There’s a story in the Bible where Jesus talks about a field where a man planted a crop of wheat. While he was sleeping, an enemy snuck into the field and planted weeds. The wheat and the weeds grew together, intermingled. The man’s servants offered to pick through the field and remove all the weeds. But the man refused to let them. Instead, he told them to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together. Later, when the time came for the harvest, they could be separated and the weeds could be burned.
Later, Jesus explains to his closest followers that he is the sower, the field is the kingdom of God, and the enemy is the devil. The wheat is the people of the kingdom, the weeds are those who do evil. In theological terms, it’s what we call an eschatological story…a story about how God achieves his ultimate ends.
Religious purists lick their chops at stories like this. To them, it’s all about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” It’s about the people who believe all the right things going to heaven, and those who don’t going to hell.
In the original languages of the Bible, the weeds in this story are referred to as “tares.” There is some dispute over the precise taxonomy, but there is general agreement that these tares were virtually indistinguishable from wheat until the plants came to full maturity. So there was a very real danger that if the man’s servants attempted to root out the weeds, they would damage some wheat as well.
This is not a story about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” It’s a story about God. About his patience. About his sovereignty. About his long-suffering. If you will, it’s a story about judgement. And it’s a story about who gets to be the judge.
Here’s a hint: it’s not us.
For two days this week the US Supreme Court heard arguments regarding same-sex marriage. For those two days, I joined many people in showing my support by putting a red equality symbol on my Facebook profile. Not because I thought it would make a lick of difference to the Supreme Court, but because I want people I know and love–some of whom happen to be homosexual–to know I’m on their side.
During those two days, I also saw, read, and listened to a lot of people–many of them friends–who disagreed. Many, if not most, believe that supporting gay marriage is explicitly prohibited by a handful of Bible verses, and therefore is non-Christian.
I have absolutely no problem with their disagreement. Honest people can disagree with civility, kindness and charity. Usually, it leads to deeper understanding for both sides.
What I do have a problem with is the condemnation that far too often went with the disagreement. Condemnation not only for people living in a reality they can’t possibly understand, but also for Christians who dared to support them. All because of what they think the Bible says.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s easy to quote what the Bible says. The trick is to understand what it means.
The more I study the Bible, the more time I spend letting it work on me and work in me, the more convinced I am that it was never intended to be a book of rules.
Yes, there are rules in the Bible, but the rules are not what the Bible is about. What it is about is God’s revelation of himself, mostly through stories about ordinary human beings who make tons of mistakes…and who, by the way, regularly break the rules.
And that makes it a love story.
I have read and heard from people who support gay marriage say that it’s not a religious issue, it’s a civil rights issue. At first, I agreed with that sentiment. What the Supreme Court is discussing is the rights our country extends to its citizens, not religious doctrine.
But the more I thought about it, I see that, for Christians at least, it is a religious issue. And not in the way a lot of Christians think.
Because the Bible is a love story.
And to think that the measure of being a Christian depends on following rules you find in the Bible is to miss the point of both the Bible and of Christ.
One of the most important things Jesus says to his followers is that they are to love their enemies. He tells them it’s easy to love people who agree with them, who look like them, who believe the same things. But it’s hard to love those you disagree with. It’s hard to love people who are…different.
When Jesus says to love our enemies, he doesn’t mean we just tolerate them as long as they don’t interfere with our way of life. He means we actively seek their well-being. We work for their best interests.
We make sure they have the same rights and privileges we do.
We become their neighbors.
We become their friends.
If we try to root out what we think are the tares, we could very easily be ruining perfectly good wheat.
Yes, same-sex marriage is a religious issue for Christians. Because to stand against it is, ultimately, most decidedly non-Christian.
I don’t support same-sex marriage because I’ve abandoned my Christian beliefs. I do it because it’s the most Christian thing I could do. It fulfills everything I understand about what it means to follow Jesus.
As for wheat and weeds, I’m willing to let God sort that out. He certainly doesn’t need me to do it for him. I’m quite sure I can’t tell the difference.
How sure are you?