July 17, 2011
We, as Americans, are accustomed to power. We see ourselves as militarily and economically superior to other nations. When you add this truth to our independent nature and our can-do attitude, it is easy to explain why for some of us power is almost an unqualified good. We see it as our birthright to live the way we want to live and to use our power to attain our goals. With this attitude it is easy to ignore or dismiss other people who get in our way.
Now of course the power we have is a gift from God. In itself it is a good thing, and we should use our resources for our own good and for the good of others. Taking all this into account, it is still amazing how often Jesus asks us in the gospels to hold back from using the power that we possess. He frequently teaches that we should refrain from doing things that we have both the ability and the power to do.
This is particularly clear in Jesus’ teaching of non-violence. He frequently teaches that when we are attacked or faced with evil, even though we might have the means and the ability to retaliate, we should not. We should hold back instead. This teaching of Jesus is found most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount where he instructs us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. But it is found in many other places throughout the gospels and one of them is in today’s parable of the weeds and wheat which we have just heard.
To see the non-violent message we must situate the parable in the setting of Jesus’ ministry. Farmers, at the time of Christ, were not the mega-industrial farmers that they are today. They were small operators with usually less than an acre of land. They lived in small agricultural villages with their families as tight-knitted communities. This background allows us to see the impact of Jesus’ message. In the small farming community in which this parable takes place, when the farmer notices that there are weeds among his wheat and tells his servants an enemy has done this, the farmer most likely knows who the enemy is. By examining his relationship with his close neighbors he can easily determine which one of them would have wanted to cause him harm and which one of them, therefore, tried to destroy his crop.
Knowing this, the reaction of the farmer is very telling. Even though there would be a strong inclination to retaliate, this is not what the farmer does. He absorbs the attack and he refuses to strike back. He turns the other cheek. Not only this, but the parable goes on to tell us that there was still a harvest. Despite the fact that the weeds were mixed in with the wheat, the farmer was able nevertheless to gather wheat into his barn.
This parable of the weeds and the wheat presents us with a counter-cultural, non-violent approach to life. At the same time it makes the point that such an approach is not irresponsible or weak. Choosing not to retaliate does not prevent us from supporting ourselves and our family and producing a harvest. The parable therefore challenges each one of us to look at the way we use our own power and authority. As parents, as employers, as friends, how often do we use our authority to coerce others? Giving a command or making a demand might seem like a quick and efficient way to get to what we want, but very often dialogue and persuasion are better.
To absorb the attack, to deflect the insult is not a sign of weakness. The parable tells us that refusing to use violence is not a lesser way or a cowardly way but Christ’s way. When we refuse to use our authority and power to coerce others, we are not settling for second best. We are showing that we are, in fact, disciples of the Prince of Peace.