The other night at our little gathering we had a boisterous time reading Matthew 13, Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. Here’s some things we learned from the Sower.
We saw that only one of the four soil types was described as “good soil”. A good farmer would surely be aware that the three inferior soils would not produce good crops. But this is not about a farmer. This is about a sower who sows not sparingly but widely and profusely, with joyous abandon.
We could see that the results of sowing seeds of the Kingdom of God vary. But here, the human heart is hidden from the sower’s view. Like Jesus, the sowers –his disciples—must sow generously and not prejudge whether certain ‘soils’ are worthy, even though they are aware that only the good soil will produce a crop.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Mat 13:9—17)
We were impressed that Jesus keeps stressing this. So it is a very important phrase, used 5 times in the Gospels, 8 times in Revelation, plus there are similar sayings scattered in the NT. We were deeply challenged to take note!
We noted the obvious: hearing is what ears are for! The Greek akouo (to hear) also means to obey, to heed, to act. The strong implication is that if understanding does not follow then it is critical that the listener finds out, asks. So this is what his disciples do. They ask.
He tells them and us that the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven is given “to you”: “to you who have left everything to follow me”. These secrets are not even revealed to many prophets e.g., John-Baptist and “righteous” people.
Jesus assures us: There is abundance for those who see it, who hear it, who get it! Those in the Kingdom. To those outside the kingdom everything remains puzzling, parabolic, mysterious. Even what they have will be taken from them.
Of the crowds, Jesus quotes Isa 6:9,10: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
We thought: what a terrible fate, to remain without this precious understanding.
We saw with great sadness, that many of Jesus’ listeners, like those in Isaiah’s day were happy to listen to stories like this but avoided the truth in them in case they understood and were disturbed out of their complacency into action. So today, many are like those in Isaiah’s day and are like the crowds who clamoured for his touch and yet remained without understanding. Complacent. Sterile. Unfruitful. Stagnant. God’s frozen people. Valleys full of dry bones.
We could see that the true people of God are now found outside unbelieving Israel. This is the true flock of God who are identified in Isaiah and the O.T. prophets as the righteous remnant of the chosen people. And the true people of God are now today also found outside the unbelieving churchgoers.
We could see that Jesus’ parables gradually took hold on the disciples. They followed him and understood the radical new way Jesus was starting, especially post-Pentecost.
As we 21st century disciples, listened to Jesus explaining the various soils, we sensed the dreadful, the tragic, the hopelessness of merely hearing Jesus’ words but not understanding and those precious words being snatched away (sown on a path). Then, sadly, for the ‘rocky ground’ there was joy for starters, but when trouble came and the word had failed to take root, then the precious spark of life dies. So also among the “thorns” when people inside and without the fellowship of believers, allow the world, or worry, or wealth to choke the treasured word.
Only on the good soil is the word heard and understood and obeyed and a crop produced. This is the meaning of a disciple, to bear much fruit.
This parable is very relevant for us following as it does the previous words and practices of Jesus about the ready harvest and the sending of the disciples on mission.
The metaphors Jesus uses, we saw, are organic! The Kingdom of God is not institutional. And the gathering (church) of God is never seen as an institution in the Bible! We must stop reading institutionalism (a tradition of men) into the biblical text.
So what have we learnt from this parable?
- We are sent to sow seeds of the kingdom, spreading seeds abundantly.
- It’s not up to us to decide the worth of the “soil”, to discriminate
- Seeds are powerful, they will germinate—the sower expects plants!
- Everyone has ears, but few have ears that will hear, heed, that is, obey, act, change, turn, fear God.
This hearing is a matter of the heart. Hard, calloused hearts cannot hear. Here is a call for us to examine our hearts –do I have “ears” that can hear and obey the word of God? or a hard, calloused heart, a heart that does not want to hear and so cannot hear?
We ask ourselves, does our soil produce abundantly from the seeds of God’s word? Or, are we stuck in doing things our way, the safe way, the known way, like everyone else, tradition? Am we capable of hearing Jesus’ voice above the noise of tradition, the world and earthly wisdom? Would we love to be producing abundantly?
There is a design from above. We are to listen to Jesus, ask him, study him, let him teach us. We realise we must not just assume that the way our mentors, our teachers, have practised, is Jesus’ way. The road to fruitlessness is paved with assumptions.