Here comes the judge, here comes the judge….Sometimes laughing can help remind me to take off the robe and put down the gavel. Maybe you also remember from the days of “Laugh In” Sammy Davis Jr’s routine. It came to mind this week. Stop weeding. That is another message that we can take from this week’s gospel in Matthew 13.
Now this isn’t about me or you not keeping up on the physical weeds in our backyards. It’s about staying out of the business of being the judge of others. Another way to understand this comes from a phrase I have used for a couple decades. “Take off the black robe and put down the gavel”. This is one of my code phrases to stop judging, to stop judging myself and to stop judging others. Let God discern the wheat from the weeds. Stop weeding. Let go of judging. It seems so automatic to judge ourselves and one another. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is in? Who is out? Here comes the judge and the judgment.
In all the upheaval of this time, I invite you to hear Matthew 13 as a message of letting God do the judging as we do the listening. Let God do the weeding and let us take more time to listen to God in God’s word from one another and in what we see in the world. Listening is a key part of following Jesus. Watching and waiting are important also. Inspired by a column posted on Working Preacher this week I am hearing a message to stop weeding and instead to start watching with more intention.
The “Dear Working Preacher” letter written by Joy J. Moore entitled “Stop Weeding and Start Watching” invites the preacher to be clear in pointing to the work that Jesus is doing. What is God doing in your life? We practice each week sharing God Sightings and part of my motivation in this is to help us be practiced in listening to one another and looking for the activity of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus we gather together to point to the work of God in the world, not to to judge one another. The Rev. Dr. Moore invited more pointing to Jesus and letting go of the judging.
In Matthew chapter seven Jesus was straightforward with his followers about the danger of the self-righteousness of judging others:
Matthew 7 1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?
The message is clear; judgment is not our job. To let go of the anxiety of who is in and who is out, especially now in this polarized time of our society, will require the help of God; God guiding us and God equipping us. This is a powerful message for us to heed. Let God do the judging and we… we are invited to do the trusting. Let those who have ears hear, Jesus says.
In Matthew 13 we hear the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Without my night guard, I won’t get a good night’s sleep. I grind my teeth. It doesn’t just happen in the night sometimes during the day I clench my jaw. I don’t know if that is exactly what the gospel writer means by the “gnashing of teeth” and I do know that when I am tense and stressed my jaw takes the brunt of it.
The Greek word used for weeping in this text is the crying of bitter tears, a bitter grief that springs from feeling utterly hopeless. The expression weeping and gnashing of teeth is found seven times in the bible- six of them in Matthew’s gospel. When I look for safety in a bank account, my health or mental acuity- if I put trust in my own righteousness or goodness to save me- this is the perfect set up for the weeping and gnashing of teeth. To cry the bitter tears and grind my teeth happens when I am wearing the black robe and I have picked up the gavel. When I am worried about what is wheat and what is weeds. When my trust and faith is in my own effort, righteousness or understanding the teeth grinding intensifies and the fear looms large.
The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is part of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The fiery furnace where the weeds separated from the wheat have been thrown isn’t Jesus trying to “scare straight” the disciples by use of parables. Jesus is inviting them into his teachings of the kingdom of God. Remember how he told those who are weary and heavy laden to come to him to place their burdens upon him for his yoke is easy and the burden light. Let Jesus do the judging.
Jesus is both preparing them for the difficulties they will face and guiding them to doing the work that is theirs to do- sowing seeds, casting nets- not weeding or harvesting, not counting the catch. Jesus is speaking to us as well.
In the explanation to the parable he speaks of an end time judgment that will take place. Here comes the judge and the judgment.
41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
God will do the judging. God will do the weeding. Making the case to stop weeding is not an invitation into complacency. Instead, it is an invitation to take off the black robe of the final judge and put down the gavel. Instead, practice listening and take time to look within. Know that the final judgment of you is not in the hands of any human, yourself included, but in the hands of God. "God will do the judging" can at first sound like bad news…and then we are reminded that God came to be among us, to take on flesh our very human form, to live our experience, to show us the way of love.
In reflecting upon and reading this parable one of my colleagues put it so beautifully;
After all, the one who judges us--the one who sends the purifying fire--is really the one who loves us the most. -Pastor John Petty
We hear this affirmed in the first letter of John the 4th chapter. I share it here in the the Message translation;
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.1 John 4:17-18 The Message (MSG)
Free of worry on Judgment Day- no weeping or gnashing of teeth, when we trust that God IS love. Well-formed love banishes fear. Pause when agitated. Take off the black robe. Put down the gavel. Stop weeding. Listen. Remember, the one who judges you is the the one who loves you the most. Loves you the most! A deep connection with and trust in God is the way to freedom. Together we are reminded to be open to directions, to let a mature faith grow in us and let love cast out fear. I Invite you to join in praying this prayer from Holden Village.
“The Holden Prayer.”
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen