Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Parable of the Sower

I've always been drawn to the story Jesus told about the farmer who was sowing seed for a crop. The story comes from Matthew 13. Jesus first tells the story in verses 1-9, then explains what it means in verses 18-23. The seed is usually explained as the Gospel or the Scriptures. In verse 23, Jesus refers to the seed as "the word." However, in verse 19 Jesus gives a more specific meaning. The seed refers to "the message of the Kingdom." What exactly is the message of the Kingdom? In my study Bible, I have a reference next to this verse. It points to Matthew 4:23 (Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people). A second reference is Mark 1:15 (The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news). Dallas Willard paraphrases this verse from Mark:

All the preliminaries have been taken care of, and the rule of God is now accessible to everyone. Review your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable new opportunity.

The message (of the good news) of the Kingdom is that God's reign is now fully present, and that it's open to everyone.

As the farmer was walking and sowing the seed, some of the seed fell in different places. Each of these places yielded a different result. The first bit of seed fell along the path, and the birds immediately came and ate it. Jesus said that many people hear the message of the Kingdom but do not understand it. Because of that, they are easy targets for the enemy, who comes and snatches what was sown in their hearts.

The second bit of seed fell on rocky places, where the soil was very shallow. The crop sprang up quickly, but once the sun came out, the plants were scoched. They withered because they had no root. Jesus said that many people hear the message and at once receive it with joy. However, when trouble or persecution comes, because there is no root, these people quickly fall away.

The third bit of seed fell among the thorns (and weeds), which choked the plants as soon as they grew up. Jesus said that many people hear the message, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. This goes back to Mark 1. Repentance is required for this type of living. A new type of believing is required, but so also is a new type of living.

The bulk of the seed (I say bulk because I assume this farmer was probably pretty good at farming) fell on good soil. Naturally, it produced a crop - 30 times, 60 times, or even 100 times that which was sown. Jesus said that the key was not just to hear the message, but also to understand it. I would say that this word "understand" is not simply referring to a cognitive understanding, just as the word "believe" in John 3:16 is not just about a mental belief. A person changes the way he or she lives when understanding or believing something new. Jesus was saying that if a person heard and understood the message of the Kingdom, they would produce a crop, which apparently is a sign of usefulness in the Kingdom of God (see also Matthew 5:13). The amazing thing here is that a person like this will produce not just a few apples or ears of corn, but 30 times, 60 times, or even 100 times what was sown!

It brings me back to how simple things really are meant to be. God's plan was that something planted grows naturally under the proper conditions. Last spring my dad gave me a small grape tomato vine. Being that there were no tomatoes on it at the time, I had to take his word for it. (It's important to point out that up to this time, everything that Mandy and I have planted has had an ill-timed death). He told us where to plant it, according to how much sun and water it needed each day. I did what he said, and I'm happy to see that not only is it still alive, but I have a lot of grape tomatoes on it. Should it amaze me that a tomato vine produced tomatoes? It really shouldn't. Perhaps I should think in these terms about our little church.

How awesome would it be to see people we're investing in produce fruit 100 times what we invested? That would mean more church planters. That would mean creativity and goodness like we've never seen. That would mean people making a difference not only in our neighborhood, but all across the world. I think it's a part of seeing God's Kingdom being evident here in our neighborhood just as it is in heaven.

God, may we be faithful to complete the work that you've given us to do, just as you will be faithful to complete the work you've begun in us.

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