top of page

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (11A) | By the Rev. Judith Comer

Updated: Jul 27, 2023


My cousin and I were excited when the Antiques Road Show came to Birmingham a number of years ago. We each chose something we thought might be valuable and headed to the Road Show. I took an aquamarine ring surrounded by tiny rubies that I inherited from my mother. It is set in a lovely 14 carat gold setting, and I still think is quite lovely. But it’s not worth much---the appraiser at the Road Show said the gems were colored glass! So much for a treasure to pay a semester of my children’s college tuition---more like not even enough for a good meal at a moderately priced restaurant.

There may be things in your own family that you would like to inherit. Maybe simply for the sentimental value or maybe you would like to receive something of real dollar value. To acquire a gold ring or to inherit one would seem to be an attractive option.

But sometimes, the nature of what one inherits or receives or even steals is instrumental in shaping who one becomes. You all know J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings, and its prequel, The Hobbit, and the history of the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord, Sauron. As you recall, he wanted to use that ring to gain control over the leaders of Men, Elves, and Dwarfs, and that becomes the focus for Tolkien’s magical tale.

Sauron is defeated and the One Ring is confiscated by Isildur, the leader of Men, who claims the ring as an heirloom for his children, but this is not to be. Isildur is killed by Orcs, and the ring lost for 2000 years in a river. It resurfaces again in the hands of a hobbit who is fishing with his friend, Smeagol, on Smeagol’s birthday. Smeagol is irresistibly drawn to the ring; he must have it, and he strangles his friend to acquire it. Banished from his community and hiding in the mountains, he’s transformed by the ring’s power into a twisted, corrupt creature called Gollum.[i]

Eventually, Gollum loses the Ring, and it’s found by the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Sauron is searching for the One Ring too, which answers only to him, and Gollum knows the hobbit has the ring. The mission of Tolkien’s saga is for Bilbo Baggin’s nephew Frodo to destroy the One Ring in the fire from which it was forged and thus keep it from Sauron.[ii]

On this mission to take the ring to the fire and throw it in, Frodo Baggins struggles to keep from being corrupted by the Ring himself and Gollum dogs his steps. Gollum is not only a nuisance, but also dangerous. Several times someone is tempted to kill, the wily trickster, but mercy wins out. Frodo comes to understand that Gollum has a bad persona that is slave to the Ring and will kill anyone to get it; but he also has a human countenance that remembers friendship and love and longs for it.

Frodo knows that he too is tempted by the Ring and could become like Gollum, if he were to decide to keep it. To inherit this Ring was not an attractive option. Frodo allows Gollum to travel with him, side by side, as they both struggle with good and evil.

In Genesis, we deal with another greedy trickster. Jacob, who stole his brother’s birthright, is now banished from his home and is traveling to a far country. The burden of Esau’s stolen blessing weighs heavily on Jacob’s heart. Esau threatened to kill him, and Jacob is afraid of the unknown future. What exactly will he inherit? And at what cost to himself?

As this anxious scoundrel, Jacob. comes to rest that night, laying his head on a flat stone for a pillow, God comes to him in a dream. He commits himself to Jacob in his own right, trickster and schemer that Jacob is. God says not one word of judgment about what Jacob has done to his family. God doesn’t try to whip Jacob into shape or tell him what to do. Instead, he makes unconditional promises to Jacob.[iii]

Jacob is to inherit God’s promises to Abraham. And God will never leave Jacob. Quite a legacy for a trickster who seems not the least repentant and who at best makes a bargain with God, but certainly not a commitment. It goes against our sense of right and wrong, good and evil.

It reminds us of Gandalf, the White Wizard, telling Frodo to let Gollum alone. Not to kill him. To have mercy. To remember that within Gollum is a struggle of good and evil. It was not yet determined which would win in his heart. Gollum was corrupted, enslaved by the evil power of the Ring, but someone human also remained in that twisted persona. There was still hope for a good outcome, and no one could know what Gollum’s purpose might be in the larger scheme of things.[iv]

Likewise, Jacob, is left as he is, and God says it’s enough. It’s a step in the right direction. Jacob wakes up and says God was with him in that place and he didn’t know it. He sets up an altar from his stone pillow. There is good in Jacob, and there is a spiritual struggle going on in him as well, and it has not been determined at this juncture in his life which will prevail---the good or the bad. Only time will tell.

