Proper 10
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Jesus once gave His followers a lesson in determining who belonged to His family. He was told that His mother and brothers were outside of a house wanting to speak to Him. Jesus then gestured to the disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers for whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

In the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus then went out to a lake and taught large crowds from a boat. He explained to everyone how to become a member of the family that he had talked about. He told them a parable about something they had all seen – a farmer out sowing his seeds. But Jesus asked the people to consider the problems and results of the sowing. How did the seed grow? What happened to it? Did it all make it?

We join Jesus’ family by hearing, receiving and growing in the gospel.

I. The Problem of Hearing

Since the seed was sown by hand, some of it went to places unsuitable for crops. Jesus said it fell on the path. Since the path was hard packed by many feet, the seed could not penetrate the soil. It simply lay on top of the ground and could not germinate. Birds followed the farmer and ate the seeds that did not find the safety of tilled dirt.

Jesus later explained the parable to his disciples. The seed on the path is like people who have heard the gospel, but they really did not “hear” it. It did not penetrate to the deep places of life to lead to repentance and righteousness.

The problem of hearing is not new. If anything, it is more of a problem now than every before. We often have trouble really listening to another person. A “Dilbert” cartoon shows Dilbert walking with his mother. She asks, “How is work, Dilbert?” He answers, “Well, Mom, I’m like a fly stuck in a thick tar of despair. Incompetence hangs in the air like the cold stench of death. I’m drowning and monkeys dressed as lifeguards are throwing me anvils. My job has convinced me that life is a stale joke with no punch line. I long for the comfort of the grave.”

His mother looks at him and says, “Next time just say, ‘It’s fine’.”[1]

Those who cannot hear the gospel at a deep lever cannot join the family of Jesus. They simply don’t understand what it means to belong to him.

II. The Process of Receiving

In Jesus’ parable, some seed fell on the path and could not germinate. Other seeds fell on areas that were rocky and without much soil. Those seeds were barely able to germinate and start the life process, but they could not continue. They sprang up okay, but did not have the strength to thrive. As Jesus put it, “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and the withered because they had no root.”

We need not look far to see people everywhere who seem, in the most literal ways, rootless. Nothing seems to give them moral roots. They will do anything because they do not know better, or they do not care. Jesus likened them to anyone who “hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it.” There is potential there but nothing to keep it going.

Some of the farmer’s seeds also landed in areas infested with thorns. They germinated and even grew for a while, but the thorns grew even faster and choked the plants.

Today we understand being choked by distractions. We are overloaded and distracted, having difficulty concentrating on anything for very long. A recent study points out that the average office worker gets 220 messages a day. That includes e-mails, memos, phone calls, interruptions and ads. A survey of managers on four continents found an alarming statistic: one-third of managers suffer problems of ill health due to information overload. Among senior managers, the figure rises to 43 percent![2]

No wonder we can’t concentrate or put good plans into action.

III. The Promise of Reaping

Even with all the problems of seeds going awry, the farmer keeps sowing because he knows that some of it will land where it is intended. It lands on “good soil where it produced a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Yes, some will be choked by weeds or devoured by birds, but the experienced farmer knows to keep throwing seeds because some of it will produce well and make up for everything lost. He is the one who hears, understands and puts into practice the truth of the gospel. There is an old hymn that says, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” One verse says, “The world behind me, the cross before me, No turning back, no turning back.” We put the world behind us and the cross in front of us and move toward that. In that way we become the “good soil” that produces a bountiful crop for God. We become members of the family.

[1] “Dilbert,” by Scott Adams. Published 2/3/08.

[2] Kevin Miller, “Managing Chaos,” in Christian Management Report (June 2006), p. 9.

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