Matthew 13 – The Importance of Preparation

What we can learn about God’s Love through the Parable of the Sower.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

31 He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
    I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there.54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Just as a marathon runner trains for their sport, just as a musician practices their art, we must properly prepare our hearts for Jesus.  Or, as Jesus puts it, the soil of our hearts must be made ready to receive his message.  Then, and only then, will our hearts (and his message) grow.

I think this is a beautiful idea that illustrates God’s understanding of our fallible human selves.  The disciples ask Jesus why he teaches in parables right after he delivers the first parable, the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus answers them, “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been revealed to you, but not to them.”  In other words, “y’all already get it, but the others have some catching up to do.”  And Jesus wants to give us the time and the tools to do that catching up.  The parables allow us to come at Jesus’ message from an angle, working up to a full understanding of what he is and what he requires of us.  Because let’s be honest, even after 2000 years of Christian tradition, it can be kind of overwhelming to hear.  Can you imagine how it was to be around, in Jesus’ time, hearing his message for the very first time?  Your sins are forgiven and you shall have life everlasting as a child of God?  What the….

Let’s focus on that Parable of the Sower, because I see the others in this chapter as supporting parables.  Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower to his disciples starting in v. 18.  Seed that falls on the path is an analogy for those who hear the message but don’t understand it; seed on the rocky places is for those that hear the message and rejoice, but it doesn’t “take root;” seed that falls in the weeds is for those who let their faith be choked by the world’s troubles and distractions, and then seed in the good soil is those who hear, understand, and apply Jesus’ message.

Upon the initial reading it sounds a little like predestination: only a special, pre-selected few will receive the Good News, and everyone else is condemned.  But what farmer or gardener do you know that just spreads their seed willy-nilly all over the path, the rocks, the weeds?  Sure, a little bit might get there due to wind or spillage, but by and large they are careful where they plant their seed, making sure the soil is good and ready.  So really, I see this parable as Jesus calling us to prepare our hearts for him.  Are the weeds of life choking you?  Then start weeding-simplify, refocus, whatever you need to do to get to a place where you’re ready to receive God’s message for you.  Is the soil of your faith rocky and shallow?  Build it up!  Fertilize with friendships and community support.  Have you been completely abandoned to the elements, like the seed on the path?  I don’t know what that individual can do, but maybe that means it’s our responsibility, as a society, to see what we can do for them.  So you see, we aren’t abandoned or predestined, but rather being invited to fully prepare ourselves for Jesus’ message and God’s purpose for our lives.

Then, when we are ready, when the tiny mustard seed of Faith is planted in good soil, it will grow to great heights.  It will pervade every aspect of our lives, just as yeast does in a well worked dough.  In the right conditions, Faith is strong, tenacious, and pervasive.  But just like practicing a sport or an art, or preparing a garden, it takes some work to get there.  Jesus knows that and is okay with waiting on us to catch up, he just wants to see us making progress.  Get out there and practice kindness, practice love.  Get out there and weed away whatever is distracting you from doing those things, and you will find your understanding, like a treasure buried in a field or a merchant looking for fine pearls.  What beautiful things you can grow with God’s help, I can’t wait to see.

***

I know there is a lot I didn’t get to here, like the separating of the weeds and wheat or the good and bad fish; and Jesus’ less-than-cordial welcome back to his hometown. But the beauty of the Gospels is these stories are often told in more than one book, so we have a chance to revisit them and examine a different aspect next time we come across them.  So don’t worry, I’m not ignoring them, this is just what I was moved to focus upon this time.

Matthew 08 – Even Jesus…

A reminder for those who have trouble asking for help.

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west,and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.”

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes,two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

There’s a lot that I should probably talk about in this post, but I think all of these stories are repeated in one of the other Gospels, so this post is really more of a note to self. I’m hoping some of you might benefit from it, too.  It is the first story that I kept coming back to.  It made me think, “if Jesus can ask for help, why can’t I?”  Jesus is essentially asking the man that he cured of leprosy for a favor:  “Please, keep quiet about this.”  There could be any number of reasons, according to my NIV notes: he didn’t want his ministry too hindered by a fame that might grow too quickly; he didn’t want to attract attention of the Pharisees too fast. But whatever the reason, Jesus wanted that healing to be kept quiet, and asked for help in keeping it so.

