We all have different tolerance levels for different things. Some of us are able to tolerate high levels of pain, others not so much. Some of us are gluten tolerate, some gluten intolerant. Some of us do better than others with lack of sleep. Some of us are perfectionists and can’t tolerate things that are out of order or messed up. Some of us tolerate crowds or lines better than others. Some us are very disappointed with life, with the gap between what we hoped for and what we have. The parable of the wheat and the weeds says we are going to have to develop a certain kind of tolerance in a world full of lots of sin and evil, full of disappointment and disillusionment, to deal with the dissonance of life. If God is good and loving, why is there evil? Why doesn’t everyone who hears the gospel believe? Why does the church struggle in this world? Why is there conflict and discord in churches and denominations? As great a man as John the Baptist got disillusioned about Jesus. When Jesus didn’t seem to be moving very quickly to exercise His power and judgment he questioned Jesus. “Are you the one or is there another one coming?” We get impatient with hurdles, obstacle, interruptions, setbacks, delays, and slow progress. This parable says the kingdom of God is present and real and growing. But the parable also says that it’s not going to happen the way some of us think or hope. This parable is going to take a bit of explaining. We would do well to follow the example of the disciples and seek to understand the words of Jesus.
If we look to modern American culture for our worldview or belief system there are plenty of folks out there are telling us we are OK, we are basically good, we are beautiful on the inside, we just need to get in touch with that good place deep inside. We have been taken in by the modern pop-psychology and positive thinking self-help movements. We don’t like to entertain any negative thinking about ourselves. Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller and their followers don’t talk about or preach about sin. And my guess is that Joel Osteen doesn’t much either. But it doesn’t take much to look around at the reality of our world and have to say, “Houston, we have a problem.” Sin is the universal cosmic bummer. It has ruined everything. Satan and Adam are the two biggest fools who ever lived and their sin is the most irrational thing anyone could ever do. But just because Adam went and did something really stupid, why should that mean that we do the same? Why does his sin have anything to do with us? The American idea of rugged individualism works against this doctrine of inherited sin. We are loners, we stand or fall on our own. We don’t think of ourselves as connected to each other and all the way back to Adam’s actions. We are especially unwilling to take the blame for anyone else’s actions. But if we are basically good then why is sin so universal in every age and in every culture? Some might try to answer by saying that our culture or our environment or other influences have a negative effect on us, so that’s why sin is everywhere. These folks would say that we sin by imitation, we see sin and then we do sin. So the follow up question to that is, “Then where did the sin come from in the first place? How did it get started, if we are basically good?” If people started out good and sinless then we should find some cultures or societies that aren’t corrupt. But everywhere we go we find police and locks on doors and passwords on computers. The answer is found in the doctrine of original sin or inherited sin explained in Article 15. Belgic Confession, Article 14 is about what happened to Adam. Belgic Confession, Article 15 is about what happened to us.
People these days seem drawn to books about near-death experiences. There’s a certain curiosity and fascination with the afterlife. I don’t trust those books. It would be much more spiritually fruitful to consider this story of not just a near death experience but a total death experience. Here Jesus pulls back the curtain to give us insight into the ultimate human reality. This passage of Scripture is unique in all the Bible as the only place where the feelings of those in hell are described. Remember the context. Jesus was confronting Pharisees. Luke 16:13-14 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. Obviously Jesus hit a nerve. The Pharisees were people who lived double lives; they kept everything in two separated compartments. In one compartment, their religions compartment, they kept all their beliefs and rituals, going to church, praying, reading the Bible, obeying certain laws, talking nice, acting nice, all those things they figured would make them look good to God and others. In the other compartment, their secular or non-religious compartment, they kept their daily activities, their jobs, how they treated their wives, what they did on Saturday nights, their secret sins and prejudices, what they said behind people’s backs. Pharisees and people like them believed that the two compartments could be kept separate and didn’t have to have anything to do with each other. So they ridiculed and mocked Jesus for saying that you can’t actually serve two different masters, you can’t live two separate lives, one as a lover of God and another as a lover of money and things, one with God on Sundays, and another without God on Monday through Saturday. Jesus burst their bubble by showing that going to heaven has something to do with the connection between the two compartments. Our ordinary, daily lives, how we live and act in this world has a lot to do with where we end up.
Last week we considered the creation of man and how God created man in His own image and made man just a little lower than the angels. Man was bestowed with great dignity and honor, created to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. God made a covenant with Adam, a covenant that had one positive commandment, fill and take dominion; and one negative commandment, don’t eat. If he obeyed he would lead all humanity into an even higher and greater state of existence, an everlasting communion with God confirmed in perfect righteousness. But Adam failed to understand the honor or recognize his excellence and plunged the human race into darkness, sin and death. Only when we understand this great height will be begin to fathom the great depth of the abyss into which we fell. Last week we saw that Genesis 1 through 3 stands the test of historical narrative. There’s no break or shift in the narrative from myth to history. It’s not fictional poetry. Adam and Eve are treated in the entire Bible as just as real as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. All their genealogies are traced back to Adam. The Fall also is treated as historical narrative in all Scripture and is the reason for there being sin and death in our world. Romans 5 states clearly that “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12). Genesis 3 is God’s revelation to us to explain how sin and death came into our world. This evening we will consider the Fall and the consequences of the Fall.
This parable is different from many of the others. Jesus lets the cat out of the bag and gives the meaning before the beginning. To borrow an old saying, “He hangs the key by the door.” Jesus wants to stress the importance of prayer and the importance of perseverance in prayer. So rather than just saying it, He again resorts to that powerful teaching tool, a parable. This parable is sometimes called the parable of the unjust judge and sometimes the parable of the importunate or persistent widow. Importunate, now there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore. Importunate doesn’t just mean persistent but persistent to the point of annoyance or intrusion. Stubbornly tenacious in the face of obstacles and opposition. Persistent like an unrelenting bill collector or a telemarketer caller. Persistent like a mosquito or a woodpecker. Persistent like a hungry baby at 3AM or a child full of why questions. Persistent like that pile driver on the Main Street bridge yesterday, relentless pounding. Jesus tells a parable in which a widow woman gets what she wants from an unfair, cruel judge because she refused to stop asking and persisted in her unrelenting request. It’s about as simple as a parable can get, and yet this parable is a challenging one and it takes some care to glean from it the truth Jesus teaches. There are several dangers in interpreting this parable. Jesus intends this parable to be a contrast not a comparison. There’s a big difference between a wicked judge who unwillingly finally gives in and our merciful and loving Father in heaven who delights to hear our prayers and answer.