This is a post that leans heavily on Luke Chapter 8, so you might want to read it before or after. I primarily use the TNIV version here, and I have put letters in bold for those who want a quick reference for the various streams of thought P for path, R for rocks, T for Thorns and G for good. With that said, here we go.
A farmer once went out to sow some seed. (P) As he was scattering the seed some fell along the path where birds came and snatched it up. (R) Some fell among rocky ground where it sprang up quickly but when the sun would bear down, it would also wither quickly because it had no root. (T) Some fell among thorns, so they grew but they didn’t produce because the weeds choked the life out of them. (G) Then some fell on good soil and produced more than was originally sown.
Jesus told this parable then explained that he was the farmer sowing the seed of the message of the Kingdom of God. (P) He said that the seed that fell along the path is about people who hear the message but “the evil one snatches it away from their hearts” (primarily they don’t want to hear it or they are caught in behaviors they don’t want to give up). (R) The seed that fell among rocky ground are those who at first receive it with great joy but when trouble or persecution come they quickly fall away. (T) The seed that fell among the thorns are those who accept the message but then “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” choke it. (G) The seed that fell on good soil are those who “hear the word and understand it.” They are the ones who produce a crop, more than was originally sown.
In this parable I see a few things going on here. In pastoring churches and in my life I have noticed some patters to faith. (P) God speaks to everyone, however everyone isn’t listening. At the same time, some of us are.
(R) Now, I’m not 100% sure of what all contributes to this, maybe it’s the really great personal stories we hear, maybe it’s the idea that we accept Jesus then whenever we die we go to heaven and escape trouble and that idea of escaping trouble then somehow bleeds over into ideas about our relationship with God here and now, maybe it’s an American pre-disposition, or maybe it’s the christian culture bubble and prosperity preaching, I don’t know. But usually along with learning of God’s love for us we also get a message of, “If you’ll get your act together and get cool with God then everything will go well. You will prosper, God will protect you, your family, and your friends, and you will be happy.” The problem is, it’s not true.
In Matthew, Jesus gives the sermon on the mount. At the end of this unbelievably extraordinary teaching he says that those who hear his words and put them into practice are like a man who builds his house upon rock. And when the storms come his house will stand firm. It doesn’t say that there will be no storms. Storms are assumed, it’s about being able to weather them.
Somehow we manage to read a lot of great things in the scriptures about people following God and things going well for them, but we miss their struggles along the way. We see the day of Pentecost and miss the martyrdom of Stephen. No one more fully walked with God than Jesus and he was crucified! Almost all the disciples were eventually killed for their beliefs and somehow we miss that and think that Jesus is our life’s easy button.
And it’s one thing for us to pick this up on our own, but when we have churches and preachers who tell you this specifically and it doesn’t happen people walk away from church, faith, God, and the whole thing. We often become cynical and jaded and it didn’t have to be that way. Prosperity preaching is stuck in the early part of the process of faith, and it produces type two soil (rocky ground). (R)(T) But, someone somewhere figured out that if they told people what they wanted to hear they would show up, watch their program, buy their books, and/or give. It’s the easy shortcut. We can have the best of intentions and yet choose the shortcut, go about the right things in the wrong ways, see success and at the same time leave devastation. This is why pastors, churches, and denominations can not seek effectiveness or success as their goal (and I’m defining effectiveness as bodies, budgets, buildings and/or saving an institution of a local church or denomination). Pursuing success leads to shortcuts. It is counter productive and brings devastation. However, pursuing faithfulness leads to fruitfulness (forgive my old preacherly cliche alliteration demons coming out).
But, this is part of the process of faith. (R) We hear of God’s love and we accept it with joy thinking it’s all going to be good now, then trouble comes. And the question becomes do we stick with it? Do we continue to turn in the direction we have begun, toward God rather than away? Do we decide that we must have had some beliefs wrong at this part of the process and seek to understand struggle and brokenness in the faithful life? Or, do we walk away from the whole thing?
After the joy phase comes the struggle phase. (T) And after the struggle phase comes the worry phase. At this point we’ve seen that what we thought before, that God would keep storms from coming, is false. We have this sense that anything in life that can happen can happen to us. Cancer, car accidents, anything that can happen has the potential of happening to me regardless of whether I’m walking with God or not. Our simple binary understanding of, walk with God only good things will happen, don’t walk with God only bad things will happen, has been destroyed. We had given our lives to God, but God didn’t come through, didn’t protect us, and while we might not have completely rejected the whole God thing, we came to some kind of understanding that this world is broken. Good and bad happen to everyone.
