Thought for the week - 23 July
I used to live in Germany, in the Rhineland Pfalz, of the Pfalz for short. It’s a little known and quite magical place, set between the Haart mountains and the flatlands of Speyer and Mannheim, but separated from them by a river. The main part of it is a long valley of beautiful villages, like Deidesheim, Forst and Ruppertsberg which are all worth a journey if you like medieval villages which have not been smartened up too much, as well as Spa Towns like Bad Durkheim and Neustadt, the central town, which is still small and rural by comparison to many. The valleys are covered in vines, and a large amount of country wine is made there, as well as a reasonable amount of good wine and a small amount of very expensive wine, some of which will sell for a hundred euros a bottle. The vines run up to the foothills of the mountains, and you can hike around them for days, stopping off at forest huts to eat and sleep and, inevitably, drink the wine made in the country surrounding you.
The mountains and the forests have generated many folk tales of hobbits, witches and princesses in towers, gremlins and trolls and there is something mystical about the quality of hilltop castles, deep forests and ancient villages that lends itself to flights of fantasy, isn’t there, and none the worse to indulge in a little fantasy now and again.
The vineyards that produce very fine wine can often be next to a vineyard producing very average wine, with only a couple of feet of a stony path separating them. Three euros on one side of the path per bottle, and a hundred on the other side, which can seem strange until you’re told about the soils and strata deep beneath the fields, which, through millennia of geological movement, has formed cracks and substrata which create a completely different soil from one field to the next, completely changing the taste of the wine – the quality relies on what we cannot see, not on what we can see. This ability to extract geological data is a new industry, but the vineyards were found to be better or worse centuries before that, by trial and error, thus modern techniques merely underlined ancient work and wisdom, but helped us to understand why.
Why am I telling you this? What does it have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven which is referred to so heavily in the Gospel today? We are sometimes asked ‘what is the Kingdom of Heaven’, but that’s the wrong question. The first of today’s parables tells us “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed” – not to the seed, nor to the field where it is sown, but to the man who sows it. And later, in his explanation of the parable, Jesus says, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man”, which is his way of referring to himself. In other words, it is Christ himself who is the kingdom of heaven. So the question is not “What is the kingdom of heaven?” but instead “Who is the kingdom of heaven?”; and the answer is Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom Peter will later describe as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. When Christ says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”, he’s effectively saying, “Repent – because I am here!” We have faith that He knows His fields inside and out and sews His seed where He knows it will grow.
It might be tempting therefore, knowing that Christ is the Kingdom of Heaven and that we make up His body here on earth, is in charge of all things and that we do not therefore need to make any further decisions. We can just leave it all to Him. He scatters the seed and he harvests the crop, throwing the weeds away and gathering up the wheat. What can we do about it? Maybe we should just sit tight and hope for the best. We might also look at the parable immediately following this one, about the Mustard seed, which grows into a huge tree and shelters all kind of life within it – it’s too much for us to contemplate and it’s beyond our ability to do anything about it. But this is wrong, I believe. If we are growing as wheat surrounded by weeds, we need to make a choice to not allow the weeds to contaminate us, to exist in a mixed economy which the Kingdom Himself has decided to allow to grow – but we have control over our lives within it and we have the power to resist the weeds that surround us by the good choices that we make in faith.
There is evil in the world, and that in great abundance, and sometimes we might feel that we are surrounded by so much of it that we stand little chance, but we have faith in the Sower, in the Kingdom to which we are grafted in our Baptism, who says that “I am the one who sows what is good in the world, and I will not allow that good to be destroyed by evil and corruption. You whom I have sown will not be cut down for the sake of the evil in the world, but I will gather you to myself at the close of the age.”
Today we are show that this is Christ, this is the Kingdom of heaven, this is the goal of our searching and our striving for justice, love and peace in our world, this is He who is proclaimed by the prophets and completed in the Gospels, and whom we are called to follow. We are called to inhabit these parables as we were saying last week, so we are called to inhabit the body of Christ and therefore to inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven – just be aware, for there are weeds in the world and we are not to remove them of judge them, but to stand and grow tall in our faith in their midst, for by doing so, people will see the Kingdom through and in us.
The Sower knows His seed and He knows where to scatter it – so take heart, you are in exactly the right place and the right time to grow, so have faith and everything else will follow.