Tolerance

July 22nd, 2014 Posted in writing

In the plans for putting up buildings, tolerances are included in order to allow for, as one article put it, “some necessary leeway for imperfections.” But when it comes to the spiritual life, isn’t tolerance for imperfections a bad thing? After all, Jesus said we should “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5) But only a few chapters later (Matthew 13), Jesus told us we need to be tolerant of imperfection, using the parable of the weeds and the wheat to make the point.

In that story a master’s servants ask if they should get rid of the weeds growing in his field of wheat. We might expect the master to tell them to go ahead; but, surprisingly, he tells them to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest when they could then be separated without risk to the wheat. If we take the parable to apply to us, then one of its lessons is clearly that we need to be patient enough to accept the imperfections in ourselves and in others for the time being.

But the story has another lesson, namely, a caution for us to be humble enough to recognize that we might not be very good at telling the difference between wheat and weeds. Scholars tell us that the weeds Jesus referred to looked very much like wheat, so deciding before the harvest what was wheat and what was weeds would take considerable skill and the wheat might be uprooted instead of the weeds. This second lesson, then, is that we shouldn’t be overly confident of our skill to accurately judge between wheat and weeds/good and bad lest we get things wrong, throwing out the good and keeping the bad.

In sum, it would seem that though it may be good to strive for perfection, we’ll have to accept the fact that until God’s kingdom has fully arrived (which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer), we need to do two things: first, be patient, and second, admit that we don’t always know what is best. In other words, we have to allow “some necessary leeway for imperfection” in ourselves and in other people. That will certainly take some pressure off of us and, most likely, off of the people we live and work with as well.

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