4th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 10) LSB #’s 584, 577, 587
Text – Matthew 13:7
Other seeds fell among thorns, & the thorns grew up & choked them.
FALLING AMONG THE THORNS
There’s always a moment or two when I wonder if I’m going to end up falling among the thorns. It’s the season when blackberries are ripening & the patch has grown to such a point that it’s now quite difficult to reach into the center of it all.
If you’ve spent time picking fruit you know that the best looking of the crop always appears some place just out of reach. Picking blackberries, I will stretch & strain & strive to push through the tangled mass of vines in order to grab it. The danger is that solid footing is difficult to come by. The vines are incredibly entangled at the level of your feet.
If you’re not careful you can easily lose your balance & end up falling among the thorns. That would be a comical thing to watch & a painful event to endure. With the parable that was read in the Gospel lesson Jesus is addressing the pain that His disciples were probably feeling.
The religious leaders of the day were becoming increasingly antagonistic toward Jesus’ teaching. The crowds following Him were failing to grasp who He really was in spite of the miracles He’d performed. No doubt the 12 disciples were becoming discouraged by the lack of response among the people of Israel. As the Gospel of John put it in chapter 1:
“He came to his own, & His own people did not receive Him.” (1:11 ESV) Thus, the parable we read earlier is how Jesus answered the questions & doubts in the minds of those who were following Him. In the context of our culture, we’d ask, “Why isn’t the church growing?” So Jesus explains by likening the Word of God to seed that a farmer or gardener would sow.
Some seeds fall by the path & are immediately devoured by birds. Jesus wants His hearers to know that this stands for the sad fact that there’s a battle going on for the lives of men, women & children. Sometimes Satan simply takes away the message about the reign of God that Jesus proclaims. People who heard Jesus don’t understand His word or even begin to believe. St. Paul highlighted the urgency of believing when he wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV)
Next, Jesus teaches that some seeds fall on rocky ground & after springing up quickly they whither & die. This is a picture of those who hear Jesus’ preaching & initially believe & follow. Yet, for some reason, they don’t put down roots deeply into Jesus’ teaching. When they experience personal difficulties because they’re following Jesus they turn away & no longer live as His disciples.
Then Jesus describes how some seeds fall into ground where thorns are also beginning to grow. Some people hear Jesus, believe & follow Him, but they get distracted. Their faith is choked off when wealth seduces them, or the general worries of life in this broken world slowly asphyxiate the hope & joy they once knew by the power of the Good News of God’s reign in this world.
The end result – most of the seed which is sown never produces fruit. It’s one of the central mysteries of the reign of heaven in this sinful world. When God at long last enters His creation, Jesus comes in ways that are mysteriously lowly & weak & resistible. So at the end of this parable Jesus utters the urgent call, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9 ESV)
Those are the explanation parts of the parable. They teach us what is going on when our churches, efforts & people all seem to be failing. Then, the last part of the parable is meant to give us hope & joy. Some seeds fall on good soil & they produce great results.
In other words, some hear the Good News that God is coming to reclaim & forgive His people, including His creation. They hear & they understand. In their understanding they are fruitful for God, the Father of Jesus. Jesus has cast the forgiving Word of God far & wide. He is generous & extravagant in offering His mercy to all. He invites everyone who labors & is weary to find rest in Him. He has come to call even sinners to repentance. Hopefully you recognize that the parable is also meant for our benefit today.
The reign of God in our lives is also not what we expect, nor is it often what we want it to be. Yet, God reigns in & through, our doubts, our trials & our tribulations. Jesus teaches in parables in order to explain why this is the case. The parables begin by hiding the truth & then revealing it so we learn that we cannot know God of ourselves, but only by His revelation.
If we understood things correctly right away, we’d be left with the opinion that we were smart enough to figure it all out. In the narrative leading up to chapter 13 Jesus had been teaching the crowds with direct & simple truth. The crowds were not getting it. In response to this ongoing lack of understanding Jesus shifts His mode of teaching to parables.
This is somewhat like the prophet Nathan confronting David in a parable about his adultery with Bathsheba. First, the one who is guilty is hidden & David condemns the man. After that condemnation, God reveals to David that he is the guilty man. That led David to repent & to believe the Good News, that nevertheless, he was forgiven.
Jesus also taught in parables in order to conduct a sneak attack, to gain an opening in the hearer’s defenses. He tells parables to people who’ve been turning their hearts away from Him & from His message. The parables are to pull people up short & force them to think. Jesus hopes in some way to bring us to the truth about God’s reign in our lives & in our culture.
So the point of this parable has nothing to do with the kind of soil we are, or how we become good soil. Jesus teaches us, instead, that it is the Word of God alone that produces results. Granted, there are many people who resist God’s Word & deny it the fruit it deserves. Jesus describes their circumstances & how they end up rejecting any understanding of His rule in the here & now. That’s why our Lord ends with the words: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9 ESV) Baptism & the Word of God have the power to change their heart into productive soil. Jesus tells this parable to encourage us that the OT reading is true:
“For as the rain & the snow come down from heaven & do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth & sprout, giving seed to the sower & bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, & shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
What are the thorns in your life today? Is it wealth? Is our culture gaining an ear so that you find yourself compromising the Word of God? Are you buying into the lie that evolution is proven science & God’s story of creation is just a fairy tale? Is all the corruption in Washington DC causing you to lose hope in God’s wisdom & power to work all things together for our good?
Then this parable of Jesus has the answer for you: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word & understands it. He indeed bears fruit & yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, & in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23 ESV) Jesus is promising that His Word will yield abundantly in spite of all the problems we feel weighing upon us.
Jesus carried our thorns for us to the cross, as the Gospel of Matthew explains: “And they stripped Him & put a scarlet robe on Him, & twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…” (Matthew 27:28-29 ESV) The result of Christ’s death in our place, & the power of the Word of God concerning that historical fact, is perfectly illustrated by the following event.
In 1994 a team of Christians visited Stavropol, Russia to distribute Bibles. A local citizen led them to an old warehouse that held many boxes of Bibles. They had been confiscated in the 1930s when Stalin was sending Christians to the gulags, & they’d never been moved. So the volunteers arranged to use them. Among those who showed up to help load the truck was a young agnostic student wanting to earn a day’s wage. But soon he slipped away from the job. When a team member looked for him, he found him sitting in a corner with a Bible he had taken from one of the boxes. The young man was crying.
The Bible he had picked up from the hundreds that were there was signed by his grandmother. She’d been persecuted for her faith yet no doubt had prayed for her family & even for this very grandson. Now the Holy Spirit was using her Bible to bring him to faith.
That incident really is the essence of the parable of the sower. Jesus gave it to us for our encouragement. God casts His Word throughout the world & it does not return to Him empty. It does yield a crop of faith many times over.
As a result, no matter how many times we may fall into the thorns, & no matter how often we wish our church would grow & do great things, by faith we know that our Lord already is accomplishing great things through those who believe in Him. Amen.
Almighty God, Your Word is cast like seed into the ground; now let the dew of heaven descend & righteous fruits abound. Let not the world’s deceitful cares the rising plant destroy, but let it yield a hundred fold the fruits of peace & joy. So when the precious seed is sown, life-giving grace bestow that all whose souls the truth receive its saving power may know. Amen. LSB 577:1, 3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet