Scriptures: Genesis 28:10-19a and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Back in May, my husband and son and I drove down to Cincinnati to see a traveling exhibit from the Swedish National Museum called “Vikings: Beyond the Legend.” There were life-size recreations of enormous Viking ships, huge swords and tiny daggers and a great variety of other deadly weapons, and numerous artifacts relating to Norse mythology. I was particularly fascinated by an interactive digital display that allowed users to explore a model of the entire cosmos as it was understood by the Norse peoples. I spent about 30 minutes moving through every part of this interactive display and learning about the different mythological realms and their inhabitants.
Now, I cannot tell you proper names of the different places and beings, because my brain has not retained any of them – I know there’s a big tree that’s really important, and nine different worlds, and dwarves and elves and even a magical squirrel — but if you’re really interested, you can talk to my eight-year-old and he will go into great detail. I left the exhibit feeling educated but also slightly amused by the silliness of it all. How could anyone believe in a world like that, with all those different levels and realms? A world where holiness is confined to particular physical locations, a world where the Divine can be mapped out?
It seems so strange to me, and yet…. Sometimes we think the same way, don’t we? We talk about God being Up There amongst the fluffy clouds and angels playing harps, while we’re stuck Down Here in the dirty mess of earth with all the war and famine and disease. God’s up there, we’re down here, and we won’t even talk about what’s Down There….
“Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!”
This is what Jacob says when he wakes up from his dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels going up and down. He’s out in the wilderness, on the run from his brother who wants to kill him, and he went to sleep with nothing more than a rock for a pillow, completely alone. Except he wasn’t really alone.
When we read this story we tend to focus on the ladder, and it is a very captivating image, but what about God? God appears to Jacob, God stands beside him and offers a blessing and a promise: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God is with Jacob, God has been with Jacob and will continue to be with Jacob wherever he goes.
We can imagine Jacob the night before, laying his head on that hard rock, probably not feeling particularly holy or blessed or connected with God. And yet, although Jacob did not realize it, God was there. God was there when Jacob went to sleep, and God was there all through the night, and God was there when Jacob woke up. It’s this amazing, miraculous dream that opens Jacob’s eyes to the truth of God’s presence with him, and Jacob celebrates this realization.
“Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!”
Before his dream, Jacob did not know that God was present in the place he chose to sleep that night. What about us? Where are the places that we do not know or feel or experience God? We know that all the world and everything in it belongs to God, but really, some places just seem more holy than others. The church is a perfect example! It’s easy to believe that God is present in this place, with the sounds of the organ and the flames of the candles and the beauty of the altar. We read the Holy Scriptures and we sing the ancient hymns and we share in Christ’s body and blood in this place. We know that God is here.
But what about the places outside these walls? What about the coffee shop and the library and the ice cream parlor? God is there. And what about the drug dens and back alleys and prison cells? God is there, too.
Jesus spoke of wheat and weeds, of the world as a great field where the “children of the kingdom,” the wheat, are interspersed with the “causes of sin and evildoers,” the weeds. Whether we’re wheat or weeds, we’re all in this field together. If you’re anything like me, you really hope that you are wheat.
Jesus knows that we want to be wheat, and he also knows that, for hopeful “wheat-ies” like us, there is an enormous temptation to go wedding. We love to identify and point out the evildoers, to draw lines between ourselves and them, to announce loudly again and again how different “they” are from “us.” Those people, those “others,” they are the weeds. Aren’t they horrible? We’re nothing like them.
But it’s not that simple. The Greek word that’s translated here as “weed” is Zizania, and it refers to the cockle plant. Cockle is abundant in Israel today, just as it was during the time of Jesus. Cockle is sometimes called “false wheat,” because the growing plants are virtually indistinguishable from wheat. Cockle and wheat look exactly the same until the ears appear, just before harvest time. Before that, you can’t tell the difference.
In the parable, Jesus tells his followers not to go wedding. When they offer to pull up the cockle plants, he says, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” The wheat and the weeds are in the field together, their roots are intertwined, and they are almost impossible to tell apart.
This is the state of the world, is it not? People are selfish and violent and cruel, and people are also generous and compassionate and merciful. Every day all over the world, people commit acts of evil and acts of love. And we’re all in this together.
Jacob thought he knew where God was and where God wasn’t. He was wrong. God was and is and will be everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places. Even, perhaps, in places that are full of weeds.
Jesus asks us not to condemn or destroy the weeds of this world, but to spread his Gospel of love and mercy and resurrection life wherever we go. Our ministry is not wedding, but cultivating and nurturing and growing.
My prayer today is that we may all know God’s presence in the fields of our lives, and that we remember that we are called to build up and not to tear down. May we look at the great field around us, at all the wheat and the weeds, and know that yes, “surely the Lord is in this place!” Amen.