little more to the story that we haven't thought about... maybe because we haven't been this close to the 'harvest' before these 'latter days.'

Once we become adults, most of us think we can detect evil when we see it. Of course, most evil-doers, criminals, confidence-men, etc. try to hide their true intentions from everyone in order to accomplish their criminal activities. Yet, sooner or later, they almost always slip up-- the leopard cannot hide its spots indefinitely-- and we uncover the crimes and their perpetrators. It has been like this down thru the annals of human history. Cain killed his brother Abel, then tried to scam God with feigned innocence. For God, it's an easy matter to discern evil. But for mere mortals, it can be most difficult. We don't have moral X-ray vision that allows us to see into the psyche of others... altho some sensitive people do claim to be able to 'read the aura' of other individuals, and to detect various hidden attributes of the soul. Until we regain that ability on a general basis, we have to rely on what we observe. 'By their fruits you shall know them,' say the scriptures. And so, bad actors like Hitler, Stalin, serial killers, disgraced CEOs, and so on, are easily recognized and reviled.

The problem is that the fruit of evil can often be disguised and hidden for a long time, so that we are ignorant of the danger in our midst. This is proving to be particularly true in the case of institutions. For whatever reasons, we humans tend to have almost an inherent trust in our institutions. I'm talking about such things as governments (at least 'democratic' ones), universities and schools, churches (including 'denominations' and clergy), medical systems, corporations and so on. What the late 20th century revealed to us in often shocking terms was that these organizations can in fact be very corrupt. While presenting the outward appearance of beneficence and decorum, there emerged stories of endemic abuse of human rights, corruption of officials in positions of trust, denial of justice, illegal siphoning of funds, and a great many other perversions of the public trust. By the 21st century, many of us have become cynical of institutions of all kinds. And yet, for those who call themselves Christian, it is difficult to accept that the same corruption could affect the churches that they are affiliated with.

Yet this corruption of nominally Christian institutions is the greatest challenge that faces all who aspire to the Christ-based faith. This is not the personal paranoia of this writer; Jesus and other NT authors warned their flocks-- of their age and the ages to come-- of the great dangers posed by "wolves in sheeps' clothing" who come to destroy the church of Christ. These warnings were not minor mentions to be relegated to the remote recesses of believers' consciousness. They were delivered in stark language by every writer of NT scripture.

The most strident warnings came from Jesus himself. His words that at the 'end of the age' will come deception so powerful as to deceive 'the very elect' leave no room for cautious word wiggling by unctious preachers. Will it be impossible to discern the evil in our midst, in that case? Certainly not, I insist. At least not for those who are true followers of Christ-- not of denominations or fast-talking 'evangelists'-- and who do even a modicum of Bible self-study. The ones who will be deceived are those who think they already have all the truth they need, be it secular or religious truth. Those who have shut their minds from further evaluation of new revelation; who have hardened their attitudes towards learning anything new in the realm of religion. These are the ones who will not be able to distinguish a stalk of wheat from a weed, who will be vulnerable to the strong delusion coming from Satan's worldly puppets.

For the 'wise virgins' who seek out the additional 'oil' of knowledge for their spiritual lamps, the fruits of evil are apparent at an early stage. (Matthew 25:1-13) They can discern the good wheat from the evil weeds in our midst, without being deceived by institutional baffle-gab and self-serving obfuscation by co-opted spokespersons. In these early years of the 3rd millennium, we are seeing an increasing demarcation between good and evil... and more importantly, between 'ostensible good' and 'so-called evil.' When seedlings are young and still growing it can be difficult to tell the good plants sown by the 'farmer' (God) from the weeds sown by the 'enemy' (Satan). But when the plants mature, there can be no mistaking the heads of 'wheat' (good results) from the spikey, domineering weeds (evil works). This distinction is the fulfillment of Jesus' parable, in preparation for the coming harvest. It is God's grace that lets the tares become so evidently evil that even the 'willingly blind' will have no excuse that it was too difficult to distinguish the evil-doers.

There are well-meaning Christians who believe they must protect the Church by overlooking the evils committed by church representatives. And there are those who are using the organization in a deliberate way to achieve certain personal ends, be they financial, political, or whatever. The most pernicious 'tares' are represented by organizations that pretend to have a benign purpose, but which have become infested at the highest levels with self-seeking, ravenous leaders. Those leaders may not themselves be the hands guiding the actions of the institution, but they are in the full control of often hidden manipulators who are the real powers behind the officers. Those organizations have been carrying out their grisly business for a long time, disguising their ugliness with clever 'PR' and buying of official favor. But the day is coming when their true evil intentions and actions will be unmasked. That will presage the Day of the Harvest.

For God's unerring justice to be fully revealed with no room left for lingering doubts, it is necessary to allow the noxious weeds to flourish among the good wheat. For dim human consciousness to finally recognize evil when it pretends to be good, it is necessary to wait for the harvest. Then, at the end of this trying age, will come the answer long anticipated by the saints slain throughout the ages, the victims of those vicious tares, when they ask in Revelation 6(10): "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?".

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