Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Work the Word Does

February 3, 2013
Jesus tells a parable, which is straightforward enough. There’s the seed, and the different kinds of soil it falls on. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”

He also gives an explanation of His parable: “The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

The upshot of it all is His description of the fourth type, the good soil, as He calls it. Here He talks of those who have “an honest and good heart.” How is it that one has “an honest and good heart”?

Is it that Jesus is teaching here that there are some who have this innate quality about them that enables them to receive the Word of God and therefore they are saved? What does Jesus say about the seed? It is the Word of God. What does He say about the soil? It is the person who has an honest and good heart. How, then, does one have has this thing known as an honest and good heart?

If it were so that there are certain individuals that have this innate quality, that would do away with what Jesus says in the first place, which is that the sower sows the seed. God sows His Word. Jesus is speaking in the same way the Old Testament reading is speaking of the Word. The Word goes forth from the mouth of God. The Word accomplishes the purpose for which He has sent it.

The Scriptures do indeed speak of what we as human beings do in regard to salvation. The way it speaks of it, however, is not in the way we’re inclined to think of it. We are inclined to think of it in terms of some of us having of ourselves an honest and good heart, and that’s why we’re saved. The Bible teaches differently. It teaches that when one has this, an honest and good heart, it isn’t because it’s innate to the person but because God has granted it to the person. His Word, after all, accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it.

Consider how we usually think of Jesus’ parables. We think of them as simple stories that He uses to unpack for us profound spiritual truths. And they are that, no doubt. But there’s more to them than meets the eye. He tells the parables to everyone. Then, when His disciples are alone with Him, they say to Him, “So Jesus, can you please explain what that means?” His response is counterintuitive: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Huh? Jesus tells His parables so that people may not see, and so that they may not understand? But think about who He is telling the parables to. Everyone. He tells them to His disciples. He tells them to His other followers. He tells them to the passersby. He tells them to the crowds. He tells them to the religious leaders. He tells them to anyone and everyone. There’s no one of whom He says, “Hey, look, people, there are some here who I don’t want hearing this, so I’ll wait till they leave, and then I’ll tell you My parables.” He tells them to everyone.

So if you go into His parables thinking that you have some part in your being a good person, or that you have some part to play in why you are saved, or something innate in and of yourself of why God blessed you over against others who have something innate in them of why they are not blessed or are not saved, you are going to hear what you want to hear in Jesus’ parables. You are going to hear that the ones who are saved and blessed are those who have a good and honest heart, and you will not see that you in fact do not have that of yourself. You most certainly have it, but not of yourself. It is a gift of God even as salvation is; and as the very sowing of the seed of the Word of God is.

So why would Jesus deliberately act in such a way as to prevent someone from understanding? Isn’t His whole point to make known who He is and that He is the source of salvation? That is just the point. The problem, as He is aware, is that we don’t see that. We don’t understand it. And we don’t believe. He knows this and so what He does is strip away everything about us that prevents us from seeing Him for who He is and understanding Him as who He is and believing in Him as who He is. Of our own, our eyes our closed and our ears are stopped up and our minds are dull.

Think about it this way. When Jesus was telling this parable to the people, all kinds of people, He was there before them. He was in the midst of them. God was in the flesh. The Creator of the universe and the Lord of all creation and the Savior of the world was standing in their midst and some refused to believe it. They didn’t entrust themselves completely and fully to Him, but rather saw Him as just another among many different paths to fulfillment or salvation or whatever else people look for as their highest good.

What Jesus can do in this instance is only one thing. Okay, He could actually do two things, but the one He didn’t do wasn’t an option for Him because He is the essence of love and mercy and desires that everyone be saved. This option He didn’t do was simply to leave them as they were; leave them to their sin; leave them to their unbelief and their obstinance. He could have done that, but He didn’t. He didn’t because His heart went out to them. His grace overflowed to them in their sinful state.

