10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel
24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Native Americans tell the story of a young man who was very sad. He was so sad that he refused to eat; he refused to sleep; he refused to do anything. He just sat there with a face that looked like it was cut out of a rock. The young man’s family tried to cheer him up, but when all their efforts were to no avail, his father took him to the tribe’s wise man and asked for help.
The wise man said, “I will help you. Just go into my tent and stay there for a while. Think about your mother. That should help. Feel free to stay for a whole day if necessary.” After about an hour, the young man was seen leaving the tent. “It didn’t help,” he told the wise man.
The wise man said, “Well, go back into my tent, and think about your father; perhaps that’s what you need to do.” The young man disappeared into the tent as told, but left just a half hour later. “Nothing changed”, he said. “I am still sad.”
The wise man shook his head and said, “Let’s try something different. Tell me about the one you love the most in the whole world. Is there someone you really love?” The young man smiled and said, “That’s easy: it’s my wonderful buffalo; I don’t love anyone or anything more than him.” The wise man said, “Go into my tent, and think of nothing but your beloved buffalo. Focus on your buffalo and see what happens.”
The young man disappeared into the wise man’s tent. One hour passed. Two hours passed. Three hours passed. He stayed in the tent all day. He stayed all night, and yet another day. As his son had not been heard from, the father went to the wise man and asked, “What if something bad happened to him?” The wise man smiled and replied, “Actually, I think something good has happened.”
He went to the entrance of his tent and called out to the young man, “Are you okay in there?” The answer came, “I am fine, thank you. It’s just that I can’t come out.” The young man’s father heard the exchange and shouted, “Why can’t you come out? Don’t disrespect the wise man; don’t ignore your own father!” The young man replied from inside the tent, “I mean no disrespect. I really would like to come, but my horns are in the way.”
The young man had become one with his buffalo so completely that physical boundaries didn’t separate the two any longer. His sadness was cured when he became one with his love, and one with everything there is.
The Old Testament lesson for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost speaks of another man, one named Jacob, who was also sad and upset. Jacob had every reason to be upset. He had stolen his brother’s birthright and his blind father’s blessing. When Esau plotted to kill Jacob, their mother Rebekah had warned Jacob. He was a fugitive now; he feared his brother’s revenge.
With too much to think about and a rock for a pillow, Jacob had a rough night. That’s when he had his dream, his own experience of being one with everything.
Upset and sad and burdened with guilt, Jacob received God’s grace and mercy; the dull pain of loneliness disappeared as God told him he was with him and would be with him.
Jacob’s ladder has captured the imagination; it touches a deep-down longing we all have, a longing for more than a connection between heaven and earth. Some call it our longing to be related, or our longing for union; I call it our longing to be home with God.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul the Apostle speaks of a deep yearning that is in everyone: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies … (Romans 8:22-25). The young man’s sadness stopped when he was with his buffalo; Jacob’s longing was stilled when he had his dream.
I think it is important that Jacob experienced God in the midst of his life when it was particularly untidy and chaotic. He was on the run. When he didn’t even look for God, God looked for him. Without a word of rebuke or judgment, God found him and showed him the way home.
The themes of God’s grace and judgment connect our text with the gospel from Matthew 13. Regardless of how much longer our scholars will argue with each other about whether the parable originated with the Jesus of history or within the early Church, I think the main function of “the wheat and the tares” story is to remind us of God’s amazing patience: The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest …’ (Matthew 13:28b-30)
The parable states that God does not pull weeds. Period. God permits “good” and “evil” to grow together. Each of us has the capacity of being both the nourishing wheat and the poisonous tare, and God is patient. We are tempted to think that God should pull the weeds to keep the grain pure, but God does not. We tend to project the bad qualities of a weed on this or the other person, but God does not. Preoccupied with being right and proving others wrong, we are always in danger of forgetting God’s invitation. The story of Jacob’s Ladder points the way by reminding us of the old longing to be one with everything.
In a gigantic waterfall in Yosemite National Park, the water “falls down” not as a stream, but as many tiny streams so that from a distance, it looks like a curtain. It takes quite some time for the water to reach the bottom of the waterfall. When life gets difficult, we are like those tiny streams: there’s this deep, painful memory that in the beginning the water was one whole river. Just like the water falling from the waterfall is separated from its original river, we are separated from the oneness we once had.
The Native American man and Jacob touch upon everyone’s longing for the Source of Life. We are reminded that God is not far away but right here in the ordinariness of our everyday struggles: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
All of humanity comes from the Source and all our journeys will lead us back to the Source. Since we are all connected, when one of us suffers, we all suffer. As people who maintain the connection with the Source, we are grounded and centered; we freely give what this broken world so desperately needs: comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable.
Christian friends, why will you scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! Why will you wander from a love so true and deep?
It is God: God’s love looks mighty and yet is more than it seems.
God our parent shows us daily fondness far beyond our dreams.
But we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own
and we magnify God’s strictness with a zeal God will not own.
There has never been a shepherd both so gentle and so sweet
as the Savior who would have us come and gather as his feet.
Frederick W. Faber
Fritz Wendt, M.A., M.Div., LCSW-R, a native of Northern Germany, is a Lutheran pastor, psychotherapist and church musician living in New York City. He works full-time in the Pediatric ER and Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of Harlem Hospital.