Ps. 65; Isaiah 55:10-13; Romans 8:12-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Brothers, So then, brothers… all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… and if children… fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (vv. 12a, 14, 17).
St. Paul employs the language family; and so, we are. Jesus begins to teach in parables, the purpose of which is to reveal his kingdom to his disciples; yet keep understanding from the unbelieving crowds (Mt. 13:13, 14). Jesus does not chase converts; it is the Father who draws and reveals Jesus to whom he will (16:17; Jn. 6:44).
Jesus makes clear, his family has nothing to do with physical lineage; but everything to do with those who believe, hear, and understand his reign, distinguished from the uncommitted and merely curious.
Earlier, Jesus’ mother and half-brothers sought him in a house where he was teaching. Jesus responded, pointing to his disciples, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:49).
Pretty rough treatment toward Mary and brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Being a member in “good-standing” of a family depends on children doing the will of their parents; and in the case of heaven’s family, in doing the will of the Father that we believe his Son whom he sent (17:5b). Hearing, believing, and understanding Jesus is what St. Luke calls “doing the word” (Lk. 8:21), the essence of our bond within heaven’s family.
As with many in the crowd, Jesus’ half-brothers were as yet unbelievers, and on some level even Mary was uncomprehending of his words. In the face of unbelief Jesus now begins to teach of his kingdom reign in parables, confounding the idle curious merely attracted to signs and miracles; while at the same time, revealing the substance of his kingdom and its advance within the family God.
Does this seem a strange mission strategy? It is certainly not the model for today’s “Church Growth” for pastors and congregations that hope to produce a yield of 100, 60, or 30-fold in the sizes of their communities. So, we engage Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.
Jesus sows God’s word into the world. The incarnate Word is his own content; word-Seed is not mere message or information about Jesus; his sown Word is the power of God in his crucified person for the sin of the world, the sin of the world’s unbelief.
Later Jesus would clarify the parable as referencing the cross, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (12:23, 24). Jesus is the worker of fruit and yield.
The divine Seed, the crucified Son of Man waters the earth from his own body; water and blood for his church. Thus, Isaiah’s prophesy of Christ and HS, “For as the rain…come[s] down from heaven… giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word… not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose…” (55:10, 11).
Water and Word, Spirit and Seed, God’s planting of his church for fruit in the world by his Son’s body; is the source of all increase for would-be eaters of heavenly Bread.
The Parable teaches, only one of the four soil types will respond to produce fruit. This is a mystery; the work of Seed and Water, Word and HS alone create “good soil”. One might think, as a matter of economy, Jesus would broadcast on only the “good soil” of God’s election; instead he lavishes his word for salvation on all the earth, calling to Baptism and sharing his glory before God.
Jesus seeds hardpan, it is immediately snatched-away by Satan; those grounded in apostacy’s rocks that counter God’s grace alone; and those divided in commitment to the things and affairs of the world.
Whether these soils represent 3/4ths of the world or other fraction, all three types have in common a preference for another family than the one the Father draws as his own. Of our heirship with Christ, St. Paul says, “…provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17b).
The Christian family is known, not by human “love” and affection toward others; but in faith’s suffering that mirrors God’s Suffering Servant for love of the Father, and brothers and sisters gathered to himself. God intends his Word to abide in hearts implanted Lord’s Day-to-Lord’s Day attending word and sacrament with brothers and sisters in mutual support and consolation.
In this synagogue of Christ, Sower and Seed does the ongoing agrarian work of scoring hardened hearts until we bleed for shame, our blood mixing with his, poured into the crusty earth. We hear the truth of our sins and our contrary preferences for the family of men that inclines us to flesh, rather than to sacrificial love of brother and sister in Christ.
This is the work of God’s seed, germinating in you from your Baptism. Not everyone desires adoption into a family headed by the Father who wills each in his children inherit the same glory suffered by his Son.
Some prefer Moses’ Law, the letter apart from Spirit and Truth that kills (2 Cor. 3:6), making death their permanent home. Others enthusiastically receive Jesus’ word, but when tribulations arrive fall away altogether or to “another Jesus”, “a different Spirit and gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), perhaps finding the church’s catechism too arduous or time consuming. Many bargain with the gods of this world that vie for our attention, not the least of which is a fleshly obsession over monetary concerns and the demands of our human families and associations.
What then is the meaning of Jesus’ promise that those who hear his word in understanding will yield fruit of 100, 60, and 30-fold? Certainly, we are saved to “good-works”, but not primarily. Rather, gospel produce in tribulation is the increase of Seed, in whom we abide; Jesus saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
Abiding in Jesus’ fulfilled Sabbath rest, we possess Christ’s love with God from the foundation of the world. Our fruit and yield only marginally, if at all, have to do with “Church Growth” outcomes; rather it the church’s ever-increasing multiples of “spiritual poverty” in hearts being made new” by the Word that obtains her blessing of possessing the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).
By the Spirit’s leading, we hear and understand the kingdom (11:29, 30), obedient sons and daughters desiring only the will of our Father in brotherhood with Christ. Amen.