“Three Out of Four” or “One-Hundred, Sixty, Thirty?”
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 16, 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth; Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
“Holy Parables, Batman!”
Buckle in Disciples of Jesus.
We’re in for a lot of ‘em
Coming down the line.
Today’s parable of Jesus is the first of three
Over the next three Sundays.
Then, plan on seven more this Fall.
(Yes, I am kind of a liturgy nerd)
Some might make the claim that Matthew
Has already introduced some of Jesus’ parables
Earlier during the Sermon on the Mount.
However, many stake the claim that Matthew 13
Is just the beginning of a series of parables
Jesus is intentionally teaching
To a diverse and changing audience.
His method of teaching is intentionally parables.
Indeed, our parable of the Sower and the Soil this morning
May mark the beginning of Jesus encountering
At least four kinds of people in his future.
Of four nearly identical seeds sown on four different types of soil,
Three seeds are failures.
One seed is sown with unbelievable success.
Jesus will bomb with three of four future encounters.
They’re not going to end well,
Especially that one before Pontius Pilate,
Or, that one on Galgotha.
But, ah! That fourth.
That fourth encounter,
That fourth effort for ministry,
That fourth witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ,
That fourth person;
The persistent woman,
That sightless beggar,
That nauseating leper.
The results of Jesus sowing ministry with that one-in-four person
Will result in an abundant harvest,
Yielding results beyond our wildest imagination;
Some a hundred-fold, some sixty, others thirty.
Intentional, on Matthew’s part?
Is this an intentional literary technique used by the Gospel author
To prepare the audience for Jesus’ future encounters?
I don’t know.
But, you can be certain,
This insight will be in the forefront of my thoughts
As I prepare for upcoming Sundays.
Although I have been teaching and preaching
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
For more than 31 years,
I’m always learning something new.
This is what I learned this past week:
The root of the word “Parable” in Greek is Para Bolē,
Meaning “putting alongside for active comparison.”
Para – put. And Bolē – alongside.
It was a name given
By Greek philosophers
To an illustration
In the form of
A brief fictional narrative.
Used to communicate an essential truth.
Teaching in parables did provide Jesus with a sufficient smoke screen
To keep him out of trouble with the Jewish authorities
And out of jail with the Romans.
Fictional stories that communicate a deeper meaning
Are just obscure enough
To leave even the harshest critic
And most passionate district attorney
Frustrated beyond contempt.
But there is more to a good parable
Than just keeping out of trouble.
I like C.H. Dodd’s observation that
Jesus taught in parables
“to tease the mind into active thought.”
We experience today’s Gospel of the Sower and the Soil,
And we shout, “Wake up, brain! It’s time to pay attention!”
Here’s something else I learned this past week about parables.
John D. Niles advanced his theory of oral literature
In a book that came out in 1999 titled
Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.
In it Niles explores how
Shape their world
Through the stories they tell.
Think about the world view of
Pueblo Indian healers,
Ballads sung in Slovenian market squares,
Folktales and legends told by fireside in Italy,
Jokes told at a dinner table in Des Moines,
Parables told by Jesus to crowds
Gathered at his feet or at the water’s edge.
Human beings shape their world through the stories they tell.
It is chiefly through storytelling that people possess a past.
Truthfully, we are more a people
Known as Homo Narrans, or storytelling beings,
Than we are Homo Sapiens, or beings of wisdom.
Where can wisdom be found?
In Washington? In Albany? In Rochester?
Here in church? Standing in this pulpit?
But let me tell you a story:
Three men walk into a bar,
A minister, a rabbi, and a priest …
We are storytelling beings,
And so was Jesus.
The more work required of the listener, the better.
The mind is teased into active thought.
The more the parable is explained, the less effective it becomes;
… which is exactly why I’m not even going to address verses 18 to 23.
These subsequent verses water down the effectiveness of the point
Jesus is making.
Also, it was probably added into the text
A generation or two after
The Gospel of Matthew was
Transformed from oral storytelling to pen on papyrus.
