Genesis 28:10-19a; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Ordinary 16A; Proper 11
“Let me sleep on it.”
That’s the phrase we use when we aren’t sure which direction to go, which decision to make, what we should do next. Let me sleep on it. Jacob sleeps on the stone that will be the foundation of his tribute to the presence of God made known to him in his dreams. The farmer in Matthew will sleep after a hard day’s work in the fields only to wake up to weeds infecting his crops.
What happens in the dark of the night when we are sleeping? Dreams of divine promises or nightmares of evil thwarting all we’ve worked so hard to make grow. Sleep can bring respite or terror, depending on the circumstances. What’s odd is that one would think Jacob ripe for nightmares and the one who sowed upon good soil destined for sweet dreams.
Jacob is exiled, having just tricked Esau out of his birthright, in a place far from home, with nothing but a stone for a pillow. He is on the run from his rightfully angry brother, and his future looks anything but bright. His father’s blessing does not portend well for God’s blessing at present. And yet, in that very place and state, as he sleeps, God pays him a visit and makes him a promise, several promises actually: promises of land and progeny all wrapped in God’s unwavering presence. Not a bad outcome for a cheat and a fugitive. Shouldn’t Jacob be the one having nightmares of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Why is it the one who sows good seed, after getting some well-earned rest, faced with managing the carnage left in the night by the evil one? What about the whole “good trees, bear good fruit” bit? Shouldn’t he reap what he sows, rather than clean up the mess he did not make?
Let me sleep on it. Upon waking up, the angels and the devil have been revealed and they did not visit the ones we would have expected them to call upon. It’s as if Scrooge got an assuring visit from Gabriel and Bob Cratchit had the hauntings. What’s up with that?
Well, weeds and wheat are all mixed up in this world and we don’t get to sort them out or even really know which is which. The one who sows good seed is, Jesus tells his disciples, the Son of Man and the Son of Man gets crucified. The enemy and the children of the evil one have their temporary victories in this in-between time and only at the end of the age will they be silenced. God works through Jacob. And Moses and David and other wheaty/weedy people, too. Even those who diligently sow good seed must wrestle with weeds that threaten to overtake all they’ve planted and cultivated. Sinners, cheats, murderers and those low enough to fool their own kin are enlisted into the work of the Kingdom. Go figure.
Let me sleep on it. During those seasons when we feel like we are running for our lives or those times when we are in a regular rhythm of planting, both God’s promises and the evil one’s challenges sneak up on us in the middle of the night. The curious thing about both Jacob in Genesis and the master planter of the Matthew text is that their response to such different night visitors is similar. Jacob proclaims God’s presence and marks it with a pillar, while the farmer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Let everything keep growing.” But both are confident that God will do what needs to be done and therefore they will keep moving forward.
That is a powerful word, I think. Whether we are thwarted by the enemy or reassured by angels while we rest, God’s will and work continues and will be done. The weeds can’t suffocate the Word. The promise will be fulfilled (even if Jacob has to leave his family and marry Leah and work longer in order to marry Rachel and… and… and. It’s a long story, right?). As a Baptist pastor friend of mine says, “God is going to get it done. The victory is sure. We don’t have to do God’s job.”
Therefore, we can sleep on it. Divine dreams may come. Demonic deterrents are inevitable. Regardless, we can sleep. Soundly. On a stone in the middle of nowhere or in the comfort of our own bed. When we wake up, comforted or confounded, we get up and return to work. Sometimes with visions of angels dancing in our heads and sometimes with people all around us questioning our choices. Trusting always that God is going to get done what needs to get done – sometimes through us and sometimes through the brother we hate. Wheats and weeds are all tangled together until God decides it is time to sort them out. We might be surprised who ends up in which bundle. And, truly, that is not our worry. It is God’s.
Tom Currie, in his book, “Bread for the Journey: Notes to Those Preparing for Ministry,” writes, “I remember reading a story about Martin Luther, perhaps apocryphal, who was asked once what he would do if he knew the world was going to end. He replied he would plant a tree. His point being that whatever else the future holds for us, it should never paralyze us with its anxieties or distract us from our tasks of faithful service. Jesus is still Lord, even if the world ends. He is Lord over every end, even The End.”
Currie goes on to talk about his young granddaughter and the worries he has about the world in which she will grow up but concludes, “The Christian hopes, Barth writes, by looking toward the future, armed with certain weapons of the Spirit, which he calls ‘alacritas, hilaritas, and (following Calvin), laetitia spiritualis’: cheerful readiness to serve, confidence in the victory of Jesus Christ, and the spiritual joy or joy in the Holy Spirit.”
It seems to me both Jacob and the farmer who sows good seed, regardless of their radically different night visitors, wake up looking to the future, and get up ready to serve. Jacob built a pillar. The farmer tended the complicated crops in his field. Martin Luther preached and taught and perhaps planted a tree or two. What about us? As we look to the future, equipped by the Spirit, confident that Jesus is Lord of all – all time, all space, everything – how will we cheerfully serve?
Maybe you should sleep on it and then get busy.
- When have you been tempted to start pulling weeds regardless of the harm that did to the wheat? Why couldn’t you let them grow together? Have we done this in the PC(USA)?
- Do you think much about the end times? What difference does your awareness (or not) of Christ’s return make in your daily living?
- Take a look at other passages where the image of gathering is used. Matthew 24:31 and Matthew 25:31-33, for example. What do you notice? How is “gathering” positive? How is it negative?
- This Matthew text has ties to the final judgment text of Matthew 25:31-46, as well as Matthew 7:21-23. Do these texts help reveal what it means to be wheat? Or a weed?
- Search for other places in Scripture where people set up stone pillars. What occasions do these pillars mark? Do we do similar things to mark places that have special meaning to us?
- Check out this blog for a prayer based on this week’s Gospel text.
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