Second, it is intrinsically harmful to others’ humanity and to our own to look at fellow human beings as evil creatures who will one day be eradicated. We can’t help but seek to eradicate them in some form now, today. Add to this social dynamic of labeling some as evil or “of the devil,” the language of rounding them up and burning them. This is a holocaust. That is how millions of Jewish people were murdered last century. This is how people were tortured and killed during the Inquisition. This is how women were hanged or drowned as witches. There are so many more horrific examples in human history.
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As I said in the article The Destructiveness of All or Nothing, “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” And we need to judge this way of looking at our world and the people in our world by deeds it has produced throughout history. By those results, this way of looking at the world is the weed, not the people it maligns.
Today, it is not life-giving to look at the world through an apocalyptic lens. We don’t need to label some as weeds with the sick assurance that one day they will be destroyed. How awful! Nor should we look at the injustices as our world as things we can do nothing about except endure until some point in the future when outside forces will set things right. We can do something about injustice, here, now, today.
Is there anything that we can redeem from this passage?
There is one thing. And it is a corrective. This passage gives us the Biblical phrase, “gnashing of teeth.” Too often, Christians have assumed that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” refers to the physical agony those in the “fires” of this parable experience. But the gnashing of teeth is not a Biblical expression about being tormented. It’s a Biblical expression about being angry, so angry that they grit or gnash their teeth together.
Consider a few examples:
“God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me.” (Job 16:9)
“The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them…” (Psalms 37:12)
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.” (Acts 7:54)
In the gospels, people gnash their teeth when they see those they excluded being welcomed to the center of God’s just future while those who were so assured they were so much better and deserving to be at the center are left outside because of their own exclusionary practices. As you sow, you reap. Or to put it simply, people gnash their teeth when angry at seeing who is being “let in” when they themselves aren’t. As the gospel of Luke explains, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (Luke 13:28)
If any are excluded in the just world we are working towards and creating, it will be those who make it a practice of labelling others as weeds. It should give us pause to see the intrinsic destructiveness of looking at the world through the same lens as the authors of this week’s reading. Today, we can and must do better.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.