Hear the Word

Text: Matthew 13:1-23
Date: Pentecost IV + Proper 10 + 7/10/11

Up to now Jesus had been teaching the people and His disciples in a pretty straightforward manner. Today, suddenly something changed. And His disciples noticed. He got into a boat when the crowds gathered, and He sat down in the boat, the crowd standing on the beach. He began to speak. But He began telling little stories. They weren’t jokes for entertainment because there were no punch lines and they weren’t funny stories. Well, some of the details were a little strange, but nothing to make you slap your knee and double over in laughter. Just little stories. So what changed?

In the middle part of today’s Gospel that we didn’t read this morning the disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Why are you speaking to them by means of parables?” “Why, all of a sudden are you telling little stories?” And He said, “Because to know the mysteries of the reign of heaven has been given to you, but to those it has not been given…. Because although they see, they do not see, and although they hear, they do not hear, nor do they understand.” It was because of the increasing opposition and even rejection of His teaching that He was changing His approach speaking in parables. Don’t misunderstand. He didn’t give up on them. He continued speaking to them. But He did so in a way that would draw a bolder line between those who heard and believed and those who did not and would not believe.

The parable of the Sower is easy enough to understand on the surface. But if not, we even have Jesus’ own interpretation of it that He shared more privately with His disciples. The parable is about God. It’s about God coming to save and redeem His world. He does so by means of His creative, saving Word spoken through the prophets, but ultimately spoken through His Son (Hebrews 1!). God’s Word is spoken liberally, to all people, all over the place, sort of like a man flinging seeds everywhere, regardless of where they land. That‘s because the salvation and deliverance that Word announces would be for all people of the whole world. So is God’s will and desire for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). This is the message, the Good News, the Gospel that all people need to hear; that all people need to believe in order to be saved and given the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of their sins.

Now the parable describes the relative success of the seed to explain or at least illustrate why there seems to be opposition to or even failure of God’s Word to produce the fruit of conversion, repentance and faith in everyone who hears it. Some folks don’t even hear or receive the Word at all and even whatever Word they may have encountered is stolen and taken away by the devil, like birds devouring the seeds that lay on top of the hard ground. Then there are some other folks. Nice folks, a pleasure to meet them. “Prospects” we even think. And they appear to pleasantly receive the Word and enjoy the worship service, but then they just disappear and never show up again. Others give it their best. They receive the Word and say they really want to believe, but the cares and worries of the world and of life prove to be more important and they fall away. Then there are those who receive the Word, believe and bear fruit. The parable appears to imply that the Word of God, while the prophet Isaiah said “it shall not return to me empty” (Is 55:11), apparently might be effective only one out of four times, to only one quarter of the audience!

The relative success of God’s Word and His salvation and deliverance which is for all people of the whole world is out of our hands, not in our control. That’s because sinners possess the awesome ability to say “no” to God! Even you and I have the ability to say “no” to God! The fact, however, that we, here are saying “yes” to God’s invitation is evidence of the power of God the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith in our hearts through the means of God’s Word and Sacraments. This fact should cause us daily to rejoice in God who has come to us and worked the gift of saving faith in us. Because of God’s gift of faith we ought to take great courage that there is no greater power that can ever take away from us this faith or even take us away from God.

That faith is the working and gift of God, something beyond our own power to produce, becomes apparent when we consider what we are called to believe. One time, you will recall, Jesus was speaking of His flesh as the true bread from heaven and how those who would have eternal life must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Whether or not this was another parable, even his disciples admitted, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And St. John tells us that, “after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Jesus even asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Fortunately, Simon Peter spoke the word of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:60-69). In saying this, Peter didn’t claim yet to thoroughly understand what Jesus was talking about, but spoke of that reliance that is faith even in the face of the mysteries of God.

“To know the mysteries of the reign of heaven has been given to you.” That “knowing” is the knowing of faith that surpasses knowledge and understanding. It is simply and boldly taking God at His Word. I cannot prove to you immediately that a little water poured on an infant “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” has resulted in saving faith in the little tike’s heart. Therefore, some filter the idea of baptism through the weeds or the shallowness of the human mind and conclude that an infant cannot believe. Faith, on the other hand, hears God’s Word and promise and says, “Amen, it is so.” Likewise, I cannot prove to you that the bread and wine on the altar at the Holy Communion is truly the same and substantial body and blood of Christ that once hung on the cross. Again, some filter the idea of this sacrament through the weeds, the shallowness or the hardness of the human mind and conclude that what we have here can be either only bread and wine or only the body and blood of Christ but certainly not both at the same time! Faith, on the other hand, hears God’s Word and promise and says, “Amen, it is so.”

The hard ground will not receive and the rocky ground will not let penetrate and the thorny ground has no room for the mystery that there is only one, true God who has revealed Himself in three Persons; or that the second Person, the Son of God, has two natures, divine and human in one Person; or that the one sacrifice of Jesus, once for all, has paid the penalty for all sin and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Yet those that believe these mysteries, those who believe Jesus loves them simply on the evidence that the Bible tells them so, those who believe that God’s plan is “for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11), that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17), are blest as good soil, producing faith, hope and love and all manner of good works.