My Dear Shepherds,
Jesus let us in on a secret that takes a lot of pressure off us, if we have ears to hear it.
A great crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach but he told them parables designed to puzzle more than to persuade. A sower scattered seed heedlessly on soil of every kind—hard-packed, rocky, thorny, and fertile—with only the fertile bearing fruit, thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as was planted. Amen. Please stand for the benediction.
Then, to his befuddled disciples only, Jesus’ disconcerting explanation:
The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (Mark 4:11-12)
I was invited to speak at an interfaith service at a retirement community. I regularly led a service there for the believers but this was different. Probably half of the 80 or so who gathered were Jewish or something else and I was asked to respect the different faiths. Not my favorite venue, nonetheless I decided if Jesus spoke to a crowd like that I should too.
The service began with a gong symbolizing something or other, readings from “sacred writings,” a couple soulless songs, and finally me. I told about the time Jesus met with “sinners” under the disapproving stares of religious leaders. Then, almost verbatim, the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the wastrel son and welcoming father, and finally, the self-righteous elder brother. With the father’s final plea hanging in the air I sat down. The believers there drew the stories in like breath itself but the others, well, a few weeks later the chaplain told me that a couple of the men had said they just didn’t get the stories. So it goes for sowers of the Word.
Not all who hear the word are clueless, robbed blind by Satan before they even know what happened. There are others, familiar to every pastor. Some, despite a joyful hearing, cannot keep a grip on Jesus under “trouble or persecution.” Others are choked by worries, the lies of wealth, and cravings for things the Word won’t give them.
You know their names, don’t you? You invested in such people, as did I. We rejoiced with them at the beginning only to see them shuck it all. We watched the slow withering of people we’d discipled, who’d sat in prayer times with us and served in ministries at our side. Some have been the spiritual victims of the lovelessness or isolation of the pandemic or politics. And only God knows if they will ever come back to Jesus.
The sower can be lavish with the seed and the seed is certainly high-yield. The part we cannot control is the soil. I’m not particularly comfortable with that. But we sow indiscriminately where we’re sent, regardless of the soil around us. Jesus himself was not choosy. He flung his kingdom truths hither and yon, leaving the harvest to the soil and the Father.
Ah, but then there is all that seed sown in good soil, in repentant, forgiven hearts eager to bear fruit. Whether the Lord has assigned us to sow or to water, what does it matter? We lean on our hoes, rest our aching backs, and watch God’s garden grow!
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9)
Be ye glad!