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Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 8, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 8, 2017

1 Kings 3:5-12

5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

If you like to read about political intrigue and the motivations of people in power, then I & II Kings is the book for you! The book of Kings is actually one book but because scrolls were only about 60’ long, and the book of Kings is quite lengthy, it has to be split between two scrolls, hence the “I & II” Kings.

Kings is a kind of history book, except that modern American historians try to be objective in their writing, but ancient historians were not. Ancient historians were courtiers of ancient kings. The history they wrote was the history of their boss and his/her exploits in a favorable light. The book of Kings is no different. Some scholars think that Kings was written to justify the Davidic Dynasty. If so, it is interesting that David is not always painted in a favorable light! Neither are his heirs, the first being Solomon.

Immediately preceding the above passage, Solomon had a couple of his enemies assassinated, one in the Tent of Meeting (the structure which served as a Temple until Solomon built the first Temple). Solomon also married the daughter of Egypt’s then reigning Pharaoh, and went to offer sacrifices at various shrines instead of only worshiping God at the Tent of Meeting.

While worshiping God at the shrine at Gibeon, Solomon had the above dream. It was customary in many early cultures that after offering sacrifice to a deity, one would sleep in the temple or shrine to await some sign of answer to one’s prayers. In the above passage, Solomon showed great humility and vulnerable honesty when speaking with God, and for this, God granted to him lev shome’a and lishpot, a “understanding mind and a listening heart”, as well as long life, wealth, and peace with all enemies.

“I do not know how to go out or how to come in” – an ancient Hebrew idiom. It may refer to “…when kings go out to war”, meaning “I do not know how to lead an army out or how to lead them back in.” It is understood to be referring to inexperience in leadership.

Psalm 119:129-136

Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.

A conflict between different factions of Christians is that of interpreting the Bible. Some are accused of worshiping the book over God, while others are accused of being misinformed about God by misconstruing the book.

That same issue is present in ancient and modern Israelite culture. The above passage is an example of worshiping the book. But the book, in this case, is the Law, or Torah, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Law in practice also becomes Torah, because how could one believe in God’s Law and not live it? And the Temple also becomes Torah because how could one love God’s Law and not worship God according to the Law’s precepts in God’s Temple?

Romans 8:26-39

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Spirit is the most elusive and hard to comprehend member of the Trinity. Yet, in the opening verses of the above pericope, St. Paul describes the Holy Spirit as our constant intercessor, praying in our stead, pleading to God for us at such a deep emotional level that words fail.

“All things work together for the good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Please understand that this verse does not mean “Everything happens for a reason.” No! This is a statement of faith in God who will take even the most ugly of events and squeeze good out of them for the sake of all creation.

The second paragraph describes what God has done in order that all may know God. Yet, God also knows that many will reject God and not believe in Jesus, God in the flesh. The language of “foreknew” is a hard one. Calvin developed the doctrine of “double predestination” which meant that God knew who was going to heaven, and God knew who was going to hell, both heaven and hell being the “double” part. Luther believed that God knew who would be in eternal life with Him but Luther did not see this in a fatalistic way. If we focus on truly loving God and living the commands of Jesus, then we are so busy loving our neighbors as we love ourselves that we don’t have time to contemplate whether our neighbor or we will be in eternity.

“These things” – Paul is referring to everything that he has written thus far in this letter to the church in Rome, specifically the activity of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of believers through Jesus.

Since we are made right with God through faith in Jesus, faith given by the Holy Spirit, what are we afraid of?! That is what Paul is asking and answering in the last paragraph of the above pericope. If God is on your side, why be afraid of enemies? If God forgives your sins, why do we still hold onto them? God loves us (all creation) through Jesus, so why fear anything?

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus continues in these passages to attempt description of the Kingdom of Heaven through these parables. The kingdom of heaven appears very small and insignificant, such as a little mustard seed. But when it is planted, it grows into a lovely shrub which becomes shelter and shade for any and all comers. (Note, take care that you do not read “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” into this parable. That isn’t what Jesus is talking about here. Let the words of this chapter of Matthew stand on their own for your contemplation.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Jesus gives another example of a small amount making a big difference, in this case, changing plain ol’ flour into bread with the power of a little fungus.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure hidden in the ordinary for which all must be sacrificed to obtain.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

Many are in the Kingdom of Heaven, but not all belong. Some are wheat and some are weeds.