Besides, if I have to explain the punchline to a good joke,
I might as well not tell you the joke
Because it just isn’t funny anymore.
So, in today’s parable,
Let our minds be teased!
What is being compared?
Four identical seeds,
Each being sown in different soils.
Why is it being told?
It might not be as obvious as you or I think.
We have the added value of hindsight.
We know that followers of Christ will have a difficult time,
Especially in the first 300 years following Christ’s ascension.
Disciples and Apostles will have trouble
Fulfilling Jesus’ apostolic command
To make disciples of all the world,
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit,
Teaching them all that Jesus has taught.
Three out of four efforts to witness would result in
Ruin, persecution, and martyrdom.
Our assumption might be that
Jesus is telling this parable to give courage to his followers
Who will face discouraging failure.
Jesus would have known their future, we might assume.
We can imagine Jesus encouraging all those who follow him
With a Vince Lombardi styled pep talk,
“Don’t lose hope.”
“Don’t give in.”
Yet, our first assumption may be wrong.
Why is Jesus telling this crowd this parable?
A common tool for teasing the mind when it comes to uncovering the essential truth within a parable
Is to look to the point of exaggeration.
Where is the embellishment?
Where is the hyperbole?
That’s where the clue can often be found
That unlocks the answer to the question,
“Why is Jesus telling this parable?”
The presidential style whopper comes
When Jesus reports
That fourth sown seed yields a hundred-fold!
Some of those fourth seeds will yield sixty.
Still others will yield thirty.
To every experienced farmer in the crowd
A one-to-thirty yield was unbelievable.
A one to a hundred yield wasn’t even fathomable in this universe.
Here, then is the point!
Is your mind sufficiently teased yet?
Don’t be distracted by the three out of four failures
The testimony of Christ is sure to generate.
Look at the YIELD of that fourth seed!
Your results will vary, no question about it.
The hyperbole reveals the point:
Look to the YIELD!
In spite of the wild inefficiency of the sower,
God’s miraculous activity is apparent.
To those who sow God’s Word
There is a promise that there will be a harvest;
And boy, it’s going to be a whopper!
There are many in today’s world,
Some even sitting in our sanctuaries,
Who are wringing their hands,
Overwhelmed with anxiety,
Despondent over the future of the Church.
This is what they see:
Schism, division, and destruction.
Loss of relevance.
Even open disdain that faith has any helpful contributions to society.
There are many who are terrified
That the Church may not have a future,
That the Church has seen it’s final harvest,
And that the Church’s last harvest
Is fading in our rearview mirror.
Jesus is telling us
That there will be a harvest in our future
And, watch out, because it’s going to be great!
It’s going to be great,
Not because you or I are in control,
This world is God’s world.
The master Creator is in control
And He assures us,
The future is fantastic!
You and I don’t know,
We can’t see,
We can’t even begin to understand
The nature and place of each human heart
Or what God has planned for the future.
We are so easily distracted by the pessimist
Who want us to focus on our three out of four failures.
We tried this, and it didn’t work.
We tried different fundraisers, and nobody came.
We tried that, and we just couldn’t get a commitment.
Look to the YIELD!
The abundant harvest is coming
Because God is in control.
The abundant harvest is coming
And our future is fantastic
Because this is
God’s seed and God’s soil.
And God is in control.
Beloved members and friends,
Let us take our place in telling Salvation’s story,
Of doing our part to shape the world
Simply by the stories we tell.
Tell the Gospel story.
Tell the parables of Jesus;
There is no need to come up with new ones.
Tell the parables Jesus taught us.
Don’t worry if some will not get it,
If some will not understand;
Three out of four will miss the point completely.
Jesus was comfortable leaving interpretation up to his faithful.
So should we.
Let your mind be teased.
Look to the YIELD.
Take part in sharing the story,
Telling the story,
That will shape this world
Into God’s perfected kingdom.
The future looks fantastic!