Image: Tony Tuckson, ‘White lines (vertical) on ultramarine’ [TP73] 1970-1973, diptych, 213.5 x 244.6 cm (overall), Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Annette Dupree 1976 © The estate of the artist. Tuckson’s gestural verticals connote the human as well as the transcendent (more than human). Perhaps we see the dream-ladder of Jacob.

‘Holy surprise’

Andrew Collis
Ordinary Sunday 16, Year A
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 86; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

First, some thoughts on Genesis 28. Jacob dreams a ladder, a stairway to heaven with angelic beings descending and ascending [Tony Tuckson’s vertical lines diptych seems apt]. When he wakes, he is amazed. Here in this fearful/shameful place (Jacob has deceived his blind father Isaac and stolen a blessing from his brother Esau), the presence of the Holy One overwhelms him, and he is reassured of love. “Truly, YHWH is in this place, and I never knew it!”

This is a pivotal scene in the story of Jacob (“Heel-Grabber”) who will become Israel (“Overcomer of God”). He will grow in maturity from being a deceiver and runaway to this encounter with a gracious God whose messengers come and go … to delightful love, exchanging vows, then being himself deceived, long years of work, returning home, wrestling with a worthy opponent (angel/stranger), injured/humbled, embraced by his long-suffering twin, still learning to repent and to share … with Esau, with Esau’s wives and with the children of Ishmael (to merely hint at very complex familial and historical issues – resentment, dysfunction, enmity, bewilderment) …

The journey to wisdom begins here, in a dream, an epiphany. “Truly, YHWH is in this place, and I never knew it! How awe-inspiring this place is! … this is the gate of heaven!” …

God, we might see, is in the loneliness … in the darkness … in the stone Jacob used for a pillow … in the Earth … in the dream … in the family chaos and promise … in the journey to responsibility and freedom … and Jacob never knew it. God’s presence is new – and renews hope and life.

Which phenomenon is most surprising for you today? Which is most life-giving?

The God within loneliness (creative solitude)? The God within darkness (light of humanity and light of the world)? The God in the stone, the Earth (Spirit of all things)? The God of dreams (imagination)? The God of family chaos/promise (repetition, redemption)? The God on the journey to maturity (Sophia/Wisdom)?

According to Matthew, Jesus addresses his teaching to Israel. The parable, we might say, is for Jacob, and holds the promise (for all with ears to hear) of holy surprise.

The parable tells of a farmer’s decision not to uproot everything in an attempt to rid a field of weeds (most likely darnel, which in its early stages closely resembles wheat), but to allow both weed and wheat to grow until harvest time, when the difference between them will be clear and the weeds identified and disposed of without harm to the precious wheat.

The wheat – miraculously – is not prevented from growing.

The parable reassures Jacob/Israel of love. It teaches a wise patience – that grace might be given time to work its victory subtly, that what has been wounded and hindered by evil might not be crushed, but rescued and transformed.

The Earth, humanity, imagination, family, freedom – these are good things, threatened by a pervasive malice … call it greed or violence, or foolishness.

The parable teaches a godly patience, not so much tolerance of evil as assurance that evil will be dealt with appropriately (by way of forgiveness? by way of letting-be? by way of truth-telling? by way of nonviolent action? by way of more accountable structures/stairways/ladders?), that goodness will not be destroyed. It reassures us that God is not overcome by evil, and nor – finally – will God’s beloved (or lovers of God) be consumed by it.

The present time is emphasised, the eschatology one of imminence, stressing present action … morality, religious practice, the radical transformation of this world …

Of course, we may realise, we ourselves are wheat and weeds. An irascible person may have a passion for justice; a lazy person can be a good listener; Jacob can become Israel …

And there are many harvests. The wheat will be harvested successfully.

Respond with love, in other words. Overcome evil with goodness.

Uniting Climate Action Network (UCAN) reports this good news, with thanks to all who have acted on climate change over recent months (over many years): the National Australia Bank has decided not to renew its loan to Whitehaven Coal, the leading Australian producer of coal.

UCAN acknowledges the good work of frontline communities including First Nations people, farmers, landholders and activists, saying, “This is a huge step in the right direction and a chance to continue to build on the momentum and keep pushing towards a renewable energy-powered and justice-focused future.”

Meanwhile, in what could be one of Australia’s biggest clean energy projects, more than a million solar panels will power electrolysers to produce 50,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year. The East Kimberley Clean Energy project was unveiled at the Australian renewable energy industry’s annual summit in Sydney on Tuesday.

A new company – Aboriginal Clean Energy – will develop the ambitious project near the town of Kununurra. Three Indigenous groups will each have an initial 25 per-cent share in the company alongside climate crisis investment and advisory firm Pollination.

Respond with love, in other words. Overcome evil with goodness.

In a later parable Jesus will make it very clear: “Come, you blessed of my Abba God! Inherit the kindom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me; in prison [for shameful crimes] and you came to visit me” (25:34b-36).

Jacob is dazzled by a dream. He is confronted and called to change – to grow. Our God is not overcome by darkness and enfolds us, too, in an infinite love, in a wise and godly (and active) patience.

Is there a holy surprise here for us?

Reassured of love (by way of dream or parable), what goodness, what good thing or activity might we attend to this week? Amen.