“One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us; machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains–and one of them, the little servant, the sad- eyed angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him. This time the [head of the camp] refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him. The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. “Long live liberty!” cried the two adults. But the child was silent. “Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. “Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. “Cover your heads!” Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. but the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is–He is hanging here on this gallows.” That night the soup tasted [like] corpses.”
I mimed and hawed on reading this excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s book Night. It is raw. It is hard to hear and it is hard to read. The truth is it really happened. Elie Wiesel is the Nobel Peace Prize winner who, as a child survived the Holocaust. I remember reading Night while in High School and being moved not by its beauty but by the horror this man lived through. This is real evil that lived and breathed only 70 years ago.
In the movie Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle plays a hotel manager, named Paul, who is caught up in the massive fight between two different races, the Tutsis and Hutus. Paul uses the hotel as a safe haven for people who are running from the horror that is happening all around them. There is one scene that I remember vividly in the movie. Paul and another gentleman are in the hotel’s van heading to some destination. As they are traveling down a road, they start hitting what looks like speed bumps. Soon these speed bumps are all over the place and before long it is difficult to drive the van. Paul steps out of the van and realizes that these are not bumps but bodies.
In 1994, from April 6th to mid-July, 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed. Most of them were hacked to death with machetes. Across the world in Charlotte, NC, I was finishing up my junior year of High School and excited that my High School soccer team was heading to Washington DC to watch 5 World Cup soccer matches. It wasn’t until this movie came out that I realized that while I was enjoying world class soccer, almost a million people died because of political fighting. Evil is all around us, if we would open our eyes and see it. For over a decade I lived in ignorance of this genocide. That summer, instead of being concerned about how many innocent lives were lost, I was thrilled I met a gorgeous blonde from Ohio.
The parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat, or the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, comes immediately after last week’s verses. Jesus is talking to the crowds once again when he tells them this story of a man who learns that an enemy has planted weeds within his wheat crop. His slaves want to know what to do and the owner tells them not to worry about it. “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
When I read or studied this parable in the past it always screamed judgment to me. It did this because in Jesus’ explanation of the parable he says, “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This proved to me that at the end of the days there will be judgment on those who are evil and those of us who are good will be saved from the fiery depths of hell. This parable could be source of some good fire and brimstone sermons.
Yet, when I looked at the parable this time something else called to me. I realized that this is about judgment but not ours, God’s judgment. The Son of Man will send his Angels to separate the weeds and the wheat. This means it’s not our job to tell people which ones they are. We are the ones being judged and no where does it say that we are to judge others. This is said to happen at the end of the age. The separation of wheat and weeds is a divine task for a divine time. When all of this cleared in my head I realize that this parable really tells us that God is not doing much about the weeds now. God is kind of resistant to make that judgment call now, he is waiting for the end of the age.
This kind of shocked me because I would have loved God to come down and divide and conquer now. It would make life great if there were only wheat left. We wouldn’t have genocides or holocausts any more. It would almost be a utopia. But nope, Jesus tells us that the wheat and the weeds are to grow up together. When it is time to harvest God will do the work God can only do. Until then, we have to learn to live with one another.
Evil is around us all the time. As I thought about that it lead me to the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. I started to think about the horrible things that are happening as we speak in Darfur, that happened in Kosovo, on 9-11, in Myanmar, and everything else that seems so horrible. These events are so tragic and evil that we always tend to ask the question that the man asked Elie Wiesel, “Where is God?”
I thought of all the evil in the world and how really close it all becomes when you open you eyes and take in the world around you. There is no better illustration than the fact that Alycia, my loving wife, use to share a horse with Jeffery Dahmer’s step-mother. Now I have made all the jokes possible with that statement over the years don’t worry! If you are up-to-date with your serial killers, Dahmer grew up in Bath, Ohio and went to Revere High School (the same high school my brother-in-law attended). My wife and her mother lived in a house six blocks away from the Dahmer house (where they found bones of at least one body). As she grew up her mom and Dahmer’s step-mother became friends and they decided that they would share the ownership of a horse together.Jeffery Dahmer was charged with killing 17 men and boys. His killings were unusually gruesome. Dahmer was charged also with rape, necrophilia, and cannibalism. Many people when they think of evil, conger up images of Jeffery Dahmer. Yet the woman I fell in love with and her family are connected, although loosely, to his family. We are wheat living next to a massive weed.What does this tell us about God? Why does God allow such evil to exist in the world? Why does God let such awful things happen to innocent people? Why does God allow events like 9-11 happen, the holocaust, and the genocide in Rwanda and now Darfur?As N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, states, “If we ask God to act on special occasions, do we really suppose that he could do that simply when we want him to, and then back off again for the rest of the time?” (Matthew for Everyone – Part One, p. 169) If God would stop evil when we wanted him to, then what is stopping him from taking me out? What stops him from passing judgment on me when I lie, speed, or covet? In God’s eye who’s the wheat and who’s the weeds?
I guess the good news of this parable is that we should be thankful that when God sees us and does nothing. God knows the difference between wheat and weeds and waits until the end of days to do anything about it. I have lived during the time of a horrible genocide on the other side of the world. Right now, as we join together in this worship today, there has been an estimated 400,000 people killed because of ethnic cleansing in Darfur. I am connected, by only three people, to one of the worst serial killers that ever lived. Evil dwells all around us. What strikes me is that in the eyes of God I, due to my own sins, may be the same as the people who did all these things, a weed. Thank God judgment is yet to come.
And all God’s people said…Amen.