The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday, October 12th during morning prayer at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. The office readings for Friday were as follows: Psalms 137, 144, 104; Micah 3:9-4:5; Acts 24:24-25:12; Luke 8:1-15. The homily is based on the reading from Luke.
Today’s gospel reading makes it easy on us. Jesus tells a parable, he explains why he tells the parable, then he explains what the parable means. There’s something interesting going on here, because he seems to mean his words to be easy to grasp. He’s talking to farmers and people of the land about sowing seeds—he’s speaking right at the level they’re at. But then he explains that actually he’s given this parable that those hearing wouldn’t understand, that he didn’t want them to comprehend his message and therefore respond. Now that’s what I call a paradox. One plus one does not equal two here, it seems.
We might look at this passage and say, “Jesus, what’s going on here? You don’t want people to understand you? What’s the deal?” Right? Because, certainly sometimes we have enough problems hearing and understanding him, so how should we think about this? I think the answer is right here in the parable itself.
Now, Jesus obviously explains his meaning to his disciples. He makes a distinction—there were those guys over there that I hid my meaning from (and I meant to) but I’m going to tell you guys here close to me what I’m really talking about. In this parable, he says, the seed being scattered is the word of God. So the man scattering seed is like someone out among the people with God’s message. God’s word that there is a new king, he can free you from your sins and you don’t have to be dominated by the oppression in this life any more. Jesus, right? And ironically, of course, those people who hear but don’t understand this message have it delivered to them by the ultimate embodiment of God’s word—Jesus. The ultimate seed to be planted in our lives.
And there are all these different kinds of situations and responses to the word we see here. They’re familiar, right? Sometimes the word gets trampled on and devoured—sounds almost like crucifixion. There are people who will look at the gospel and step all over it, who think it’s just a worthless fairy tale and has no power for anyone. They do not know Jesus, the gospel-bearer, and they are blind to the power of the word of God. Sadly, they cannot be set free. Sometimes the word reaches a heart so hardened or hateful or hopeless that it won’t take root and grow in that person’s life. Some of us just can’t even stand the thought of there being truth and beauty in the world—and, surely, some of just don’t even want to repent. Then sometimes the word gets choked out by weeds already present in the soil, like those many things in our lives that compete with God’s word for our worship and love. It’s no surprise to us that money, people and other concerns strangle the word of God in some lives.
But then, there’s good soil. Oh, in the good soil that wonderful message that Jesus reigns and forgives and frees us bears fruit and shines to the glory of God. “These are the ones,” Jesus says, “who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” It wasn’t just that Jesus’s words spoke to them in familiar language about planting seeds, but also that his words had to be received with a holy posture of heart before God. The cynics, the hopeless, the idol worshipers—they can’t receive the word, they can’t even hear it. It’s honesty and goodness that enable us to understand God’s message to us, that enable us to understand Jesus.
So, how can we become good soil? Notice that Jesus made sure his word found good soil; he took his disciples off to the side and explained to them what was going on. They were the ones given the gift of understanding his teaching, of comprehending the gospel of God. But beloved, these men would not have been “good soil” without the closeness of Jesus. Without God working upon their hearts and minds, they would not have left their families and jobs to follow Jesus around. And they wouldn’t have gained the honest and good hearts that enabled them to hear what Jesus had to say to them.
Here’s another paradox—another “one plus one does not equal two.” God wants all of us to hear and respond positively to his word. But we’re broken creatures, stained by the fall and incapable of hearing on our own. Our hearts by nature aren’t honest and good, but deceitful above all things. We need the kind, powerful touch of God in our lives in order to hear his good word to us. We need to respond to his call, leave behind the things that hinder us and put ourselves in a place to be changed. The disciples stayed around Jesus constantly, slowly learning his ways and being delivered from their sin. Let us also draw near to Jesus, plead with him to change us and free us from sin, and hope to understand and live in the light of the gospel, for the glory of God.