“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.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

“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.

An illustration

Used to communicate an essential truth.

Fiction.

Story.

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

Human beings

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.

 

Look around.

Where can wisdom be found?

In Washington? In Albany? In Rochester?

Here in church? Standing in this pulpit?

Ah, …

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.

“Chin up,”

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:

Declining attendance.

Dwindling participation.

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,

But because

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.

 

Enough already!

 

 

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.

This is

God’s Church,

God’s plan,

God’s will,

God’s creation,

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.

Sow seeds.

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;

Expect that

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!

Amen.