So there really was only one thing He could do, and that is what He did. He thrust His sword of the Law through their unseeing eyes, and their stopped-up ears, and their dulled minds. He spoke in such a way as to show them their need for repentance. If you strip away the individual’s ability to do anything on his own, the hope is that he will see that he is in need of outside help. The grace of God is that the outside help was standing before them in the person of Jesus Christ. He was the one who was the mystery in the flesh. Impossible to understand, readily believed through faith. And this is the grace of God, that the faith He requires is the faith He gives. An honest and good heart is the heart of faith, what the Holy Spirit gives you in Baptism.

Jesus’ parable shows us that He is the one who sows and He is the one who produces faith. He closes His parable with this description of the fourth soil: “as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” His parable places upon us a tension. It is a tension between zeal, or you might say unflagging action, and that of patience, or you might say steadfastness. Taking the second one first, we should never get so caught up in why some fall away, or some seem to be apathetic when we share the Gospel with them, or some don’t see the need at all to be in worship, or some refuse to believe that God could forgive them. We must be patient. We must let God do His work through His Word. Converting others is not our job. Our job is to bring the Word of God to others, to make known the Gospel to them. Patience and steadfastness leaves it up to God. Isn’t it the same with God’s patience and steadfastness with us?

It’s easy to mistake this patience, and entrusting this to God, as cause for sitting on our duff. Since God does the work, I’ll just go about my business. Since it is not up to us, we as a congregation can simply be content in knowing God will do His work. Jesus’ parable reminds us and exhorts us to be unflagging in zeal. Get that Word out; make known the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the world. We can’t be patient and let the Word do its work if we’re not getting the Word out.

There are people you know as an individual Christian that other Christians may not. Sow the seed. Talk to them about Christ. Share the Gospel with them. Instead of thinking of the different types of soil as different types of people, think of the different types of soil as different opportunities in your life and various situations in which you have to make to others aware of what they otherwise may not hear. Tell them about the love of God for them in sending Jesus as Savior. Don’t worry about whether you said the right thing or the wrong thing or whether you gave a good impression or a bad one. Commend it to God. Pray for the person you have talked to. Continue to love and be a friend to him or her.

As a congregation, too, there are things we can do. The most important is to gather as we do in God’s House to receive His grace and His Word. Here is where we hear His Word and where He blesses us in the Gospel and in His Sacraments. Without this there is no reason for us to be a congregation. Through this we are not only blessed, but equipped by God to serve others. To make known this very Gospel to the world. We give of our money in the form of offerings so that the Gospel may continue to be proclaimed here in this place and so that we may support the Gospel being proclaimed throughout the world.

Instead of thinking of the four different types of soil in Jesus’ parable as different types of people, consider how all the different types apply to everyone. If you are among, as He says it, the good soil, is it not true that the devil comes and tries to snatch away the Gospel from you? Isn’t it a fact that the cares of this world threaten to overwhelm you? Don’t you find often that what you once held in great joy at times seems dim because of the temptations that crop up around every corner of your life?

And isn’t it true that as you are one who, as Jesus says, has heard the word and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience,” it is due solely to the work of the Holy Spirit in creating this faith in you? Isn’t it true that if Jesus were outlining some sort of list of different kinds of people and how they must be receptive and if they’re not then there’s no hope for them, and therefore His suffering and death on the cross was for nothing? A parable that reveals the mysteries of salvation actually covers up those very mysteries if that parable is understood from our reason rather than from the mystery and the glory and the grace of the cross.

The seed is the Word. The Word became flesh. The Man Jesus went to a cross and paid there the sins of the whole world. That’s you, me, and everyone. He desires all be saved, and that’s why He accomplished salvation there on the cross. His resurrection confirms it, and in Baptism the Holy Spirit delivers it. Do not seek understanding of Jesus and His mysteries apart from this. He opens your eyes and your ears and your minds to see and hear and believe. And He keeps you steadfast, now and forever. Amen.


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