A fresh look at the parable of the seeds

sowerWe Baptists love our sermons.  In our churches, the pulpit takes center stage.  We spend lots of money paying good preachers; and, for many churches, the sermons keep getting longer.

The best sermons embody God’s Word.  More importantly, they encourage us to embody God’s Word in the world.  No wonder an old adage states that sermons are best lived rather than preached.

One of Jesus’ most famous parables was that of the Sower and the Seeds (Luke 8:4-15).  You know it well, I’m sure:  Jesus tells of a sower who liberally, if not carelessly, sows seeds on various soils.  Some seeds fall on well-trodden paths and get snatched up by birds.  Others fall on rocks or among thorns.

Still others fall on healthy soil and yield a miraculous crop.  With prayer and patience, the fruit born out of good soil produces a harvest fit for God’s kingdom.

Later, when Jesus is alone with his disciples, he explains that the various soils represent different types of people who receive God’s Word.

Although Jesus offers this interpretation, however, church history shows that Christians have read into this parable other creative applications for the church body.

One early church community who wrote books not found in the Bible, such as the Gospel of Thomas, took the parable to address social concerns.  Christians who received God’s word and took moral and ethical actions produced a harvest of righteousness in their lives.

Another early church leader, St. Clement, wrote that the parable can apply to Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.  It was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ life; the harvest was Jesus’ resurrection, and the miraculous yield was Christ’s church.

Some contemporary churches take this parable to point to the different types of churches that exist.  Each soil represents a church, some more healthy than others.

With this legacy of interpretation, I’d like to imagine that the seeds not only represent God’s Word to us, but also represent those of us who find ourselves in different situations.  We are the seeds that God scatters, and we are to live out the Gospel wherever God sends us.

Some folks try to be God’s disciple in the midst of hardships.  They get walked all over or taken advantage of; but they are faithful and do their best to obey God in spite of it.  Other disciples fall upon the rocky roads of tragedy and find it difficult to dig deep into their faith.  They are caught between a rock and a hard place.

All of us have had a thorn in our side, not to mention enough thorns to bring a night of darkness or sorrow.  Yet, others of us have fairly easy faith journeys, flourishing at a greater rate than the next guy.

What I like about this parable is that it is one of hope.  No matter where we find ourselves, as long as we are living out God’s Word, we can represent the Good News of transformation and new life.  We can thrive with just the right amount of prayer, patience, and perseverance.

Shortly after Jesus told the parable to his disciples, his family came to get him.  Jesus responded, “My family are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

We receive the seed of God’s word in our life by hearing it; but, we are also called to live out and do God’s word.  God calls us to be the seeds that are sown throughout the world in order to multiply the harvest of His kingdom agenda on earth.

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Are you the thorny vine that chokes the life out of other Christians?

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4), Jesus explained how God spreads the seeds of the gospel lavishly upon the ground.  Some seed fell upon the ground only to be plucked up by birds.  Faith does not have time to last or take root.  There is happiness in receiving the word, but lack of commitment allows Satan to steal the joy of a new Christian’s salvation.

Others were thrown on rocky ground.  They take root, grow for a while, and then wither away.  The soil is thin, and faith unsustainable.

Yet others grow in healthy soil.  The Christian life takes root and soars; it’s a sustainable faith that weathers the toughest storms of life.  There is adversity, but a deep root system that draws life from Christ’s everlasting spring provides nourishment and joy.

There is one more “soil” that Jesus talked about.  Some seed, he said, fell on good soil and took root.  As it was growing, however, weeds and thorny vines came up and choked the life out of the healthy plants.  Instead of a beautiful garden, a briar patch stamps out the light of Christ’s love.

Many assume that the “weeds and thorns” that can choke one’s faith are life’s tough situations; others think it is immaturity of a Christian.  But what if we are the weeds and thorns in another person’s garden that keep them from having a healthy Christian life?  What if we choke out the Good News of the Gospel with our assumptions, judging spirits, attitudes, bad moods, and overall lack of commitment to a faith that transforms all of who we are?

This week, consider how your relationships, faith formation, and attitude encourages or hinders how others come to know Christ in their life.  Forgive and ask forgiveness regularly; be an ambassador of reconciliation always!  In all things, be the Good News!

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl point to a mutual search

Although I was a young boy at the time, I remember all the excitement when Robert Ballard discovered the underwater remains of the HMS Titanic in 1985. Ballard invested everything he had for seven long years before he found it.

Have you ever longed for something so much that you invested much of what you had in order to get what you wanted?  I am tempted to give my all whenever I see one of those fancy new Camaros.  When one passes me (with that V-8 growl…), I start doing the math in my head in order to figure out whether I can afford the monthly payment.

I start negotiating with my budget–if I give up that, then maybe I can afford this.  Although I’m not willing to sell all that I own for a car, there are moments with I think that the possibility exists!

The joy of a discovery and the depth of one’s desire sit at the heart of two parables that Jesus tells in Matthew 13:44-46:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

We immediately recognize that both parables express life-changing finds, and it would do well for us to take note of how they can impact our own life.

In the first parable, the kingdom is likened to a hidden treasure that a man finds on his way to work.  There is nothing special about the man except for the fact that he is quick to sell all that he has to buy the very field in which the treasure is found.  I imagine him doing the math on the way home, how to tell the wife and kids that they have to move.  Like, right now.

In the second parable, the kingdom is compared to a merchant who made a living by traveling far and wide to buy precious commodities to bring to market.  The merchant is searching for a great pearl specifically; and upon discovering one, he too sells all he has and invests everything to purchase it.

What is interesting is the zeal that both characters have in selling all that they have for their treasure.  One is a schemer who purchases a field without figuring out who the treasure belonged to in the first place; the second is a merchant who gives everything he has for fossilized sand.

Jesus compares both to the reign of God, and we are left baffled at the comparison.  In the first parable we get the sense that the kingdom of God is something we stumble upon, something we get by carelessly surrendering our resources.

The second one is different in that the kingdom is compared to a merchant, a businessman who makes it his life’s work to find valuables.

I’d like to think that the two parables point to a deeper mutual search that reveals the real source of a person’s longing.  While we long for so many things that don’t seem to satisfy, the parables challenge us to give all we have for God.  Meanwhile, God is gives all that he has–even his very son–in order to claim us as his own.

We are as valuable as a pearl just as the kingdom is as valuable as the most precious treasure.  In the place that the two intertwine–the place in which the man or merchant, treasure or pearl meet–a celebration erupts and surrender leads to incomparable joy.