Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm: Psalm 86:11-17
Epistle: Romans 8:12-25
New Testament: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
What is the relationship between hope, waiting and action? I ask this because Paul and Jesus are talking about waiting and hope. They are directing our attention to the “end times” the “last days”. I suspect that most of us are like me in that talk of “last days” or “end times” is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the “Left Behind series” and a type of dispensationalist theology that focus our attentions on waiting for the violent destructive end of the world. Waiting and hoping for Christ return and the end of the world is a difficult stance for me and I think for us who do not embrace the current popular Christian version of it. But also culturally I think waiting as a good thing works against our experience and cultural biases. In a sense the image of Jesus’ parable of a farmer waiting for the harvest is not what we know of waiting.
When Kate and I moved to Chicago from Los Angeles nine years ago, our lifestyle dramatically changed from being dependent on a car for our transportation needs to dependent on public transportation. Our car broke down in the cold winter and while repairable was beyond our means to fix, I was in seminary and Kate was still looking for work. We began using buses and trains. I hated to wait for the bus, they seemed unreliable especially the Kimball and Foster buses we lived near. If I could walk somewhere in 15 or 20 minutes I’d walk it instead of waiting for the bus. It was a point of minor contention between Kate and I. We joked that I did not believe in buses, and that she had too much faith in buses. My lack of belief meant I was unwilling to wait, and Kate’s faith in buses meant she wanted to wait. Invariably if we walked a bus would come, if we didn’t we ended up waiting a long time for a bus (or so it seemed to me in those first days as a rider of the CTA). I did though have great faith in the trains. But even so we would end up also waiting for the train. In my impatience I’d wonder if we should fix the car or simply long for the car culture of LA. But then we’d find ourselves back in LA for a visit rent a car we’d invariably end up waiting in traffic. And the same when we would borrow someone’s car here in Chicago. If I have to wait I am sure something has gone wrong. The longer I wait the more I am sure. If stuck in traffic in LA, I’d turn to the news and traffic station in hopes to hear a report of what went wrong, on the train if I wait a really long time I begin to listen for an announcement explaining the delay.
There are very few instances in our lives where waiting is a good thing. If we have to wait as often as not it means that something has gone wrong or at least we have the belief that something isn’t working correctly: someone forgot we were coming, attempted to fit too much into a period of time, or some other failure of our time sensitive systems. If things run smoothly we will not have to wait. We know that it if we have kept someone waiting that we need to apologize.
And then today we hear both Jesus and Paul tell us to wait, and that our waiting is part of God’s plan, it is what is called for right now in the Kingdom of God. Our waiting for the end is a good thing. The delay or need to wait is not a sign that something has gone wrong, there is no mistake this is what the Kingdom of God is like. We are told that waiting is part of living into the reality of God’s plan and transformation of the world, we are told to wait for the full revelation of the Kingdom of God.
We may be able to say, I can get waiting for the final revelation the ultimate fulfillment even be able to say that this waiting is part of what God is doing. Yet, still struggle with that waiting entails when it suggests living with both good and evil together until some point in the future when all will be made well, as the parable of the wheat and the tares points towards. We might want to blame this parable and other portions of scripture for producing the “left behind” series. or It may also sound like an encouragement to a certain form of mysticism that walls itself off from the cares and concerns of the world and the plight of the poor and the oppressed looking only for a purely spiritual and Gnostic communion with God. Yet we would say that the Gospel is more than just some future thing, and surely there is offer of justice, and freedom now, Paul talks about our having already had a taste of what is to come. Surely the Gospel calls us to act to liberate people from oppression and poverty, not wait for some time in the future or the slow transformation of the world.
This is the problem with waiting it makes us wrestles. We see that there is so much wrong in the world, in our immediate surroundings, in ourselves that we might loose patients. We also can get discouraged, overwork ourselves because evil, sin injustice, failures all around and in ourselves all loom so large. To us Paul says you see all this because you have tasted what is coming, this taste isn’t the fullness of what is to come, but we know it is coming but we wait in hope knowing the delay is not a mistake, and so we must be patient. Jesus says, oh and yes the Kingdom of God is like this situation a field full of weeds and plants that can’t be separated until the harvest. Don’t be overwhelmed or worried when things seem the same even after the Kingdom has arrived, do not despair. What I hope we can have ears to hear from our Scriptures to day is words of encouragement and hope not quietism or escapist theology that simply rejoices in the world going to hell in a hand basket.
To help us hear this I have some suggestions on how to hear this parable and Paul’s words to us:
If we are lead to activism and in our desire for justice and liberation our scriptures call us to step back from our action and ask what is ours to do and what ultimately can only be done by God and must wait that final revelation and transformation.
If we have tasted and already entered the Kingdom of God, if we know Jesus then we should have a heighten sense of evil and sin in the world and ourselves, but this gift also needs the acknowledgment that we as human beings are not capable of completely uprooting sin evil and injustice, from the world or even ourselves. Thus, we and the creation groan in the present time.
In the end these passages are about hope in the face of a world that remains with sin death and injustice, even after Jesus’ proclamation of the presence of the Kingdom of God and his resurrection and ascension of the world remaining much as it has always been. We hope and can wait because we can be confident that a new world will come the end of this World dominated by sin, injustice and evil will be transformed and that transformation has begun. We can share in that now, but we do not bring about the transformation of the world and the uprooting of evil. And so there is an aspect of even in our actions there is a waiting, a willingness to be and know that we ourselves need the transformation. so we wait, but in hope knowing that what has begun will come to completion like fruit becoming ripe and being harvested.
This means that our sense of liberation and working for justice needs to have an eschatological hope. We needs to understand that it is God who ultimately will transform the world and uproot evil and not ourselves, at the same time, if we are connected with the Spirit we groan with the effort of this slow transformation, and we are called to be patient even as we see and suffer from injustice and oppression and evil in the world, we are called also to see the good that is already the sign of the future harvest when the new world God will bring about will become fully manifest.
So, This is like and unlike waiting for the bus or train, we can do nothing to speed up the end when the Kingdom will be fully manifest in all its glory, yet our waiting is not passive nor restless, but of the groaning effort of living between two worlds. So, wait with hope look for the signs, find ways to be signs of the Kingdom in our world, but don’t hope in the signs hope in the only one who can transform the world and completely uproot evil, God, who in the Son, Jesus Christ, overcame the world of sin, injustice, evil and death. Remember the Kingdom now is like a field overrun with weeds waiting for the ripening of the fruit. We can see the ripening fruit and can identify the weeds and must wait for the harvest.