We may get a bit nervous when we read our Gospel. We fear God’s judgment. We may think of God separating the good people from the evil people at the Day of Judgment, when the Lord separates the wheat from the chaff. But let’s look at this Gospel in light of our story about Jacob. God seems quite willing to let the wheat and tares grow up side by side in Jacob and to trust the wheat to flourish and the weeds to wither away. God didn’t leave Jacob alone in his struggle to master himself. And what about us?

In the parable, the workers are told that they may disrupt the growth of the wheat by eliminating the weeds. Good gardeners want to get rid of weeds---Jesus says no. The roots of weeds do indeed co-mingle with the roots of the crop, so in dislodging one, you pull up the good stuff, too.

What is a weed anyway? Simply a plant in an undesired place. It shows up, growing aggressively, where something more desirable is being cultivated. But some weeds are edible and some have gorgeous flowers, so much so, that some that were considered weeds are now flowering houseplants. We’re not always good judges of what is desirable and what is not. Just remember kudzu---it turned out to be a weed! But oh, that magnificent Queen Anne’s lace that graces St. Mary’s Lane and even finds its way in arrangements given to the glory of God in front of our altar. A weed or not? In other words, weeds can be transformed. What we see as a flaw in ourselves can be re-purposed by God working in us.

We are such a mixture of wheat and tares. We get bogged down with the guilt of the sin that clings so closely to us---even though the penalty of that sin has been removed by the blood of Jesus and its power over us broken, we still struggle over doing what we don’t want to do and failing to do what we intend to do.

We get in a quagmire of false guilt versus real guilt, of scrupulosity versus deadly sin; of false pride in imagined good works versus our unrecognized acts of goodness. We’re not good judges of ourselves. We cannot see all of who we are----good or bad.

We can’t always tell the difference between the wheat and tares in ourselves or anyone else. It’s not even our problem. Craig MacCreary says: it is less of a problem to be solved than a reality to be lived. The reality we need to live into is our need for a judge who has a much larger perspective than we’re capable of.[v] We needGod.

Let God be the judge of where and when and what kind of the gardening needs to be done. In Romans, when Paul says all---men and women, youngest and oldest---regardless of birth order or gender are becoming “sons of God,” he is talking about our becoming those who inherit---those who have an inheritance through Christ from God.[vi] This inheritance will free us, not corrupt us, but make us incorruptible, will not twist us and make us less than human, but straighten us and help us stand fully human and imaged of God.

Both Gollum and Jacob grabbed for an inheritance that was not theirs. Each had choices to make in light of what they inherited. Gollum lost his struggle and was destroyed along with what he craved, but in a larger sense, it was Gollum who ultimately destroyed the ring. It was good that he had not been killed earlier by someone who couldn’t abide someone so full of tares being allowed to live. Jacob also was shaped by the blessing he received and became a better man for it. Ultimately, he chose to go home and make amends with the brother he had cheated. The wheat did grow.

And what about us? How will God use us----as we struggle with the realities of wheat and tares in ourselves and others? How are we using the inheritance we have in Christ to make ourselves and the world a better place? Are we able to suspend judgment?

 

[i] The Fellowship of the Ring, online at Wikipedia.com [ii] Ibid. [iii] Juliana Claassens, Commentary on Alternate First Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a, online at www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/17/2011&tab=1 [iv] Steven D. Hopping, Southwest Central Church of Christ, Houston, TX) online at www.textweek.com/movies/lord_rings_fellowship,htm [v] Genesis: Learning from the Ancestors: Man on the Run, or A First Step, Lectionary Planning Helps for Sundays: July 17, 2011, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost online at www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLR12PMKsG/b.3879973/k.9C35/Lectionary_Planning_Helps_for_Sundays.htm?overide=yes&date=20110717 [vi] R. Craig MacCreary, “Don't blow your inheritance”, Proper 11 | Ordinary Time 16 online at www.sermonsuite.com

18 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page