If this was a year like any other, my husband Fred would be following the baseball season right now – morning, noon, and night – and especially his favorite team, the SF Giants. But then, of course, this isn’t a year like any other, and big time sports in this country have been basically canceled. These are tough times for sports fans – it’s just another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a habit is a habit, and so, whenever we sit in the car together, Fred tunes into a sports channel – even though there isn’t any real sports news right now. Fred is definitely suffering from sports withdrawal syndrome.
So this last week, we were sitting in the car, the sports channel was on, and I just tuned out, because sports news to me is boring to begin with – and even more so now – but then my ears perked up.
The sportscasters were reporting on a story that had stirred up the sports world, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with athletics. So here’s the story:
Lately, an African American NFL player for the Philadelphia Eagles, DeSean Jackson, has used the social media platform Instagram to post some comments in support of Black Lives Matter. So far, so good. But he also posted an anti-Semitic statement in that context.
If you are familiar with social media, you probably know what happened next: there was a storm of responses, condemning Jackson for this objectionable post. Some even called for him to be thrown out of the NFL. How dare he! Away with him!
And that’s quite symptomatic of the times we are in. We are on edge with everything that’s going on right now, we are very easily incensed and are constantly tempted to feed the fire of contempt ourselves. We judge. We condemn.
At some point, Julian Edelman, who is of the Jewish faith and plays for the New England Patriots, joined the social media conversation.
Edelman wrote: “I know he said some ugly things but I do see an opportunity to have a conversation…I’m proud of my Jewish heritage and for me it’s not just about religion. It’s about community and culture as well. Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest forms of hatred. It’s rooted in ignorance and fear…There’s no room for anti-Semitism in this world. Even though we’re talking about anti-Semitism, I don’t want to distract from how important the Black Lives Matter movement is and how we need to stay behind it. I think the Black and Jewish communities have a lot of similarities…We need to listen. We need to learn. We need to act. We need to have those uncomfortable conversations if we’re going to have real change.”
Edelman then offered to meet with Jackson and go with him to the Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, so that both could share with the other about their heritage and the struggles of the communities they are part of.
In conclusion, Edelman said, “This world needs a little more love, compassion and empathy.”
Wow! What a story! It restored my faith in humanity – despite all the contempt and fearmongering and finger pointing and quick judgment and condemnation we experience so often these days, there are still decent people out there – people, who seek to build understanding. People who seek to love their neighbor. Not all is lost. There is hope. Thanks be to God for that.
But then I also felt a pang of shame. Edelman had shown humility and greatness in reaching out his hand to Jackson. Would I be able to do the same under similar circumstances?
There is a certain kind of weed, or tare, as it is often called in stories of the Bible, that, in thousands and thousands of years of evolution, took on the resemblance of wheat, at least in the early stages of growing. It cannot be distinguished from wheat. And this wild growing, unproductive plant has strong roots that hook up to the wheat’s roots, intertwine with the wheat’s roots. You can’t pull the tares out without harming the wheat plants. Good and bad grow together.
Jesus has a story about that to tell – which is also a story about justice. God’s justice. A landowner sows good seed in his field, seed that is to bring abundant fruit. But, as we hear, overnight an enemy comes and sows weeds among the good seed. As the landowner’s servants realize this, they ask the landowner: shall we rip out the weeds?
Shall we rip out the weeds?
That’s out first instinct, isn’t it? We often understand justice in the light of ‘an eye for an eye’ – we think justice is mainly about retaliation. The whole justice system in this country is built on the premise that you pay for your transgressions. Unless of course you have enough money to pay the best lawyers or have influential friends in high places. But that’s another story…
Shall we rip out the weeds? That’s usually our first instinct, to judge others, to condemn them, dismiss them, if they’ve done something that’s wrong in our eyes.
But does this represent God’s justice?
It’s interesting that the much quoted ‘eye for an eye’ from the Book of Deuteronomy is not called the ‘law of justice’, but the ‘law of retaliation’. And justice and retaliation are NOT interchangeable in the Bible. God’s justice, expressed through the Hebrew word ‘tsadiq’, transcends all human experience and expectation of justice; it always includes the element of forgiveness and reconciliation, an element of restoration.
God is just. Yes, God may punish, and we hear many stories about that in the Old Testament, but God also reaches out to God’s children, over and over, even after promises are broken and after perpetual disappointment. We hear over and over I the Old Testament that, in the end, God’s justice will be established forever on God’s holy mountain, to which all peoples of the earth will come and live peaceably with God and one another. That’s God’s justice: something that’s just too big and awesome for us to truly grasp. It even may be hard for us to accept: what? THAT sinner is redeemed?
Jesus reflects this sense of justice in the parable we heard today. Shall we rip out the weeds? But the landowner cautions the overeager servants: now is not the time. You’d destroy the good with the bad. Wait until the harvest – then you can gather the weeds and bundle them and burn them in the fire.
Jesus cautions his disciples, Jesus cautions us to slow down and be very careful about our judgment. Yes, the bad is sown with the good. But up until just before the harvest, you can’t tell the wheat apart from the weeds.
And how can we be so sure that we are the good seed? After all, until just before the harvest, everyone looks the same.
We confess every Sunday morning, that we are not different from others, not better than others, that we all are in bondage to sin, because the way we live is determined by our drive to fulfill our own desires first instead of trying to figure out what God’s will for our lives collectively may be, in short, that we all tend to be selfish.
The good and the bad are intertwined within each and every one of us. Jesus’ disciples were not perfect. How often does Jesus cry out in desperation, O Ye of little faith? And we just have to look at Peter, arguably Jesus’ star disciple, who nevertheless denied his Lord three times, to see that the good and bad is intertwined in everyone.
We see this reality represented in the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang. But we don’t have the stray so far to the east to grasp this concept: Martin Luther famously said that we are all sinners and saints at the same time – justified by God, but at the same time still driven by our selfish desires. We ought to be very careful with our cries for ‘ripping the bad stuff out’.
And: we ought to be careful with our judgment of others. Because by judging others, we in fact assume the role of God. Which may be the greatest sin of all – to want to be like God. As Jesus says, why is it that you see the splinter in your sibling’s eye, but not the two by four in your own?
The story I told you earlier about the NFL players Jackson and Edelman wasn’t finished with Edelman’s offer to meet, share stories and educate each other. Shortly after, Jackson issued an apology. As part of his apology, he wrote, “We should be together fighting anti-Semitism and racism. This was a mistake to post this (meaning the anti-Semitic post) and I truly apologize for posting it and sorry for any hurt I have caused.”
He also connected with Edelman and spent an entire day talking with Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg.
This story gives us a glimpse of God’s justice, which always includes an element of forgiveness and reconciliation. God’s justice gives us more than a fair chance to confess our transgressions, to change our minds, to change our hearts, to turn around.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the cross of Christ. Here, we see our condemnation, the judgment over us. But at the same time, we hear the powerful and amazing words: Forgive them, for they know not what they do. This is justice, which restores us. This is the kind of justice which passes all understanding. This is true justice – a justice that never comes without God’s grace.
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