Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Vicar Schleusener

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This is the first parable in our text for today, and it isn’t the world’s easiest parable to interpret. It has some obvious parallels to the parable of the sower that Jesus explains elsewhere, and one of those parallels is that the seed is the word of God in both parables. So far, so good. It’s when we get to the question of who the man is that things get interesting. In the parable of the sower, the man is Jesus Himself, which would seem to suggest that the man in this parallel parable is also Jesus. But the ignorance of the sower makes a lot of people, including me at first, assume that the sower must be someone other than Jesus. After all, Jesus is God, so how can Jesus be ignorant of anything?

It seems impossible, but even though Jesus as God really does know all things, Scripture also shows us that in His time here on earth there were things that He, in His humanity, either didn’t know or didn’t allow Himself to know. For example, Jesus wasn’t lying when He said that He didn’t know when His second coming would happen (Matthew 24:36). When a woman snuck up behind Him and touched His clothing, He asked who touched Him because He didn’t know (Mark 5:25-34). And while it’s never explicitly stated, it seems highly unlikely that Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him even before He called him. If Jesus knew, then the call would have been a lie, not a genuine call. It would actually have been entrapment. Jesus knew that one of the twelve would betray Him long before it happened (John 6:70), but His calling of them wasn’t dishonest, nor was it an entrapment scheme. Rather, as the Church has taught for many years, for the time of His sojourn here on earth Jesus the man didn’t always make full use of His divine attributes. If He had done so, not only would He have known everything all the time, but He would never have really experienced what it was like to be human in the first place.

So if Jesus can be ignorant of things, including the identity of which of His disciples would betray Him, the ignorance of the man in the parable is no longer a conclusive argument against identifying the man as Jesus. So are there other arguments against identifying the man in the parable as Jesus? Well. Not really. Certainly the missional crowd would like to identify the man as us, but wishful thinking isn’t an interpretation. That particular brand of wishful thinking ignores the general rule in interpreting parables, which is that the active agent is God. It would also ignore the obvious reality that if the kingdom of God is going to be likened to the actions of any one single person, that person would have to be Jesus. I mean, my humility may not be as proverbial as that of a certain pastor we all know, but I still cringe at the idea of claiming that my life is Jesus’ best way to describe what the kingdom of God is like.

So. In keeping with the parallels with the parable of the sower, the general rule in interpreting parables, and the truth that Jesus is always the central figure in the kingdom of God, the man in this parable is Jesus. And the man in this parable isn’t just ignorant of the inner workings of how seeds sprout and grow. No, the consistent form of the verbs Jesus chose to use in this parable suggest that the statement of the man’s ignorance applies to all of the verbs that came before. He doesn’t know how the sleeping and rising work. And He doesn’t know how the scattering of the seed works.

This is an idea that may seem very strange at first. How can the Incarnate Word of God not know how He spreads that word? Let’s take a minute to explain. When Jesus as man was ignorant of things in His time on earth, it wasn’t because He lacked access to the knowledge. He’s God. On the contrary, it was because He chose to let Himself be ignorant of it. And if Jesus chose to let Himself be ignorant of something, nothing about knowing it would have helped Him do His work. And knowing it may even have made it harder. For example, His being our savior included experiencing life as we did. Betrayal by a close friend is a particularly difficult thing to experience, but He wouldn’t have had an experience like ours if He’d known who would betray Him all along. That Jesus on earth didn’t know how seed scattering worked tells us that it wouldn’t have helped Him to know that. And if it wouldn’t have helped Jesus to know that, there’s no way it would help us to know that either! Jesus didn’t know about or teach us about the best way to scatter seed because there was no reason to. We’re not the ones who scatter it!

And this is good news indeed. God continues to scatter the seed through His own mysterious working that He never explains the details of. And you, dear brothers and sisters, aren’t expected to try and do His job for Him. The work of bringing unbelievers to faith is a burden that He bears, not a burden that He shares with you. Yes, by all means pray for God to continue sowing His word. Pray for God to cause that word to sprout, to grow, and to ripen. And yes, “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” and make that defense “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Who knows? Perhaps the fruit of His word has ripened, and He’ll give you the joy of serving as part of the sickle He uses to harvest the fruit.

But in the meantime, put your trust, your faith, and your hope in Jesus. The one who died on the cross for your sins and the sins of the whole world. The one who sowed and even now continues to sow His word into you. Awakening faith. Forgiving your sins. Bringing forth the life of His word within you. And the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts and your minds through faith in Christ Jesus.

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