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.
Regarding ‘Parables’, I stumbled across this in Numbers 12 the other day:
“When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.”
Regarding not being able to tell wheat from tares, I’m not so sure. Our Father doesn’t leave us blind, to be at the mercy of wolves (or tares). He gives discernment. Our human nature is such that the unsaved draw lines of in and out for power and control, and tribal comfort. Those inside the kingdom, out of humility, are drawn to think well of others and therefore ignore the voice of discernment in order to give the benefit of the doubt. But just because someone is a tare today doesn’t mean they won’t be truly saved tomorrow. Judas had his best chance at salvation being at Jesus side for those final years of his life.
I see the parable of the sower and the parable of the wedding banquet as scary because they shine a searing torch on my own walk. The worries of this life, that’s me. The deceitfulness of wealth, me too. Too busy to come? Every day. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I know why I haven’t produced a crop yet. I can hear my saviour calling me to obedience. Will I obey?
Thank you very much Stewart for your wise words. I dare add that in this glorious new covenant we also hear clearly and not in riddles; and like Moses we will even see the form of the Lord. Yes, we all need correction in the Body of Christ and we are told to exhort and reprove one another in deep love and grace caring for the welfare of the erring or the disobedient—we do not know if some are “tares” or not. Yes, discernment is important and we can recognise false prophets by their fruits. May the Lord “shine that searing torch” on each of us. We must give ourselves to humility, love of one another, openness, soft hearts, teachability and lay all our dear doctrines and agendas aside as encumbrances, as stumbling blocks, that we may run the race before us, seeing only him, knowing him, obeying him.
Hey Ian, isn’t this parable about ‘election’? As with all the parables it’s not another opportunity to navel gaze per se, in the sense that it’s not about our life and us examining ourselves to find our which soil we are or what have you. Jesus’ parables are about the nature of His kingdom. in the light of the harvest passage before as you pointed out, it strikes me that the Lord is saying that God knows whom He will save. As you said, the hearts of men are hidden from view. So to that end, no, it’s not our place to judge which soils are ‘worthy’ (although I’m not sure this warning is found in the text??) and yes, we should spread the Gospel (seed) liberally. I haven’t heard a corporate church agenda pulled out of this passage, so I wasn’t sure why you were stressing the point of the ‘organic’ nature of the seed. But I have heard it universally mangled! I think it’s very much related to the parable recorded soon after with the Wheat and the Tares. He again is saying, you can’t know who’s “in” and who’s “out” so it’s not our place to “pull up” the weeds. And also the wheat and tares look the same at the beginning. So yes there will be “weeds” in Israel and inside the church, but as the Sower shows us, I don’t think we can safely assume who’s in or out, regardless of their corporate or national identity. Hope I’ve read this right…
Thank you Kate for your comments. I don’t think this parable is about election. It and the following parables are all about the Kingdom of God, God’s rule, God’s government with Jesus as king, the government upon his shoulders. It is about obedience to him in carrying out his words and not just hearing them. Some listeners take home an arresting and puzzling story. Others want to know what it all means, about the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven, recognition of Jesus’ identity as Lord and King and how this is worked out in human lives. Jesus continues to instruct them more about the work to which he is calling them. And also for us today who long to obey him here. We must listen to him and be prepared to relinquish all our learned behaviours and methodologies and hear his voice. Take up his yoke. He does not show us one possible way–he IS the way. And his is the way. Organic? I mean growth without bad additives which inhibit growth, alter the goodness. Christendom is encumbered with so many additives which destroy people’s growth in Jesus and keep them sitting in Sunday pews listening to preachings and pronouncements from pastors and priests in pulpits, persisting in programs. None of these Jesus commanded or taught. Vain traditions of men. Tares? Yes, weeds will be with us—they were there right from the beginning. Judas was even one of the twelve! Yes, we can’t know who’s “in” and who’s “out” because they cannot be identified by us, only by the harvesters at the End. Yet, we must all look to ourselves “to see if we are in the faith and test ourselves” as Paul would frequently remind us (2 Cor 13:5). Are we obeying the words of Jesus? Are we living the kingdom? Or following the traditions of our fathers or mentors or favourite authors? Is it not important that we obey his words? Is his wisdom not greater than ours? his pattern of maturity, discipleship, not sufficient?
So glad you liked it Terry. I marvel at how Jesus always says things in different and diverse ways to each situation. he never resorts to slogans or cliches.
Wonderful Ian – blessed by all but especially the rich and deep metaphores that Jesus uses – I think we need so much deliverance from the definitional and literalism of langauge – he came to give life abundantly not the constraints of the conventialism of language.
Rosemary and I enjoyed On Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM, Ian Thoms