49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In cultures where there is no plumbing, or garbage pick-up, city dumps are usually city incinerators. This was certainly true of cities all the way down to clusters of tents in Jesus’ day. One can imagine that when an animal or a family member died of a contagious disease, the animal itself, or the clothing and belongings of the person, would be burned in the village dump. There would be sorrow around that fire, grief, and likely fear. Jesus draws on that common sight to give form to life separate from the Kingdom of Heaven.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Israelite scribes in Jesus’ day were not only copyists of the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible, some were trained as religious scholars, religious lawyers, religious counselors, and religious teachers. Now that Jesus’ disciples understand all of the parables and Jesus’ explanation of them, Jesus suggests that they are being trained to draw both from their own Jewish histories and from what Jesus has been teaching them. Both contain valuable treasures to be passed on “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 7, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 7, 2017

Isaiah 44:6-8

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?*
Let them tell us* what is yet to be.
8 Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.

These verses are the beginning of a speech given by God through the prophet, Isaiah or someone in his tradition/school, to Israel concerning God’s insistence on monotheism and the folly of ignoring God. “It gives particular emphasis to one of Deutero-Isaiah’s main themes: the insistence that no other gods in fact exist.” Jewish Study Bible Of particular emphasis in this passage is God’s complete and utter uniqueness. While others worship the elements in deified form (Rah, the sun as a deity), God/Yahweh, made all the elements! Why worship the creation? Admire it, yes! Appreciate it, yes! Praise the make of all that is, absolutely! But worship the creation, while forsaking the creator?! That is what this prophecy rails against.

Psalm 86:11-17

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name for ever.
13 For great is your steadfast love towards me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving-maid.
17 Show me a sign of your favour,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

We find in Psalm 86 a whole host of ideas present throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. While Christian practice is to rely on faith in Jesus and to know God through Jesus, Jewish practice is to know God’s Law and keep it. Notice that concept in the first verse of the above pericope.

Verse 12 uses the term “steadfast love” which can also be translated “covenanted faithfulness”. God made a covenant with the descendants of Abraham; God would make them His people and, through them, make Himself known to all the world. The psalmist understands this covenant to have given himself/herself life and salvation from Sheol (translation: the oblivion of the garbage dump, nothingness, chaos). Reference to this covenant relationship between the psalmist and God is also mentioned in verse 15.

How interesting it is that the psalmist praises God for what God has already done and begs God to do something about his/her foes. At the same time, the psalmist thanks God for already doing the very thing the psalmist asked of God.

Romans 8:12-25

So then, brothers and sisters,* we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God,17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen?25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

It is fascinating to be in the midst of studying Martin and Katy Luther in preparation for the 500th anniversary while also doing text study on Romans! Christianity as practiced in Germany (and elsewhere in the west) at the time of Martin Luther was filled with superstitions. One such belief was that Luther was in fact the anti-Christ and that he and his followers would all turn into convulsing devils on their deathbeds. It was, therefore, very important to the reformers that they die while confessing faith in Jesus. It was especially important that several people witness Luther’s death so that they could attest to his deathbed profession of faith and his peaceful dying. (A struggle at death, whether by disease or by accident, was thought to be a sign of struggle between a person’s soul and the devil, with the devil being victorious.) It is said that after Luther died, as his sons and Philip Melanchthon washed the body and prepared it for his pewter coffin (a very unusual coffin in Germany, where commoners usually went without a coffin), they found a note in his pocket quoting St. Paul, “We are all debtors/beggars. That is certain.”

In the above passage, St. Paul continues his discussion of what it means to live in the spirit as opposed to the flesh. This is not an easy dialectic to understand or put into practice. The whole concept of asceticism, that is, the silent, deprived life practiced in convents and monasteries, is to mortify the flesh in order to live in the spirit, to deprive one’s physical being in order to flourish in the spiritual realm. But even monasteries and convents had breweries. Paul further complicates the understanding of his use of “spirit” with the sentence “that very spirit [of adoption] witnessing to our spirit”. At the same time, this conveys a lovely, poetic image. “Spirit” can be defined as “that which makes one breathe, or that which makes one alive.” Paul is trying to convey the wonderful, beautiful concept which defies words: that which is life in God mingles with that which is life in us and changes us, betters us, makes us heirs of God along with Jesus!

Paul goes on to say that all of creation suffers under the weight of sin brought upon it by sinful humans. That creation groans under the weight of sin but also as it prepares for complete rebirth brought about by the salvation won by Jesus. Paul states that the struggle of Christians who believe in Jesus but also yet live in this world cursed by sin is also like birthing pains. It is incredibly painful to be what we are and live under sin, and yet the pain is the processing of being adopted by God and made heirs of God with Jesus.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:*
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’*

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears* listen!

The Kingdom of Heaven is a strong theme in the gospel of Matthew. At times it seems as if the Kingdom of Heaven might simply mean heaven: the eternal afterlife with God. But at other times, the Kingdom of Heaven seems to mean life in God right now, here on earth, in daily living. It is such a complex idea that throughout Matthew, Jesus describes in the Kingdom of Heaven in parables, metaphors.

