Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
Psalm 40, 54 (Morning)
Psalm 51 (Evening)
Leaving the Door Open
I appreciate the way our reading from Matthew helps us see that it is not so easy to separate the wheat from weeds or good from evil. You reach down to pull a weed, and find you have uprooted a handful of wheat as well. In God’s mysterious kingdom, strange things happen – weeds can transform into wheat – a convict in prison or a beggar on the road might be Christ himself, looking for a bit of kindness. Things are not always what they seem, so we best be careful when the urge to do a little moral weeding strikes us.
There is a side to this parable that troubles me, though – the weeds will eventually be pulled, bound, and burned. And if we keep reading, Jesus explains clearly to the disciples what the parable means – at the close of the age, all evil doers will be gathered out of God’s Kingdom and thrown into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
To be clear, I don’t have a problem with God’s judgment. Judgment can be an expression of love – a love that cares enough to speak the truth in love – a love that seeks what is best for the loved one. Yet, when we are on the receiving end of this kind of truthful love, it doesn’t always feel like love. Sometimes it feels more like hell. One of my favorite professors and mentors, Bill Mallard, once said that the flames of hell are the flames of the Holy Spirit, when we turn against them. The flames that inspire and comfort us are the very flames that convict us with painful yet needed self-realizations.
I guess the thing that does trouble me with our Gospel lesson is the way God’s judgment here seems so final and cut off from God’s love. It seems as though the door to God’s love is closed, locked, and the key thrown away, forever. My experience of the Divine Mystery has been different from this. Though God might give us the freedom to reject God’s love, God in Christ seems to always leave the door open and beckons us to come through. I love the ancient paintings and icons that portray the event known as The Harrowing of Hell. This tradition is drawn from early versions of the Apostles Creed where after Jesus’s death and before his resurrection, he descended to Hell. In these images Jesus is depicted breaking down the gates of Hell, preaching to the lost souls, and planting the cross, even there…not just leaving the door open, but breaking it off its hinges.
Written by Trent Palmer, a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Trent is a Realtor by profession and enjoys reading, music, camping, hiking, and boating. He grew up United Methodist and was a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 10 years. Trent was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 2008 at St. Margaret’s in Little Rock, and has been a member of St. Paul’s since he and his family moved to Fayetteville in 2013. Trent and his wife, Kristi, have three children, Elizabeth, Carter, and Katherine. Trent attends the 11:00 am worship service, enjoys volunteering for Magdalene Serenity House, and being a Lay Eucharistic Minister and an EfM (Education for Ministry) Mentor.