AN ALL INCLUSIVE KINGDOM
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.“
Consider for a minute, the simple desire to show kindness or to be invitational. It could be with your spouse, a friend or a stranger. This week, if not this day, those overtures have met with a variety of outcomes. A simple, “let’s get a cup of coffee” or “I’d like to spend more time with you” or “Do you have time to talk” get a wide range of responses in real life. Sometimes we will be ignored or dismissed. Texts will be ignored. We will be told we are illogical, too needy, overreacting or ‘there are more important things going on. “You’ll have to wait.” Kindness and an honest desire for connection is sometimes rejected out of hand. Sometimes we will be received enthusiastically but there is no follow through. How many times have you met someone and said “Oh we’ll have to get together” —but it never happens. There are lots of good intentions that don’t have the depth of soil to flourish. The first sign of difficulty or inconvenience kills them off. Sometimes, we really do want to follow up but other priorities and expectations prevent us from making the connection that could bear fruit. Couples who are both working and who have children often spend less than an hour a week in non logistical conversation. They will miss one another. They will likely feel exhausted and deprived but the demands of day to day living interfere. It is hard to bear fruit in such a situation. As the parable tells it, only the minority of time does the offer and the reception match. But, though relatively infrequent, such connections are life giving. They are the promise of the gospel.
For me, this understanding of the parable was formative to my faith. I liked the fact that Jesus did not pull any punches. There is both hard reality and great hope In the parable, That certainly matches my experience in real life. It gave me a way to recognize that biblical insights applied directly to life experience in the here and now. I have used that interpretive lens ever since.
I still find it amazing and wonderful that the same words can speak to me differently no matter how often I read them or how familiar they seem to be. This year, I began to see a greater level of complexity. I have always thought the seeds eaten by the birds was an example of the real life experience that love sometimes hits a dead end. Sometimes the Word is simply rejected. But this time around it occurred to me that one of the ways that seeds are propagated is by bird’s eating them and then eliminating them undigested. Seeds have moved from one continent to another by this mechanism. The first conclusion is still valid but there were possibilities I had not considered.
That is the danger of thinking we know something—We quit thinking. We stop listening. It gives new meaning to Jesus’ imperative: “Those that have ears to hear, let them hear.” The sower was quite indiscriminate about the way he planted. Jesus is equally indiscriminate about where the Word is spread. There is no qualifying exam. There is no pre screening for appropriateness. While it is certainly unlikely for seeds to germinate on a hard path, it does not mean the seeds were wasted. That is above our pay grade. Our job is to keep planting. There will be ways that the bit of love and care we have to offer will be used in ways that we could not imagine.
Anyone who has known despair, knows how hard it is to keep planting. It is hard to get out of bed much less show kindness to others. Likewise, anyone who looks at the social structures that dismiss and discriminate can be overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the problems. It is daunting to keep loving when we see darkness. But our responsibility is to keep planting. Our promise is that there will be a harvest. The promise of the gospel is that love will prevail. It may follow a circuitous and unrecognizable path but love will prevail.
The paradox is that when we let go of our ‘knowing’, we can live in that promise. Jesus introduced a radical inclusiveness. He reached out to many that the world ‘knew’ didn’t really matter—woman, children, foreigners, the poor, lepers, the impure, sinners etc. ‘Everybody’ knew these people were second class at best. Jesus directly challenged the world’s ‘knowing.’ The kingdom of God is different. It is more likely the soil that cannot receive the Word are those of us who think we already grasp it. This would be very upsetting to the authorities of Jesus’ day. And it remains disturbing to us in ours.
It is very tempting to use this parable to identify ourselves and others as one kind of soil or another. But the minute we do so, we decide who is good. In that moment we become the hard path, the unforgiving soil that refuses to be penetrated by God’s love.
Besides challenging who could receive the Word of God—-who is eligible to be loved, Jesus also challenged what experiences in life belonged to God’s kingdom. All of us are all four of the soils. All of us have had all four of the experiences of the different seeds. The kingdom of God is not either/or. The kingdom of God includes all kinds of experiences we would rather not be included. The kingdom of God includes rejection, false starts and choked living every bit as much as it includes new life. Jesus knew that and he lived that when he climbed on that donkey so many years ago.
There is nothing about being the Son of God that protected Jesus from the realities of ordinary life. In the same week he was welcomed and praised; he was rejected and killed. This Sunday we join him in the faith that Love will prevail—no matter what happens to us. God’s love extends to all people and includes all of life. God’s Kingdom is a both/and world and it leads to new life. If we resist that, we will be fighting the tide. When we live as God would have us live—in harmony with what is—even death can not destroy us.
Jesus had to get on the donkey to show us such an inclusive love was possible. Give us the courage to follow him. Keep planting. Let it be so.
Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.