I have a really, really hard time asking for help.  Thank God I have good friends and family who just pitch in without asking. I’m not sure why I have so much trouble asking for help, but I think it’s something many people struggle with.  Nobody wants to be a burden, and, even though I know it’s a fallacy, the idea of sole self-reliance still holds a strong allure for me.  Additionally, asking for help means letting go of control (the clothes might not be folded just the way I do it, or the girls might watch more TV than I normally let them…you get the idea).  Finally, it’s really, really disappointing to ask for help and not get any.  I feel this is particularly true in medical settings.  We’re a relatively healthy family, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some version of “well, we don’t know what this is, but let us know if it gets worse,” or “there’s not much we can do for that.”  I know it’s impossible to diagnose, or even treat, every cough and cold, but I’m hoping for a little more guidance and suggestions than “we don’t know.”  Especially when I’ve dragged two sick toddlers into a doctor’s office at lunch time because that was the only appointment available.

There may still be some (OK, a lot) of “no’s,” but you’re a lot more likely to get a “yes” if you ask for help than just keep silent.  So my resolution for today is to ask for more help. Then, instead of feeling guilty about it, I’ll be grateful when it comes, hope that I’ll be able to pay it forward down the line, but not stress about that too much, trusting God’s plan.  After all, even Jesus asked for help.

Matthew 7:1-6 – Judging Others

And my true story about being gored by a boar.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Fun side-story: I actually have been torn to pieces by pigs. At least, one pig took one piece of me.  One afternoon last summer I went out to do afternoon chores and saw that a sow had dropped piglets sooner than expected, so they were in with all the other pigs sans even a nest, which isn’t ideal.  I could see one piglet wedged up beside the feed trough and thought it might be dead, and wanted to get eyes on the other piglets.  I kept a wide berth because I knew the sow would be protective.  What I didn’t count on was the dad being protective, even from my far-away stance.  He gave me a warning gouge in the thigh.  I let all the pigs know who was boss with some wild kicks and a lot of screaming (side side-story: I’ve won two other intimidation contests with boars; I don’t recommend it, you have to be ready-to-murder-with-your-bare-hands angry), and then drove myself to urgent care where I got my giant puncture wound and trailing gash cleaned and stitched up.  Oh, the stupid piglet was totally fine, by the way.

I definitely tell this story to interns to boost my own bad-ass factor, as well as drive home how dangerous the pigs can be.  But you know what this story really is?  A series of stupid mistakes on my part.  Stupid mistake number one: I know what keyed up pigs sounds like, and should have been paying more attention to the others, not just the sow.  Stupid mistake number two:  a few extra buckets of feed dumped on the ground well away from the piglet might have allowed me a better (safer) look at it.  Stupidest mistake of all: trying to check on the piglet from inside the fence in the first place.  That definitely should have been an evaluate-and-strategize-from-the-outside sort of job.

This whole judging others bit of the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation from Jesus to check our egos and our stupid.  You do not throw your pearls to pigs, because they will trample them and they will turn on you.  You also don’t get into a pissing contest with a skunk (a saying a first heard from my mother-in-law and absolutely adore).  These metaphors are telling us to save our wisdom for those ready to hear it, and to recognize that we don’t have all the answers, or even all the facts to make the answers.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gone off half-cocked, biting Chris’ head off for something I think he did. Just the other night I bitched at him for losing his temper with Betty over a little spilled milk while I was out of the room for less than a minute.  Turns out, it wasn’t just an accident, she was being a little snot, pouring it on her dinner, and then throwing the sippy cup when Chris transferred said milk into a less pour-able container.  We got in a huge fight, and I had to sheepishly apologize when I heard what had actually happened.  I feel like these sort of slap-down reminders from God happen to me a lot when I act out of anger instead of taking the time to consider everything that might be going on.

The best piece of advice when it comes to not judging others, or reserving your wisdom for the right time, may come from The Big Lebowski.  “New shit has come to light, man,” the Dude says, about a supposedly simple situation that just became a lot more complex.  We need to make sure we understand the whole situation before we start preaching.  In other words, don’t be like me: a maker of stupid mistakes and quick judgments that often leave me back-pedaling and apologizing, cleaning up messes both emotional and physical, and feeling pretty idiotic and petty. Be like the Dude: check your ego, check your stupid, and let all that shit come to light before you act on anything.  Who knew the Dude would end up being a spiritual role model?  God really does work in mysterious ways.