Over the last several months, Ann Marie and I have developed a routine that we follow most evenings. At about ten o’clock, we watch one episode of the old Perry Mason show before going to bed. We both love a good mystery and we have become big fans of Perry, his faithful secretary Della Street and his trusted side kick, the detective Paul Drake.
Now that I have about 50 episodes under my belt, there are some obvious themes from Perry Mason that have become clear. One of the most prominent, of course, is that the person that you are led to believe is the guilty party is usually innocent. With Perry Mason, you can generally count on the fact that the culprit is usually someone no one expects.
Matthew 13, verse 47-51, our text for today, drives home the same point with the parable of the net. In essence, the emphasis of the story is the strong reminder that we are not very good at discerning the good from the bad in life and thus we are better off at just leaving that work to a higher power.
In our story, this truth comes in the story of a fishing net used in one of the traditional ways that New Testament people fished. The net was drug behind a vessel or pulled in the water while gathering all sorts of fish – some worth keeping and others of no value. In and of itself, the net was incapable of only catching good fish. That work, of sorting the good from the bad, only happened in the end when the net had reached shore.
It is very important to note that this same idea is not only communicated in our parable for today but it is a point made in numerous other places in the gospels including the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds and in the story of the disciples and the great catch.
On the one hand, all of these stories emphasize the point that our job is to reserve judgement. In the story of the sower, the person spreads seed not worrying about the quality of the soil. In the story of the wheat and the tares the workers are encouraged to simply let the wheat and the weeds grow together. And in the two stories about fishing, our text for today and the other in John’s gospel, the focus is on a net big enough to hold all types of fish. It is as if the New Testament wants to say to us as followers, “Do the farming, throw the seed and caste the net. Don’t worry too much about whether you have wheat or weeds, good soil or bad, fish worth keeping or not.” Our job is to share generously without getting too caught up in the judgement element for again this is not our forte.
At the same time, all of these stories also emphasize the point that our job is to trust that in the end God will sort things out. In the end, God or God’s servants with pass judgement. In the end, God or God’s servants will divide wheat from weeds and good fish from bad. But, judgement will come only in the end and only by those who can judge accurately.
So what do we do with this? First, we must live with the truth that we are not very skilled at recognizing the good from the bad in people. Does the mean we should never hold people accountable for doing right or wrong? Absolutely not, we must certainly still try to do the right things and challenge others in the same way. But, it does mean that so often, those that we deem likely to accept God’s grace do not and those that we think would have no interest in the things of God over time do amazing things for the Kingdom of God. Our job is simply to sow our seed and to cast our net while trying hard not to over analyze the likely response of those that we are working with at the time.
Second, we must realize that we are also not very good at accurately assessing ourselves. So often, we not only want to over analyze others but we also want to over analyze ourselves. We quickly write ourselves off when in reality God sees far more in us than we could ever see. In truth, it may be easier for us to avoid the need to judge others than it is for us to avoid the desire to judge ourselves or try to write ourselves off prematurely.
You might have read the story this past week of Timesha Beauchamp. Timesha is a twenty year old woman in the Detroit area who was pronounced dead at her family home last Sunday. Only a few hours later, at the funeral home, the embalmer began the process of preparing Timesha’s body only to discover that she was still alive. In an attempt to get their arms around what went wrong, authorities discovered that paramedics attempted to check vitals at least three times before declaring her dead. Everything pointed to the conclusion they made that Timesha was no longer alive. And, yet, remarkably she was still breathing! (Woman Found Alive in Body Bag at Funeral Home, abcnews.go.com, August 25, 2020)
We do this too. Our best human intuition says that others are dead to God. At other times, our best analysis of ourselves suggests that we are a hopeless case as it relates to the Kingdom of God. Yet, so often, despite our best analysis and all of the evidence available, God looks at others and at us with grace and love and still detects a pulse. Amen.