And we begin to realize that you can take the shortcut and succeed, that sometimes the wicked do prosper. In this moment we are faced with a new temptation. We may or may not still believe and affirm creeds, but the temptation becomes to take our lives back in the ways we live it in the day to day workings.
I love the way this is worded, “the worries of this life,” and I particularly love this phrase, “the deceitfulness of wealth.” Jesus is adamant that there is more to life than this life. And I know this has been used in the most trite and cliche of ways, but part of the key for Jesus is realizing there’s something bigger going on than our small little lives we get lost in. God is up to something bigger than the things we worry about and according to Jesus (and Paul) if we’re on board with God, in the end, in the bigger story, in the life beyond this life, it’s all going to work out. At some point everyone dies, but in the end everything will belong, none of the pain and tragedy will have been wasted.
Our job is to live in such a way that we bring heaven to earth (think, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Money makes us feel secure, it makes us feel safe. But, according to Jesus it’s a deception. All the money in the world won’t save you or your family or your friends from tragedy. If or when the worst happens, it isn’t going to matter how fat your bank account is. And it is this worry, this pursuing of safety and security and wealth that can get us lost in our little lives and contribute to the brokenness of the world. These are things that can drive heaven from earth.
(G) But, our other option is to continue to turn as we did to begin with. To continue to seek to understand this message of the kingdom. The word repent literally means to turn or return. Jesus’ primary message was to turn or return because the kingdom of heaven is near. It’s a perpetual turning. When we think we’ve got it all figured out and we quit seeking, we quit exploring, we shut ourselves off from this kingdom. At the same time it is a continual returning, returning toward the God who creates and loves us, and returning the world to the way God intends it to be. If we can do this, if we can continue to explore, if we can continue to patch the holes in our understanding of this faith that is bigger than our comprehension, if we can press on beyond the fallacies that we become aware of as the struggles come, as we’re tempted to take the easy way, as we’re tempted to take the shortcuts and false safeties, if we can press on beyond the struggles, the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth, then and only then do we truly produce a crop.
And what we will find is that just like the seasons, troubles come and troubles go. Everyone experiences good and bad. Everyone dies at some point. Tragedy befalls us all at some time or another. We can worry about it and expend a lot of energy, but we are really quite limited in what we can actually do to prevent or stop it. We can seek after money expecting safety but we will find that it fails. And through this process we will find that it is this very process itself that cultivates the heart into good soil. That by “persevering” through this process a crop is produced.
This is the pascal mystery. This is the story of the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. The one who teaches and shows us how to bring heaven to earth, who walked more closely with God than any other, and despite doing everything right suffered and died. It is only through this experience only through that death that resurrection occurred.
And here’s another thing, the gospels were brilliantly written with unbelievable intentionality. If we look at this parable in Luke (ch. 8) what we see are direct examples of each of these types of soil in reverse order. (G) First is in a parable of a lamp on a stand (good and noble heart that understans/good soil that produces a crop). (T) The second is Jesus’ mothers and brothers who are caught up in the worries of this life (seed among thorns/weeds). (R) The third is the disciples caught in the storm (troubles/seed on the rocky soil). (P) And the fourth is a man who is possessed by demons (engaging in various “sinful” behaviors was believed to open one up to demon possession, which would be hearing the word but having it snatched away by the evil one or the seed among path).
Now in the parable itself the view is somewhat negative, most of the seed doesn’t produce. Yet in the stories that follow no matter which type of soil they were, in reality Jesus was bigger than their issues. Eventually Jesus’ mother and brothers believe, Jesus calms the storm and the disciples go on to do great things, and Jesus drives the demons out of the man (and history goes on to tell us that his witness leads to one of the major early churches). It’s as if Luke is telling us, no matter where you are in this process it’s never too late.
Then, as if to drive this point home, he tells us of a story of Jesus bringing a dead girl back to life and healing a woman who had an issue of bleeding for years. She had tried every option and was now hopeless beyond Jesus. If it were ever too late, it would be too late for these two. And yet, Jesus is bigger than even their problems, even death. It’s as if Luke is telling us that with Jesus it is never too late. You can always turn, you can always return. Don’t give up, there is more to life than this life and Jesus is bigger than whatever your problems or hang-ups or, or wherever you are stuck in the process.
If you’ll just keep turning, what you’ll find is that, just like you have to turn soil in order to make it able to produce vegetation, in this process you are turning the soil of your heart. It won’t be easy, bad things will happen, and the temptation to take your life back into your own hands will overwhelm you through the pain. But, in then end none of it will have been in vain, nothing will have been wasted. Everything belongs, all of life is a gift, and that resurrection is waiting. In the words of Jason Mraz, life is wonderful.