The first parable seems a fairly straight forward metaphor. Jesus explains the parable to his disciples, who, no doubt had the same reaction we do: “Wow! I sure hope I am a child of the kingdom because being burned in the furnace of fire sounds absolutely horrible!” However, if Luther taught us anything, it is that we are, by faith, simul justis et pecator, “simultaneously justified and sinner.” It is the “by faith” part that gives pause. Do we live out the gift of faith given to us through baptism? Taught to us by others, including the Holy Spirit? Nurtured through the church and through life?

The leaven parable is one that gives the impression that the Kingdom of Heaven is a right here a now thing too. Those who are the Kingdom of Heaven, or in the Kingdom of Heaven, are few in number, but when mixed into the world, they make the world a whole new thing, not a tortilla but a fluffy loaf of bread! The mustard seed parable seems to convey a similar message. The seed is tiny but when it flowers, look what benefit it gives! And not to itself, but to others, birds who happen upon it and receive nesting places, shade, and shelter.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 6, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 6, 2017

Isaiah 55:10-13

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

The later one reads into Third Isaiah, the more vague the language, switching from specific references to Babylonian captivity to any time when peoples are oppressed and seeking relief from God. Certainly this is true of the above passage of Isaiah.

Third Isaiah is filled with promises of hope and restoration. But they were delivered to a people who returned from captivity to a decimated country and a Temple that was totally destroyed. These did not look like God was keeping his promises. In addition, the Israelites feared that their unfaithfulness to God would result in God ending the covenant God made with them, and cut them off. The above passage is meant to assuage fear and remind the Israelites exactly who their God is; the maker of heaven and earth, snow and rain, the God of nature who can bring forth joy even in trees! The continuance of bountiful nature was itself a sign of God’s faithfulness to Israel.

Psalm 65:1-13

To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.
1 Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
2 O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
3 When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.

5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
6 By your* strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

9 You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

This psalm starts out with a major tenet of the Jewish faith; if you Jews live faithfully with me, all the peoples of the world will learn of me through you. A sign of your faithfulness will be that the peoples of the world will come to the Temple and live in covenant with me. That same tenet is in Christianity: “Go, make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded.”

Why should all people come to God/Yahweh? The psalmist answers that God/Yahweh listens to prayers and then in verse 4 testifies to God answering his/her personal prayer.

Paying Vows – literally means offering sacrifices, whether grain, incense, sin offering, thank offering, etc.

Verse 6 on praises God for God’s atmospheric powers which tame the chaos of the seas and instead brings about weather conducive to raising crops to feed God’s people.

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit* of life in Christ Jesus has set you*free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,* he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.* 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit* set their minds on the things of the Spirit.* 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit* is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,* since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit* is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ* from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through* his Spirit that dwells in you.

In the above verses contain the culmination of Paul’s teaching on Law and Gospel. I hope the definitions below will be helpful in comprehending Paul’s throughts.

Law: That which is commanded by God, ie: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In earlier chapters of Romans, Paul reminds his readers/hearers that one would not know what wrong one was doing if the law did not prohibit it. Using the above command, you would not know you were being selfish and self centered if the law did not command you to be otherwise.

Condemnation: The punishment prescribed in the law for breaking the law. Because human nature is selfish and self centered, we are, by our nature, breaking the law and cutting ourselves off from God.

Flesh: That part of humans which is three/four dimensional and visible.

spirit: That part of humans which is not confined to the three/four dimensions and visibility: personality, ideas, dreams, thoughts, hopes, yearnings, grievings, feelings, etc.

Spirit: The breath of God which is breathed into humans through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the imago Dei, the image of God granted to humans at creation which is all but hidden by sin, yet made visible and glorious by Jesus.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears* listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When 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. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet 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.* 22As 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. 23But 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.’

As always, when a passage begins with a reference to what came before, we had better look at what came before to understand the passage. What precedes this passage is several events where Jesus is rejected, and ends in Jesus’ mother and siblings coming to where he was teaching (likely Capernaum) and wanting to speak with him. (In Mark, this same event is described as Jesus’ mother and siblings, thinking Jesus was out of his mind, came to drag him back home to silence him.) Jesus ignores his mother and siblings and instead identifies those who hear and believe his words as his family.

This parable then is about the juxtaposition of those who hear the word and should be joyfully receiving it but don’t, (ie: Jesus’ family, the Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem and in the local synagogues, Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes) with those who are seen as worthless but are receiving the word to one extent or another (ie: the crowds, lepers, tax collectors, sinners, blind, deaf, lame, poor, etc.).

Good Soil – Jesus gives three different yields on the good soil. 100 fold, that is, one seed yields one hundred more. 60 fold, and 30 fold. All of these diminishing yields are still listed under “Good Soil.” How often do we view bumper crop yields as the only viable yield, and set it as a goal we must obtain in order for our congregations to be “viable” and “faithful”? Is that God’s expectation of us or our own measure of “success”?