2388) Scattering Seeds (part 1 of 2)

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The Sower, 1888, by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

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Matthew 13:1-9…18-23  —  That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear… Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.  The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

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     A pastor friend said to me, “We took in over a hundred new members last year, but our average attendance has stayed the same.”  In another congregation, a friend who was church council president said, “We have a great new pastor, and right after he came, our attendance went up by 20%.  But now that he has been here a couple of years our attendance is right back down to where it used to be.”  Year after year, the polls report the same disappointing statistics; well over 90% of the American people believe in God, but less than 30% are in church on any given Sunday.

     It was a similar situation that prompted Jesus to tell the parable of the soils.  The setting for the parable is described in the first two verses:  “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such LARGE CROWDS gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on shore.”  The parable is set in the context of the large crowds that were following Jesus everywhere.  Jesus then described what was to become the rapid disappearance of those crowds as they would face all kinds of barriers to the receiving of that message.  We can see in Jesus’ words sadness and frustration at such superficial and uncommitted listeners.  We also hear from him a word of warning.

     In order to get his point across, Jesus used an illustration from the farm about planting and harvesting.  Farming at that time was an unpredictable, hit and miss business (sort of like today, come to think of it).  But the planting of the seed was literally hit and miss in those days.  Planting was done by hand tossing the seeds into the air to be scattered by the wind.  You weren’t about to get very straight rows that way, and there would be a lot of ‘hitting and missing.’  Much of the seed would land where you did not want it to fall; on the path, in the rocky areas at the edge of the field, and among thorns and other weeds that hadn’t been plowed under.  And of course, some seeds would get to the right place, on good soil, and that seed would grow and produce just fine.

     Then Jesus explained that each of the types of soil represents a type of receptivity to God’s Word.  The seed that lands on the hard path doesn’t last long.  The birds find it and eat it in no time.  This is like those who hear the word and do not understand it.  The word doesn’t stay with them any longer than the seeds on the path.  It is as the old saying goes, “In one ear and out the other.”  It’s like when my wife explains to me why we need new curtains and paint in the living room.  I never understand why we need to do such things, and I don’t want to ask, so I just say “All right,” and I forget it.  Then, two days later, when she comes home from Menard’s with an armful of paint cans, brushes, rollers, and curtains, and sets it all down in front of me, I say, “What’s this all about; when did you get this idea?”  In one ear and out the other.  Jesus faced it all the time.  Many people hear a little bit, don’t understand it, don’t try to understand it, and disappear.  Faith must seek understanding, or it will not endure.  A three year old can understand “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  But as she grows older, she will experience much in this sad world that could make her wonder about that love of Jesus.  There is more to faith than the song “Jesus loves me” expresses, and there are responses big enough for all our questions.  But one has to give faith the opportunity to grow and deepen, or it will disappear.

     The second place that Jesus describes the seeds falling is on the rocky areas.  In those places, there might be a bit of soil between the rocks, so the seeds do take root and begin to grow.  Jesus says this is like those who receive the word with joy, and they keep coming back for it; for a while.  But this only lasts for a short time, and then when faced with difficulties they fall away.  This type of person might say something like, “I used to believe in God, but then God did not answer my prayers when my loved one was ill, so therefore there must not be a God.”  Tragedy can indeed raise challenging questions, but we have to be willing to admit that our understanding of God and His ways is limited.  Sometimes we might have to wait even until heaven know how God will “work out all things for the good of those who love in Him,” as Paul says in Romans.  If we quit listening as soon as trouble comes, our faith will not endure.  Jesus was not always easy to understand, and there were many who were not willing to take the time to learn in depth what Jesus meant by some of the difficult things he said.  

     “We walk by faith, not by sight,” said Paul.  I heard this deeper kind of faith summed up nicely by a young man who was dying of cancer, and yet, by faith, he came to the point where he was able to say: “I know I am not going to get better, but that is okay, because in one way my prayers for healing have been answered.  I have been healed of my desperate need to be healed in this life.”

     The third area that the seeds fell was among thorns.  The thorns, said Jesus, are symbolic of the “worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth” that can overcome a growing faith.  The thing about worry is that it can begin to dominate the mind, pushing out everything else, including faith.  One focuses only on the problem being worried over, and faith and trust in God does not even enter one’s mind anymore. 

     Wealth can choke off faith by making it appear unnecessary.  Why bother with God’s Word when every problem can be solved with the checkbook?  Every problem cannot be solved with the checkbook, but it can look that way for a while.  That is why Jesus says the problem is not just wealth, but the ‘deceitfulness’ of wealth.

     Finally, some of the seeds do fall on good soil.  This, says Jesus, is symbolic of those who hear the word and understand it, and, stay with it, because the plants grow to full maturity and produce abundantly.  (continued…)