Trinity 6 2017 | St. Paul’s Athens
Is 44, 6-8; Romans 8 12-25; Matt 13, 24-30, 36-43
I wonder how many of you know what a Hirax is? It is a funny little creature that you find in parts of north and east Africa. Strangely enough you also find them around the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Hiraxes are a little bigger than guinea pigs, have special padded feet that allow them to climb on rocks and they are very good at jumping. They entertain tourists and pilgrims effectively when they visit Galilee. So far you might think I’m making it up, but the best is yet to come. Although this little mammal is like a large guinea pig the nearest animal to it genetically in the animal kingdom is the elephant. There you are – now you are convinced I’m telling you a pack of lies.
Well, actually I’m not. The hirax is related to the elephant, and if you ever visit Galilee, you’ll see them. It seems bizarre that something so small can be related to one of the biggest animals on earth.
In this section of St. Matthews gospel Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. What a huge reality the Kingdom of God must be – greater than we can imagine, understand, accept and explain – too big for us mere mortals. Yet Jesus tells us about it plainly and clearly in a way that we can relate to. Forget the big stuff.
The Kingdom of God is like a sower, like weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, treasure hidden in a field, a merchant looking for fine pearls, a net that gets thrown into the sea to catch fish. All these examples are in this chapter of Matthew.
Our Lord uses parables to explain the nature, the qualities, the substance of the Kingdom; small examples to give us an insight into how we should be in our relationship with God, and in his Kingdom, with each other. These are as the hyrax is to the elephant – different in scale, but related in identity.
In this section of the Gospel 2 parables are explained; the parable of the sower, and the parable of what we know as ‘the wheat and the tares’. The whole point about parables is that they are self explanatory, so any explanation can actually diminish the layers of meaning and symbolism. I have a theory that the explanations given are like little mini sermons of the very early Christian church that have been incorporated into the gospel text, but that theory is for another time.
As Jesus illustrates the Kingdom in the parable of the wheat and the tares we have a classic antithesis of good and evil – a constant human dilemma. We face it daily in our lives in our choices, our attitudes to others, our words and our actions.
We see on our TV screens, or some of you here might know it personally, the very worst effects of evil, such as the so called peace that has now been achieved for the people of Mosul in Iraq. It reminds me of the line from Tacitus as he puts into the mouth of Agricola – the Romans create a desert and they call it peace. When we see the evil of IS and what they have caused to happen in Mosul we wonder if evil will always prevail. Yet we know that there is good even in the worst of situations, and often we will know ourselves when goodness has been shown to us in difficult or challenging times.
In today’s parable the employees of the farmer make the most natural of reactions to finding weeds in the field of wheat. Let’s pull them out for you sir. Yes, a reasonable human response, and like all human responses an attempt at a quick fix. Not so for the farmer. He prefers to approach it with some wisdom. There is divine insight here, holy wisdom.
We are thrown back immediately to Isaiah and the great declaration of blessing over Israel – I will pour out water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my spirit upon your descendents, and my blessing on your offspring; they shall grow up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams… I am the first and the last; besides me there is no God. (44,3-4, 6) – a beautiful vision.
In all that we encounter, all that we do, all that we say, and observe, we must all seek holy wisdom, for it is when we do that we will recognize the Kingdom, and instead of quick fix human results we will be witnesses to the God who loves us. The farmer knows that when all the field is harvested and they start winnowing and threshing that the wheat and the tares will react differently. He knows this and he applies the wisdom of his knowledge.
In our daily lives we must also apply this holy wisdom. The Kingdom of God is so immense, so immense which means it is everywhere and we will see in tiny incidents, actions, words, situations, that the Kingdom of God is among us.
The next time you see a hyrax in the streets of Athens just think of an elephant.