The Difference Between Straw and Wheat
Oh, there is a lot going on today in the readings we have been given!
Woven into the fabric of the letter to the Hebrews is a big dose, evident today more than any before, of how much Platonism is woven into the fabric of the author's theological justifications of the primacy of the Christ's role for us as the TRUE form of the High Priest. With Platonism (learn more about this philosophy here), the argument the author is making that the Christ is the true form of both the human being and the one who opens a way for us to be reconciled forever with God finds traction. In the ancient world, heads would be nodding. What he is saying makes sense. If Plato's assertion that all objects we see and perceive in the here and now are just mere copies, simple shadows, of the true forms, then Christ himself is the true form of all that we hope for in relationship with God. The shadow that is dispersing is the Law, the old Covenant. What is arising is something that will dispel shadows and the true forms will prevail. That is good news in so many ways. It is also slightly terrifying, in that the author reminds us that with the obviation of the Law and the advent of our primary connection to God through the Son we are now "on the hook" to hold to the true form. There are no longer any earthly intermediaries that will repair the tiny breaches to the New Covenant that our daily dabbling in sin engender. Once and for all really means? ONCE AND FOR ALL. It remains to be seen how we are going to emerge from this with any notion of grace. It's coming, but we will have to be patient.
On the other hand, with a passage that predates Plato, we have the prophet Jeremiah offering us a primer on how to understand this philosophy-to-be with his visions of the final fall of the city, and the deportations of the middle and upper classes of the city of Jerusalem into exile. At the moment, in the midst of iniquity so profound that God through the prophet sees more of Sodom and Gomorrah in Jerusalem than of "the Holy City," Jeremiah is proclaiming more than just a sorting of the people that draws lines between righteous and unrighteous. He is decrying the fact that while some might have the good in them, most are corrupt and thus rendered useless. It's a simple image, formed in a question: "What is the difference between straw and wheat?"
Wheat, we know, is a grain that feeds living things. It becomes bread, it is the cornerstone of what gives life.
Straw is the mass of stems and other bits left over once the useful grain has been threshed.
Are we wheat or straw? Jeremiah calls out the king and his court, the priest and the prophets and demands they face up to the fact that whereas they had assumed they were the wheat of society; they are in fact the straw. Succinctly, they cannot even aspire to be copies of the true form of what God seeks from Israel in response to the Covenant. They are destined to be the lost bits lying on the threshing floor after God has taken the desired portion of the harvest. What are they good for? Lining stalls and providing bedding for livestock, at best.
There is a big difference between wheat and straw. The prophet is showing us in a stark manner that if we want to experience restoration, then we better start striving and aspiring to be wheat, once again. The author of the letter to the Hebrews provokes a similar exhortation, that we dispense with the shadow practices that are mere figures of what is true and grasp onto the true form of the Christ, whose light and truth dispels shadow and establishes, once and for all, our primary relationship with God that God has intended for us from the outset of creation itself.