July 11, 1999

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day [that Jesus said, "Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother or sister or mother."] Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach. Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore. Then he taught them many things by using stories. He said:

A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn't very deep. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where they plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. If you have ears, pay attention!

[interlude about the purpose of Jesus' stories]

Now listen to the meaning of the story about the farmer:

The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don't understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts. The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away. But they don't have deep roots, and they don't last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.

The seeds that fell among the thornbushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything. The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what what planted. [CEV]


1. Let's start with the image of the good seed/message which is planted in people's hearts. It produces more than was planted! The nature of GOD's kindom is profligacy. There is much bounty. We are not dealing with a rote "garbage in - garbage out" or "goodness in - goodness out." This is not tit-for-tat. This is fecundity/multiplication not a zero-sum game. We are intended to do even greater things than Jesus. Is this not a desirable image? Pray for not only hearing but understanding -- deep understanding.

2. There is here, though, an ever-present danger of varying production. If you are blessed with a thirty times greater doing than Jesus will you be glad? Isn't this glorious! And yet, there is the tendency to look around and see someone who has "greatered" Jesus by sixty times and a twinge of jealously sets in. A key question is whether we then pray for greatering Jesus by more than thirty times for its own joy or in competition with another. If in competition, like the disciples asking who among them is the greatest, the good soil has just become thorny of worrying which can lead to a focus on quantity of fruits to the forgetfulness of deep roots to such an extent that the seed might as well not have been scattered in the first place.

3. Remember the interlude? These stories are to be difficult, not sweet. Eugene Boring in the New Interpreter's Bible ("Matthew") writes:
     In the preaching of Jesus, parables were not vivid decorations of a moralistic point but were disturbing stories that threatened the hearer's secure mythological world -- the world of assumptions by which we habitually live, the unnoticed framework of our thinking within which we interpret other data. [299]
     This leads us to wonder as we look at these parables, "What was Jesus seeking to threaten in the hearer's world of assumptions by which they habitually live?" What needs to be threatened in our world of assumptions?

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