Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
We all know that tares are so much like wheat that while they are growing they cannot be distinguished. It is only when the time for reaping comes that the tares are discovered to be worthless. They looked like real wheat. But they were not wheat. They were just weeds.
We all know the interpretation, of the parable. The field is the Church. The wheat represents real Christians. The tares represent false Christians. They look alike. Up to a certain point in the conventional practice of religion they may act alike. But when the real time for testing comes, the real Christian will be true to type. The false Christian will fail to rise to the occasion.
And the final lesson of the parable is, as we all know, that in the Church, both kinds live together and God only knows which is which. But this is what we are to notice. They are left to grow both together. Now why is this? The parable states that since both wheat and tares look so much alike, it would not be safe to attempt to uproot the tares for fear of uprooting the wheat.
We are thinking now of people, not grain. The difference is this. Grain does not change its nature, but people can and do. A person can be a false Christian today, repent tomorrow, and become a true Christian the day after, and remain so ever after. Thank God we can change for the better. God pity us, we can change for the worse. The false may become true, and the true may become false. I do not remember the exact words of the saying, you may, but the meaning was, "there is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us—," you remember now, that it ill becomes us to judge each other.
So much bad in the best of us. This teaches us the necessity for the careful practise of self-judgment. So much good in the worst of us. This warns us not to judge others. Taking the sayings together we find a lesson in humility and charity. And we have an instruction also on the mercy of God, who will not allow us to be cast out until we have had all our chances to change, and even then, it is only because we do not choose to change, that we cast ourselves out. If this happens, it will be our own doing, not God's. God is strong and patient, and God is provoked every day. Where would we be if it were not for the patience of God?
The parable is electrical with lessons: The most penetrating one of all is, I think, the warning against unreality. If we are taking our religion seriously we cannot escape the warning. Is our practise real? How can we tell? Only by observing its effect upon our character. What kind of character is being formed? How much do we care? How hard are we trying? What kind of person do we really want to be. What is our besetting sin? What is its opposite virtue? What are we willing to bear to gain it? What do we want to be good for?
Is it because we want to love God because He first loved us? Is it because we want to give ourselves to Our Lord because He gave Himself for us? Is it because there are people whose safety and well-being and peace of mind and happiness depends in large measure upon our being good? Then our religion is real.
No one knows better than we how very far short we fall from our ideals. No one feels more keenly than we the sorrow for our failures. The better we know and the more keenly we feel, the deeper will be our penitence. We can be real penitents at all events. Our penitence will deepen the sense of the reality of the sacramental life. Our spiritual difficulties will carry us deep down into the realities of the prayer life. The externals of worship will continue to be what they are meant to be; means to an end.
But the end will be the one thing we desire. The end will be the life that is hid with Christ in God. This life will bear fruit and its fruit will remain to be gathered into the barn of God.
Affectionately in Our Lord,