I’ve always read Jesus’ story of the sorting of the wheat and the tares as a description of the final judgment, and sorting of the evil and the righteous people. In most of my early Christian life, this was the dominant picture of judgment: God choosing the people who had been faithful who were rushed away from impending judgment through rapture or deliverance to some place of safety by other means; later the sorting of some to heaven and some to hell.
During that time in my life this story challenged the judgmentalism that approach to Christianity often produced: the desire in this life to sort out who is on the Lord’s side and who is not, as if any human could see into another’s soul enough to judge another’s heart in relationship to God. Clearly, we can’t. Only God knows whose hearts are open to God. It may be that many that someone outwardly might appear to get it in terms of following God are simply behaving that way for show with skeletons in the closet, and others who seem to many hopelessly lost have found God in their own way, though none but God knows it. This story called me to abandon any need to be the judge of another’s soul, instead focusing on growing myself in the Christian faith.
I think that is still a great lesson we need to hear today. It is easy to judge another as too far gone, too full of sin, hate, bigotry, for God to touch. It is easy to start picking which religions, which cultures, which lifestyle, which sexualities are left out of God’s family failing to see that God is able to touch any heart move any person to a living faith.
Now I am much less interested in the picture of judgment where God picks certain people as redeemable and others as disposable. That image of a God who rejects anyone from the possibility of rescue and life just doesn’t fit with my experience of God. If God loves others in this world more not less than I do, how could God cast off others into unending torture whom it would break my heart to see so suffer? I cannot buy the picture of a God less, not more, loving than my own soul is. I no longer embrace judgment as abandoning any of God’s children or God’s creatures, but see judgment as necessarily somehow being a process which can lead to liberation and healing for all.
From that light, perhaps the “weeds” that we may face being thrown in the fire are not others at all but aspects of ourselves which do not live up to the light of Christ, which having removed from our lives actually free us to be more like Christ. There are aspects of my own soul like wheat which will bear good fruit and aspects of my character that are like tares, character traits that choke out life and purpose from me, or which can inspire me to act with injustice and unfairness to other. Ultimately God is at work in my life so that, in the light of resurrection morning, such tendencies will not reign in me. Now we work to help make alive those aspects of ourselves which allow Christ to shine in us the most clearly.
Yet this is tricky business. It is easy here and now to judge those aspects of myself as disposable, to tear them up. Yet God says to let them grow alongside the wheat, to let God judge.
That very judging of parts of ourselves as good or bad may make us lose sight of how parts of who we are enable both. That painful experience we hope to forget may not need to be plucked up. If we learn to relate with it differently, it may become a fount of compassion toward others who are hurting. Our fiery temper may be a source of pain when it flares up at people undeserving of wrath but could also be a gateway, when channeled toward justice, to embracing a life of activism for the oppressed. Our seeming disorganization which feels so crazy-making might be a pathway, if we embrace it from another angle, for becoming a creative, artistic person who beautifies God’s world.
This is a powerful image in this parable of learning to both not be ruled by the more life-destroying tendencies of my soul, while opening up to the parts of my character & life journey which are most life-giving, without forgetting or pushing out any part of my life as disposable. This is not judging ourselves to eradicate what we don’t like. It may be what seems horrible now may later like a caterpillar transforming to a butterfly become a source of beauty and strength. Learning to extend grace to myself while also challenging myself to grow to maturity is central to the spiritual life.
This process of abandoning judgment of ourselves and of others, while also embracing discernment of which part of the field of our character, personality and life experience must be watered and expressed frees us to become our best selves. It frees us to grow into the full field of ripe wheat, ready for harvest.
Let’s become those fields of grace together.