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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, July 17, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”  (NRSV)

Passages that speak of separation are tough to read in these days of necessary isolation. Separating tares from wheat, separating the wicked from the righteous. If anything, our time of social and physical distance causes us to crave the human mix—the chance greetings on a sidewalk, family and friends around a table, even the routine annoyances of packed buses and subway cars. Our hearts are set on bringing people together, safely!

What, then, can we learn from this warning about God’s mechanisms for sorting the good from the bad? How might we react to a fiery furnace that brings weeping and gnashing of teeth—not to mention regret, fear, and, we must admit, that hoped-for sense that we, ourselves, are the righteous?

For these questions, I turn to George MacDonald, who explored the subject of God’s “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) in sermons and novels. MacDonald believed that God’s love is so all-encompassing, and so ceaseless, that God will not rest until all creation is welcomed into God’s eternal home. God’s consuming fire is nothing but love, intended to cleanse of us anything that separates us from God. God’s ambition is not that of separating the good souls from any bad ones; instead, God works to purify all the impurities, even the smallest speck, that any of us might harbor, so that we all might be brought together in God’s perfect love. In this sense, there are no lost souls—only those souls that have yet to be touched, and ultimately redeemed, by God’s loving and cleansing grace. For nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. And cleanse me from my sin. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me by your generous Spirit” (Psalm 51:1–2, 13, NKJV). Amen.

Reflection written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Reflection © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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