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Holding the Tension
Holding the Tension

Paradox Holds Us

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Author Debie Thomas considers the paradox of Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat:

In the Gospel of Matthew [13:24–30], Jesus invites us to lean courageously into paradox. A householder plants seeds in his field. While everyone is asleep, an enemy sneaks onto the field, sows weeds among the wheat, and goes away. When the plants come up, the householder’s servants are baffled. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?…. Where did these weeds come from?” The householder doesn’t spare them the truth: “An enemy has done this” (13:27–28).

But when the servants offer to tear up the weeds, the householder stops them. “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time, I’ll instruct my reapers to collect, bundle, and burn the weeds, and then I’ll gather the wheat into my barn” (13:29–30).

As I ponder this parable, I see Jesus asking his followers to hold seemingly contradictory truths in tension. One: evil is real, noxious, and among us. Two: our response to evil must include both acknowledgment and restraint….

I tend to get worked up about weeds. Weeds in my own life, and weeds in other people’s. I tend to get eager, preachy, and zealous for the purity of the field. Possessive about the integrity of the householder. Impatient for a quick, clean harvest.

Also, like the servants, I tend to lead with confidence rather than humility when it comes to moral gardening: “Jesus, trust me, I know how to separate the weeds from the wheat. Let me at it, please, and I’ll have that field cleared for you in no time!”

But Jesus says no. “No” and “wait.” Jesus insists on patience, humility, and restraint when it comes to patrolling the borders of the field. He asks us, even as we acknowledge the pernicious reality of evil, to accept his timing instead of ours when it comes to destroying it. Why? Because there is no way we can police the wheat field without damaging the wheat. There is no way we can rid ourselves of everything bad without distorting everything good. When we rush ahead of God and start yanking weeds … we do harm to ourselves and to the field. Our sincerity devolves into arrogance. Our love devolves into judgment. Our holiness devolves into hypocrisy. The field suffers.

Thomas understands that Jesus calls us to be held in paradox:

Evil is real, noxious, and among us, and our own response to evil must include both acknowledgment and restraint.

If this ambiguity worries you, then remember that we are braced by a God who is too big for one-dimensional truths, and this is a good thing. It’s not that we hold paradox; it’s that paradox holds us. We are held in a deep place. An ample place. A generous place. Though we might fear paradox, God does not. We’re safe, even in the contradictions. Weedy, perhaps, but safe.

Debie Thomas, Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories: Reflections on the Life of Christ (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022), 141, 142–143.

Image credit: Oliver Hotakainen, Untitled (detail), Finland, 2021, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

How do we keep fire afloat on water? How do we act for justice and stay humble and listening?

Story from Our Community:  

I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer for about 16 months. Originally, I started practicing to improve my connection with God and decrease my tension and worry. But the additional benefits have been surprising! My sleep has improved, and I’m listening to my intuition much more. I got a wonderful surprise when I went to the dentist recently and was able to relax to the point of closing my eyes in the dentist’s chair. For the past month, I’ve been trying to figure out what I did to decrease my urges for sweets. It occurred to me that it may be another gift of my Centering Prayer practice. —Kara K.

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