Strange how public morality goes; you can apparently choose your faith, lifestyle and sexuality freely, but you must be tolerant. In much the same way, you can belong to any group or subculture, but must not discriminate. The rightness of tolerance and the wrongness of discrimination are seldom argued, just demanded. At the same time, the popular press make the practical limits of toleration clear – rich fraudsters, terrorists and paedophiles are beyond the pale. And we all know how to discriminate between a good workman and a “cowboy”, or a real friend and a gossip.
So, will you be shocked if you look in the Bible for these words? Tolerance is not found in traditional translations (only, of God, in Romans 2:4 Good News Bible), discrimination not at all. Why? I suggest that, while there are some similar ideas, the concepts are not quite right for Christians. Why not? This weeks gospel parable (Matthew 13:24-43, leaving out vv31-35) may help.
The story of the wheat and weeds is about tolerance and discrimination – of a sort. Wheat was, and is, an important food. The weeds in this story are not a nuisance or something that spoils the picture, but darnel, a plant that looks very similar to wheat, but is host to a dangerous, poisonous fungus. Jesus is suggesting that in human life, and that includes Church congregations, good and bad people are mixed. We should not try to sort them out, because of damaging the wheat, because we can’t reliably tell the difference, (and because people, unlike plants, can repent.) That’s not to say “anything goes”, in Church, or in society! We need to help people sort themselves out – but we shall never gather a perfect group. There will always be those in process – and those who resist God, but pretend. There is a place, if not for tolerance, at least for patience and love, and for letting God do the final sorting out. (We lack the qualification!).
At the same time, there is talk of a division at harvest time. The harvesters will be under orders how to discriminate into just two categories. No discrimination? Well, you can’t tell wheat from darnel until the ear appears just before harvest (wheat turns golden brown and bends over, darnel seed darkens and stays upright), so no premature judgements. But if “no discrimination” means “nobody can tell me I’m doing wrong” that doesn’t include God!
The idea of being tolerant and not discriminating is one of those half-Christian confusions which can obscure the faith of Jesus. We don’t want to be intolerant and discriminatory – nothing Christian in that! Letting him tell the story, and listening carefully, should save us getting it wrong.