Friday, 15 July 2011

Fit for purpose?

Matthew 13: 24-30
Romans 8: 12-25

Fit for purpose? – seeds and weeds

“Fit for purpose” seems to have become something of a buzz phrase. A few years ago I only ever heard people talking about articles you had bought being ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘not fit for purpose’ under the consumer goods act. But in just the last week, for example, there have been questions in the news as to whether bodies such as the International Whaling Commission, the banks’ risk management systems, and the press complaints commission are ‘fit for purpose’, and even whether individuals such as sports stars, journalists and politicians are ‘fit for purpose’. It seems that wherever there are doubts about human performance someone will want to say not just that mistakes have been made, but that somehow these people are not ‘fit for purpose’.
For weeks now we’ve been listening to chunks of Paul’s letter to the Romans, with Paul agonising over human fallibility. If we are created by a loving and powerful God, and if we know that God has shown us right and wrong, how come the world is so full of mistakes. What is it about humanity that makes us not ‘fit for purpose’?

Maybe there’s an answer in Jesus’ parable.
The kingdom of heaven is like field in which good seed is sown, but like last week’s parable, things don’t quite go to plan. An enemy comes and sows bad seed – and so weeds grow among the crop. The field can’t be weeded at this stage without disturbing the roots of the good crop, so the farmer waits until the harvest – then the good wheat and the useless weeds can be distinguished and separated.
At one level it may be that Jesus is simply saying ‘there is good and bad in this world, but separating the two has to wait – good and bad have to grow together for now, until the time is right’.
This provides some sort of answer as to why people do bad things in life and seem to get away with it, why God seems to tolerate our mistakes better than we do!

But I don’t think Jesus means us to take this parable in isolation. Matthew introduces this parable with ‘Jesus put before the crowd another parable’ – which come straight after the one we commonly call ‘the parable of the sower’, perhaps we want to call this ‘the parable of another sower’ – or most accurately ‘parable of the seeds, part 2’: because Jesus is about the tell the parable of the seeds part 3: the parable of the mustard seed – which grows to become a huge plant – a plant commonly considered by farmers in first century Palestine to be a weed.

So what is Jesus saying in these 3 parables?
Some seed grows well, some doesn’t: it depends where it lands. But the seed that lands in good soil can produce a good crop.

Some seed is good seed – and some is bad: you can’t always tell which is which until it comes time to harvest the crop.

Some seed that seems like bad seed – weed seed – has a use after all because when it grows it produces a home for the birds: an unexpected harvest from something that seemed useless.
The kingdom of heaven, says Jesus – is like these parables of seeds.

We human beings waste a lot of time trying to work out who is good and who is bad – who might be ‘in’ with God, and who might not be, who might, instead, be evil. Jesus warns us to look at the fruits of people’s lives – including our own lives. We know when good seed lands on good soil and produces a good result – we can see the crop that we harvest. Human lives, says Jesus, are like this: if there is a good result – if there is recognisable good fruit – good things happening in people’s lives and in the lives of those they serve – then God is at work – the kingdom of God is present.

Where God’s message of love falls on deaf ears, or produces no effect, where nothing good is growing, then we can conclude that God is not able to be at work in his kingdom here. But Jesus warns us to be patient: sometimes it takes time for the fruits of God’s love to show; sometimes the good stuff is almost hidden by the bad things happening around it; and sometimes what looks like something useless can turn out to be God’s work after all.

Don’t be too quick to judge someone as not ‘fit for purpose’. And that includes yourself. Be patient, says Jesus – just because there is good and bad seed growing in the field of your life doesn’t mean that God’s kingdom can’t be at work in you.

Of course we want to be fruitful and good – to show the Spirit at work in our lives producing love joy faith, patience kindness goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control. But no-one can be good all the time – and we shouldn’t waste our time and risk uprooting the good growth of the kingdom by trying to root out the bad in others or on ourselves.

So in answer to the question “what is it about humanity that makes us not ‘fit for purpose’?”, Jesus might say : forget ‘fit for purpose’, no-one is entirely fit for purpose.

But do remember, says Jesus, what the purpose of our lives is: our purpose is to be people in whose lives God’s work can grow – people who show God’s love to others.
Our purpose is love, and even though we know we cannot be always loving, we can still continue to be people in whose lives God’s love grows and changes our world.

May it be so. Amen.

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