By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
Near the end of a summer marked by jarring debate and broken faith, how about a flight of fancy?
What if, instead of cursing dandelions, we marveled at their sunny beauty?
What if we demanded something sweet, every single day: an uncomplicated smile, easy laughter, ice cream?
What if we listened more than we talked?
What if we tried to imagine the lives of others? The man who looks so menacing with his bushy beard and tattooed arms? He just took his sister a supermarket bouquet, scrubbed his hands before stepping into the hospital room. She lost the baby, but it looks like she’ll make it. The unsmiling woman working the cash register in the checkout line? She got up early to look after grandchildren while her daughter worked the day shift, served lunch, washed laundry, kept order, then pulled on a uniform to work at her “real” job. The loud-mouth kids at the library? No breakfast, won’t get lunch. Ramen for supper.
What if we exercised patience?
What if we waited to pass judgement?
I wouldn’t characterize the parables of Jesus Christ as flights of fancy, but it’s possible to embark on such mental gymnastics if you read his words with an open heart. All week, as angry people declaimed on their social media sites and radio hosts huffed and hollered, I pondered the parable of the wheat and the tares.
In case you haven’t cracked the Bible open recently, here’s a recap of what Jesus said, as recorded in the gospel of Mark (chapter 13):
Jesus said: God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seeds in his field.
It’s a normal day, like we all get each morning. We start our daily work, whether that is washing dishes, cleaning streets, brokering deals, drilling for oil.
Jesus said: That night, while his hired men were asleep, the farmer’s enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn.
Typical. Life is rarely ideal. You do your chores and your brother skips his. You show up for work, and your hung-over partner dozes through the day. People lie. They cheat. Worse yet, they profit off the work of others, even when death or disability exacts a price. Who are these enemies, where are these enemies? Look around. Look everywhere.
Jesus said: When the first green shoots appear and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
We see it all the time: the mess and brokenness of the world. Someone cops an attitude. Someone else gets frustrated and angry. Fear descends. Arguments erupt. What to do, what to do?
Jesus continued his story: The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?”
What do to, what to do?
Jesus said, the farmer said: “Some enemy did this.”
Might be that bearded fellow with all the tattoos. The unhelpful cashier. Those bad kids. Black. White. Hispanic. Not me. Someone different.
Jesus said, the farmhands asked: “Should we weed out the thistles?”
Maybe if we got rid of the different ones, the difficult ones we are sure caused the problems, our fields would flourish. The crime rate would drop. Stores would run smoothly. Our lives would quiet. We’d prosper. Our country would go back to its glory days.
Jesus said: No.
Jesus said: If you weed out the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too.
Jesus said: Let them grow together until harvest time.
Jesus said: Let them grow together until harvest time.
Because we can’t always tell which is which. Sometimes things work out, over time. People learn. We grow. We get an understanding of what once seemed impossible and foreign. We send down roots, become stable, reach for the sun, blossom.
What if we tried to imagine the best-case scenario? What if we made up happy endings for the people we’re inclined to dislike?
The unfresh-smelling high school student? If he feels safe, accepted, like he matters, he might shower. Get a haircut and a better job. He could lose weight and hold his head up. Next thing you know, he’s headed for college.
That girl, the awkward one who mumbles? Her parents divorced, and she thinks she’ll never see her daddy again. She’s probably right. But her softball coach isn’t too busy to pick her up for practice, and someone’s mother brought a bag of hand-me-down clothes with a pair of athletic shoes that look almost new. Maybe her summer won’t be so bad, after all.
The woman who never smiles? The next customer will charm her with a joke. She’ll remember how to blush. Who knows what might follow?
That boy walking down the street, late at night, hooded sweatshirt pulled high, cell phone in his pocket? He’s tired of his parents arguing, the strain of trying to fit in at school, the pressure of doing better than the rest of his family. College seems scary, just like this neighborhood. But someone turns on the porch light and says, “Hey,” voice friendly, like they know him. Maybe talking to his dad once more is worth a try.
The neighborhood watchman, lonely in his van? He wanted to be someone who mattered, but it’s kind of a joke, this volunteer work. People he went to school with, they’d probably snicker, just like they did back in the day. Things never change; maybe that’s true. Then he notices a kid, solitary, walking with a slump. He knows that feeling. “You OK, man?” he asked through the window. Nobody should be so alone. He smiles. The kid smiles, uncertainly: “I’m cool.”
“All right,” and the watchman goes on his way. Maybe it made a difference, he thinks. He sure hopes so.
What if we weren’t in such a hurry to make up our minds?
What if we let each other just … be? What if we grew, together, until harvest time?