15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – July 12, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65:10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
Today and for the next two Sundays, we hear the parables in Matthew’s Gospel about the Kingdom of God. All of these parables have something to do with the Kingdom of God. When Jesus Christ arrived, the Kingdom arrived! Jesus’ first words are, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). And notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “The Kingdom of God is going to be available once you die, and if you were a good person and followed all the rules you get to go to a nice little place in the clouds.” He doesn’t say that! He says, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is here. The Kingdom is breaking in! And so last Sunday, we had that very famous Gospel passage, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 12). The point is, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has arrived; in a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, you can experience the Kingdom—even now. And so Jesus says, “Come to me. If you want to experience the Kingdom, come to me.”
So today we start the parables, parables about just what the Kingdom looks like, just how we experience it. One simple way to read the Gospels and the parables is to read the passage and then ask, “So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act?” And that’s a perfectly valid way of reading Scripture, it’s one of the several ways to read Scripture. No problem. But it’s not the only way. And while you can do that with most every passage you read in the Gospels, it’s not always what Jesus is doing. I know, shocking, Jesus isn’t just telling us what we should do all the time. Jesus did a lot of teaching, but not everything he taught was a moral lesson. And surprise, surprise—this passage today is not Jesus teaching us a lesson on morals.
What is Jesus doing in this passage? He just sits down on the boat and starts teaching. But what’s the question? What is the implicit question? What is the implicit question that this parable is addressing? What is Jesus teaching about?
If you are paying closer attention, you probably think Jesus is answering the question, “How do I cultivate the soil of my heart to be open to the seed, to the word of God?” And we could read it that way…but that’s not what Jesus is doing here. That’s not why he’s telling this parable.
Jesus is describing the reality of the situation, the reality of how the Kingdom is breaking in—and it breaks in through the Word, through hearing the word. He’s telling his disciples why it is that some people will hear all of these words about the kingdom, but they won’t really listen or be changed in the slightest; why it is that some people will see the Kingdom in their lives, but not understand that that is what it actually is.
For each of us, personally, the question is: Why don’t I experience the Kingdom? Even though Jesus is right here—communion, confession, Scripture—why isn’t there fruit of this in my life? Why do others seem to get it, but I don’t? OR (for the saints among us, not me): Why is it that others do not experience the joy of the Kingdom that I do? Why can’t they see what I see? Understand what I understand?
And so Jesus is simply describing how things are, the reality of the situation.
The reality of the situation is that most people don’t stick around. Most people who encounter Christ in the Gospels do what? Abandon him. Large crowds came to see Jesus. The crowd is so large in this scene from our Gospel today, Jesus has to get in a boat and go off the shore a ways in order to teach them. But what do you notice as the story unfolds? People abandon him. The Rector at one of the seminaries I went to would always say, about seminarians, “They comes and they goes, but mostly they goes.” And the same is true of followers of Christ: “They comes and they goes, but mostly they goes.” Why is that? If you had the Kingdom standing right in front of you, why in the world would you abandon it?
Well, there are lots of reasons. It would be foolish to pretend that there are not very powerful and very real reasons why people would abandon Jesus. If you don’t think so, well, thank God every day for that innocence you have.
There are plenty of reasons! “The evil one comes and steals away” the desire to stay with Jesus. There are a lot of forces in the world that take away any desire to want to pursue the Kingdom of God. “Tribulation or persecution comes.” Life gets hard, there is a tragedy in the family that causes you to doubt, people ask you why you waste your time with the whole “Jesus thing,” people mock you. “Worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.” You spend your life worried more about your retirement plan than anything else, or you spend your life in pursuit of money and wealth. When you think about it, there are an infinite number of reasons to abandon Jesus, limitless possibilities.
And that’s Jesus’ point. Large crowds, tons of people can hear about the Kingdom and about Jesus all the time, but that doesn’t mean they understand it. People see the Kingdom all the time, but that doesn’t mean they really see.
All of you are here in the church today, people are joining via live stream—before coronavirus, large crowds gathered here every Sunday in the church—and we come here for a variety of reasons. But we all know people that used to be here, but aren’t anymore—and not just because of the virus. We all know people that came for a time, but they have left. They didn’t experience the Kingdom, and so they left. Something happened—the world, worlds anxieties, and so on—and so they left.
Some of your are honest, and you say, “I don’t really know why it is that I come. Guilt, maybe, I’m supposed to.” And if you were a little less German, and didn’t have such a good Catholic guilt complex built in, you would leave. You don’t experience the Kingdom, you just feel too guilty to stop coming. And you ask: Why don’t I experience the Kingdom? Even though Jesus is right here—communion, confession, Scripture—why isn’t there fruit of this in my life? Why do others seem to get it, but I don’t?
The parable Jesus tells doesn’t say we should try to “remove the rocks,” or, “pull the weeds.” Nope. Because the moment we think that we can do it all, we’re already on a path to failure. What does Jesus say when start to ask those questions?
“Hear.” Jesus says, “Listen.” “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Go look for a good self help book to help you get the rocks and weeds out of the soil of your life.” He says, “Listen.” Be open to listening to the Word of God. The Word of God will change you, it will produce fruit, it will “achieve” the purpose for which God sent it. But we have to listen. Mary is the prime example of that: Mary was a 15 year old girl who listened, and that “produced” the fruit of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom itself.
And this isn’t easy. I know. Trust me. I’m not saying at all that we just listen and everything is good, no. But, jumping ship isn’t the answer. I always come back to those words of Peter to Jesus. Jesus had just been teaching large crowds, and they can’t accept what he’s saying, and they all leave. And Jesus turns to Peter and the twelve and asks, “Are you going to leave too?” And Peter pipes up and says, “You know, we don’t really get it either. We don’t understand completely. But Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. You have the words that give meaning to life.” Peter is willing to continue to listen.
The Kingdom is breaking in. But it breaks in, we can experience it, only if we are first willing to listen.