I recently watched someone post a prompt on social media that was designed to be a collaborative space for church leaders to share ideas about how they were going to respond to the latest restrictions in our state. This thread rapidly devolved into a den of vipers devouring one another, pointing fingers, calling names.
“These leaders are letting fear, not faith, control them.”
“Those leaders don’t love their neighbors or the vulnerable and only care about their own rights or sense of normalcy.”
You’ve all seen the reductionistic arguments a million times by now. Even if you haven’t seen that particular thread I’m referring to, you’ve more or less still seen that thread somewhere else.
I’ll be honest, I got a little depressed. These are Christian leaders?
Like so many of us, these past eight months have shaken my faith… not in God, but in the American Church. Problems I knew existed—but naïvely thought were more peripheral—have been brought to the surface; open wounds oozing a witness to the world that looks so little like Jesus’ healing touch. We’ve seen it in Christians’ response to the pandemic. We’ve seen it throughout the General Election. The venom. The vitriol. And I don’t make any claim whatsoever to have any ability to rise above it; I have convictions and concerns too, after all. I’ve been shocked to see thoughtful Christians I respect defending behavior and viewpoints that seem so diametrically opposed to the gospel that I’ve wondered what Bible they were even reading.
But enough of all that. The problems are well-known to us. We’re living them, after all. Instead, I want to provide an encouragement in two simple points.
1) I thank God for Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the weeds (or the “tares” if you prefer). There’s a beautiful harvest planted by a Good Farmer. But an enemy sneaks in and plants a bunch of weeds in the field overnight. What should be done? Find the weeds, surely, and rip them up. “‘No,” says the Good Farmer. “If you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest.”
Let both grow side by side.
This parable offers me the freedom of humility on two fronts. First, it reminds me that it’s not my job to pull up the weeds. “But they’re choking out the good crops! They’re damaging the witness of the church at a time it’s desperately needed!” No. Go ahead and let both grow side by side. But this parable brings me humility’s freedom in another way: every single Christian in my life who I might be tempted to label as a “weed” is, without exception, absolutely convinced (so far as I can tell) that they are the faithful followers of Jesus.
And that means I might be a weed, too. And so might you. Yes, you. I don’t say that to terrify us or shake our assurance of salvation, that we might be ourselves the ones who are weeds to be gathered “in bundles to be burned.” I don’t think that’s the point of the parable. Rather, I say it, once again, to lead us to the freedom of humble prayer and worship. Only by God’s grace might I be a good crop bearing good fruit, and I throw myself on that grace every moment of every day; in my decisions, in my considering complex questions, in my desire to be a witness to Jesus at a time it’s desperately needed.
2) Jesus among the crowds. I’ll be honest, I’ve craved quiet lately. It’s a strange thing to crave, I admit, amidst so much isolation from one another. But I don’t so much crave auditory quiet, but rather quiet from the din of everyone’s opinions flying everywhere on every single matter. But I’ve been nudged the past few days not to seek God in the quiet, but to ask where God is in the noise. And here’s where I’ve seen God in the noise: Jesus amidst crowds. So many crowds. Those crowds were undoubtedly filled with people who had skewed perceptions of him and his mission. People who were getting the gospel all wrong. People who were following him for all the wrong reasons. People who were trying to fit him into their box, or prop him up into their agenda. Some were even there to try to trap him or defy him. And yet Jesus commands the attention of every single one of them. Misguided or not, they can’t help but keep their eyes fixed on him, they can’t help but follow him. And it’s in that space where Jesus begins the work of transformation for each and every one of them.
In the sometimes disheartening and depressing noise of Christians and Christian leaders shouting louder and louder, this much remains true: they can’t keep their eyes off of Jesus. A distorted image of Jesus? Yes. Sometimes even utterly grotesque. But surely Jesus can break through even that. I hope so. Because I know sometimes my selfishness leads me to concoct a distorted image of Jesus that serves my interests a little too well. And yet he still breaks through all of that.
Sometimes Jesus avoids the crowds, sometimes he escapes them or dismisses them, but oftentimes, he shows up in and amidst them. Jesus spent a lot of time in crowds. In the noise and the clamor and the chaos. And he leads them, and he teaches them and feeds them, and he heals them and transforms them. This is the Lord of the still, small voice. But it’s also the Lord of the crowds, of the noise, the Lord of the wheat and the Lord of the weeds.