Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Big Plant (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-42)

I'm still pretty new at this church so I don't think I'll preach it this way. Oh well.

I was sitting in my office on a dead-end street in Jerusalem trying not to think about the metaphor. I’d bought myself a drink to get my mind off it, but it seems I’m not much of a conversationalist.

She walked in, like they always do. If I’d been a rabbi I might have dropped my Talmud, but I wasn’t so I didn't. “You’re not interrupting,” I told her. She gave me a blank look. I was used to those.

It was even money whether she was in trouble or wanted to start some. Turns out it was the former, at least for now. No telling what might turn up later. The guy she worked for owned this wheat field, and a few weeks ago he’d sown some wheat seed in it. I guess that’s what you do when you have a field and some seed – me, I was more interested in what vintners did than farmers.

Now the wheat was beginning to show up, but it wasn’t alone. Right in the middle, mixed in with all the good stuff, were weeds. Tares, we sometimes call them. She and the outfit she worked for wanted to know where they’d come from and who might be behind it all. So she’d come to me with her question, which sooner or later a lot of people do here in Big J. For a denarius a day plus expenses, I'm the guy who finds the answers.

Since my appointments with the king and C├Žsar had fallen through, my day was open. I went with her to the field, where her boss and some of his crew were gathered. I looked at the field. Someone showed me which ones were the wheat and which ones were the tares. It was a good thing they did, because I’m a city boy and green on one end, dirty on the other is the extent of my horticultural knowledge.

I got the story about what happened when they’d done their planting. The boss was no slouch – once he’d planted his seed, he had some guys stand guard and watch the field. Wasn’t his fault they weren’t smart enough to watch a movie.

I quizzed him. “Any enemies?”

“Probably,” he said.

“They do something like this”?

“Probably did,” he said. He was less of a talker than I was, but that pretty much solved the case. Didn’t seem like it was worth a denarius, but he didn’t ask for it back and I didn’t offer. Made the dame who’d hired me happy too. I liked making dames happy, especially since I usually only managed to do that by leaving.

My job was over, but I thought I’d stick around to see how things turned now. Maybe I’d make the dame happy again. The chief flunky spoke up in a sincere effort to keep the job he’d just been shown to have fallen down on.

“Master, since an enemy has done this, do you want us to dig out all the weeds?”

Like I said, I was no farmboy, but even I knew this was a bad idea. The wheat and the weeds were too close together. Tear out one and risk ripping up the other. The boss would take a significant hit in the wallet, and I’ve never met a boss who likes that. I caught his look and raised an eyebrow. He rolled his eyes back at me.

“No,” he said, and explained what I’d just thought of. “We’ll wait until harvest and sort them all out then. We can store the wheat and burn up whatever weeds are left.” He looked at me again and I understood the meaning behind his words.

He wasn’t an ordinary guy, this boss. Sure, he’d run his field like any other farmer would and take care of his wheat. The workers would till around it and make sure it got watered and fertilized. And when the harvest time came, he’d do just like he said and have them separate the wheat from the weeds.

But I’d heard everything he’d said, including that last phrase: “whatever weeds are left.” He didn’t just intend to take care of his wheat. He counted on being able to work on the weeds themselves. By the time he was done with them, he counted on them being transformed – they wouldn’t be weeds anymore. They’d be wheat.

I nodded once at the dame and walked away, headed back towards my office. I knew the real reason the boss wanted to wait wasn’t just because he was worried about his wheat. He was worried about the weeds too, and he wanted the time to work his transformation mojo on them. Weeds into wheat? Why not?

Even gave me some hope for me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sow What? (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23)

Ever wonder if there was a smart-aleck disciple? He would be the one who raised his hand after Jesus started this parable: “A sower went out to sow…yes, you have a question?”

“Sow what?”

“Whattaya mean, ‘so what?’ It’s a parable, we don’t get to the ‘so what’ ‘till the ending.”

“I mean, what kind of seed did he sow?”

“My next parable will be about the horrible consequences of being a wise guy.”

Anyway, this is a straightforward parable and its ideas pop up nice and obvious, unless you’re a disciple, in which case Jesus explains it for you. The seed is the word of the Lord, or God’s message. The different places it falls represent different ways people respond to hearing that word. Some people who hear the word have hearts and minds like the hard-packed soil of the path. The word can’t get any grip or take any root in their hearts and soon it’s gone. Some people have so much other stuff going on in their lives that the word can’t get started in the middle of it, like the seed can’t get started in the middle of the thorn plants.

I want to focus on the other two types of responses because of their apparent similarity. Both the rocky soil and the good soil seem to produce the same result at first. We see growth and plants begin. In fact, the plants start out faster in the rocky soil, don’t they? In Jesus’ parable, they spring up.

Anyone who remembers the elementary school science experiment where you put a seed inside a transparent container of dirt so you could watch it grow can figure this out. The seed sends out both a root and a plant – one grows up and one grows down. Both have to work their way through the soil to get to where they need to go. The root gets to a certain depth before it branches out and seeks nutrition from the dirt. The plant grows up (and even if you try to turn the seed upside down they seem to know the right direction) until it breaks the surface and begins to photosynthesize sunlight and consume carbon dioxide.

Obviously, a seed that lands in shallow soil will break through the surface sooner, because it starts out closer to that surface. But it will also die sooner and from less stressful causes, because the shallow soil doesn’t have room for the roots or the nutrients they gather.

But when the soil is prepared, the seed will sink deeper into it and find what it needs to mature and yield its fruit. That soil has been tilled and raked to loosen it, and circulated to allow fertilizer to penetrate. Such soil is ready for sowing, but that preparation was carried out long before the sower picked up his sack that morning and began his work.

If the seed represents the word of God sown in human hearts and minds, then we can see that it grows best in soil that was prepared for it. What prepares us for the word of God coming to us? Well, pretty much everything that happens in our lives, I guess. I can’t say exactly what prepares you for the word of God to take root in your spirit, and now that I think of it, I’m not precisely sure about what prepares my heart for it either. We can guess about generalities, such as humility, an awareness of our sin and an awareness that God loves us all no matter what, but the specifics differ for every one of us. Only God knows what makes us really ready to receive him.

And the thing is, since I have no idea who might be ready for the word of God as it comes through me, I’m not entitled to pick and choose who hears it from me. The sower needed to make sure seed hit every corner of his prepared soil, even though he knew some of the seed would scatter into areas not ready for it.

I don’t get to pick and choose who hears God’s message as God communicates it through me. Maybe I think I’m not somewhere I need to talk about God or act in a godly manner, or Maybe I’m talking with someone who I figure isn’t ready for the word and I don’t bring it up. Either way I send a message about God, and it might not be one I intend or want to send.

All around me God has prepared soil for seed, and all he’s asked me to do is sow it. He has already planned who will tend that soil and those plants to bring them to fruit and called his workers forward to do that – you or I may be those workers in the lives of others as well as the sowers of seed. Sometimes we tend what others planted.

But just as we would have nothing to tend if no one planted a seed of God’s word in someone else’s heart, others in our future will have nothing to tend if we don’t sow now as God calls us to do.