July 16, 2017 6th Sunday of Pentecost Fellowship Sunday
Genesis 25:19–34 Romans 8:1–11 Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
The parables of Jesus are like archeological digs, with multiple layers of meanings to what he says and the fun is trying to figure out what those layers mean.
Jesus preached to his audience using metaphors that they knew; allowing them to relate their environment into their own spiritual understanding. And he liked to use a lot of agricultural images – which makes sense because about 90% of the people he talked to were connected with farming. People understood different types of soils, geological formations, weather conditions, and how they created or influenced a good or a bad harvest.
If Jesus came back today he might preach in terms of computers, or car racetracks, or airline or space travel. But actually, I kind of like the fact that we have to stop and think a little about his metaphors. It makes us think a little more deeply about their meaning, and think a little deeper about our lives. Which is of course the point of the metaphor.
So in this parable Jesus says that the word of God is like seeds. When it is tossed onto a path, it’s very exposed so the birds come along and eat it quickly. Besides being exposed, a path has very hard packed soil, so the seed doesn’t have any way of gaining a purchase and rooting into the ground. That’s why Jesus says that people don’t understand what the word of the kingdom means. We don’t hold onto what we don’t understand. If our minds have no way of associating what we are hearing we just write off what we hear and go on with our lives.
Then you have the seed that falls on rocky ground, which Jesus says is someone who is unstable or not very focused. That person is happy to hear about God’s promised kingdom since they might hope that religion will bring stability into their lives. But since they can’t figure out how to find stability in their lives to begin with, they have a tough time hanging onto the ideals and practices of a spiritual life, so when difficulty arises they don’t stick with their new life with God.
Then you have people who are probably able to comprehend Jesus’ message, and also are stable in themselves, but they are either too stressed out by the thorns of poverty and uncertainty or they are too caught up in the thorns of materialism and expectations of the world, so they decide that the Kingdom of God is just not worth pursuing. Who has time for religion anyway with everything else you need to do?
But then you have people who are able to comprehend what Jesus is saying about a spiritual life and how it relates to God’s kingdom; are stable enough in their own personalities to be able to face the difficulties of a spiritual life; and aren’t caught up in the anxieties of poverty or wealth. And those people are able to not only hear the word and understand it, but also work outward and make God’s message of love real in the world, to the point where they spread the message up to a hundredfold. Now not every one of us can get to that hundredfold marker – like Mother Teresa, she was not even a100, she was a thousand-fold person. But I know that everyone here is spreading God’s Love and every little bit is still doing God’s work. So good for us, and keep at it!
When I examined this parable I got three layers out of it. Maybe you’ll find more layers – but these are my three.
First of all, Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they couldn’t reach everyone. Anyone who is dedicated to their job wants to do it well. I remember, when I first started teaching I took to heart the idea that I was responsible for every student in my classroom. It was my job to make sure that everyone learned the material. What I didn’t get was that I couldn’t always be the right teacher for every student. Now those two statements might seem to contradicted each other. It took me a while to realize that no matter how hard I tried for some of my students I was NOT the best teacher. Maybe it was the way I presented the material, or maybe that student just wasn’t at the level that I was teaching the subject. In that case, my responsibility to that student was to try to find a teacher or a class level that was good for them. My inability to teach them wasn’t personal – it was situational.
I’m sure the disciples had the same issue. Peter might have talked to some people and what he said about Jesus just didn’t connect. But maybe those same people could talk to Thomas and get this whole Jesus stuff. And some people because of their situations just aren’t ready to hear about Jesus and God’s Kingdom. In that case, Jesus was saying: Don’t worry. You gave your message, if the idea can take, it will take. Concentrate on helping the people who are receptive, and move on from the rest. Just keep throwing the message out there and it will land on the people who can receive it.
The second layer or message focuses on the negative conditions of the path, the rocky ground, and the thorns. And it gets down to another level of discipleship that we experience as Christians who are committed to Kingdom building. I believe that the path, the rocky ground, and the thorns, symbolize conditions that we are supposed to confront and change from negative to positive, from bad planting conditions to good ones, so that the kingdom of God will spread even further.
The hard earth of the path represents people who can’t even comprehend the importance of God, and we all do encounter people like that. And when we do we need to take a breath and ask why that is.
Does God seem inaccessible to them because they believe that they are incapable of God’s love, maybe because of a sinful or an abused life? In that case we need to assure them that God’s love and grace is available to everyone.
Does this whole religious nonsense seem an illogical and unnecessary belief that gets in the way of life to them? Then maybe we need to be able to suspend judgment and explain what our faith does for us personally. How does Christ make us happy; how does Christ give us strength; how does Christ comfort our sorrows and give assurance when we need it? We can be looking glass for them to a different outlook on life.
Or maybe they just came from a non-religious family and they have no idea how to relate to this Jesus stuff. In which case we can tell them our story and maybe get them started on the road to understanding. You know a path can grow green – it takes time – but it can change.
The rocky ground is people who are interested in religion and curious about Jesus, but don’t have the stability in themselves or in their lives. Our focus should be to help them gain some stability so that they can grow roots into their spirituality. While teaching them about Christ we should also help them to clear some rocks from their lives so that they can have space to be better prepared for when difficult times come. Hopefully they will have grown in God and Christ to the point where they will be able to draw on the sustaining power and strength of the Holy Spirit during their difficulties.
The thorns of life are the cares of poverty, wealth, social expectation, or the desire for success, all the things that pull our hearts away from God. We should show those people how the focus on God will enhance their lives beyond the temptations of the material world or the difficulties of real or perceived want. I don’t have a big piece of property, but I don’t need it, because I am surrounded by God’s country, and I give thanks for living here every time I walk out my door. We need to give thanks for our lives, and show our thanks, as the example and as an antidote to a world that wants more, more, more.
And then there is a third layer to the metaphor. Every disciple should bravely ask: What is it that I don’t understand about my own faith? What is unstable in my own life that is holding me back from a deeper belief and trust in my God, a better connection with my brother Christ, and keeps me from seeing how the Holy Spirit is working in me and around me? What are the cares and concerns that distract me from my faith, and how can I get God into those cares and concerns and make Him a greater part of my life?
Live your life on the three levels of this parable. Scatter your seeds of God’s love and don’t worry about where they fall. Help others to clear the ground of misunderstanding about God, the instabilities that get in the way of God, and the things that keep our focus off of God. And ask yourself: How you can make your ground better, so that your roots can grow deeper, and your love higher, so that your fruit becomes so abundant that you can share it with everyone. Live in that abundance and who knows how large your harvest of love will be?