Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Pentecost 7.23 “The Sower” Matt. 13:1-23
This is the first, the paradigmatic parable of our LORD told in the Gospels and it literally gives you the key to the Kingdom, opens it to the faithful, and, at the same time, slams the door in the face of all the haters of Christ, leaving them befuddled and antagonistic. In other words, it’s awesome.
And I think rarely understood, especially by the translators of the ESV and the compilers of the current 3 year lectionary. Here’s the big point that they all seem to miss: what is sown is not mere information for those with ‘free-will’ to ponder and do with as they think best. No! What is sown, is, as Jesus says in his explanation: the word.
But nearly all interpreters (and all translation is interpretation, first) construe it as the ESV translators do: inert information (in vs. 20 they use the pronoun “it” thus referring to the word as a thing, mere information when obviously, for one with the Spirit, the word is Jesus the Christ and if you got that, you’d use the pronoun “him”. In Greek, there are not three pronouns, “him, her, it”, but only one pronoun αυτον in the accusative, in this case, referring back to λογον Greek for “word” so if you get the λογος is Jesus God Incarnate, and not mere information for us to process, you’d use the pronoun “him” not “it”. [dumbkopf!]
And so, dear vicar, always check the Greek…
Another thing that shows the compilers of the lectionary do not get the point, here, is how they cut out verses 10-17 (which I included, you’re welcome!) because they don’t want you to think on the difficult answer Jesus gives to his disciples’ question as to why he speaks in parables which is, in short, quoting Isaiah: “So they don’t get me, so they won’t ever get me and make me heal them.” So they can, [paraphrasing Fleetwood Mac] “Go their own way—just go away”. That’s a difficult saying!
And the missional-minded really hate this. It’s not how they want the Gospel to go! The idea, which the heresiarch George Whitfield spread far and wide in his 18th century “Great Awakening” [and Billy Graham copied so effectively] is basically that Jesus is a mere teacher giving information to neutral souls who ponder it and, if they grasp it intellectually, remember the facts and figures and then employ it to renew their lives morally, God will save them as a reward, and charges us (the cognoscenti) to get out there and proselytize the pants off clueless—because: whoever gets the biggest church with the most converts and money… wins. A prize. Of some sort. Because ours is (sad to say ;-( an age of information, statistics, and money rather than truth, goodness, and beauty.
But the Missional-Information Complex is all bosh, quite wrong, as I’m always banging on about with you, a lonely voice in the wilderness, these days. Not only are there many clear passages that emphatically teach the word goes out to all the world by the Spirit without human help, so there is not one single person who has not heard the Gospel (lack of knowledge isn’t why many are lost!), but also: we have no ‘free-will’ as Luther teaches powerfully in “Bondage of the Will”—which we will continue to read on Wednesday evening when I return from my sabbatical in early August. We cannot hear the word, nor understand Jesus, unless the Holy Spirit illuminates us, opening our ears, hearts, to receive him.
Faith is not an intellectual, moral process where we grasp information and apply it rightly to our lives. No. Faith is more like a heart (and brain 😉 transplant. God kills our diseased hearts/minds of stone, cuts them out by his cross and transplants Jesus into us us, his body and soul and heart to give life to us, like the wind that fills a sail and moves a ship, like the very breath of life.
And like a heart transplant, the main problem is not finding a healthy heart. No, the main problem is the patient’s immune system rejecting the transplanted organ as a foreign body, killing it and the patient. And this is the problem with the sowing of the Word and the transplant that makes us the Body of Christ: all our sinful bodies will reject Jesus’ as a foreign body, an invader, and marshal all our resources to kill him before he kills us.
But, if the word is not Jesus himself, just mere information about Jesus that we process according to our wits and will, then this whole parable and reason for parables is going to be opaque to the reader (as it obviously is to the ESV translators and compilers of our 3 year lectionary in LSB!). It makes no sense to them for Jesus to answer “why do you speak in parables?”—laconically, sardonically: “So they don’t get me, so they won’t get me”. Why would Jesus not want us to get him?
Ah, because our sinful bodies will, mostly, successfully reject the Lord’s body as a dangerous foreign invader, target him as a mortal threat that will kill them so they reject him vigorously. Jesus is an acquired taste most never acquire. And they’re not wrong… our immune systems will violently reject the transplanted Body of Christ. He’ll be the death of us, by way of the cross before he is life to us. There’s a whole lotta suffering and dying Jesus must inflict on our bodies, hearts, minds, souls, before resurrection and transformation can take place. Mortally ill transplant patients: that’s what we all are…
Jus hearing Jesus’ laconic “I preach in parables so they won’t get me” shows how wrong the whole missional-proselytizing “Christianity as information you have to grasp and apply to transform your life and that of others” really is. Total bosh. No bueno.
Oh, BTW: one other Greek point. In the parable, Jesus never says “seeds” are sown. He doesn’t name what is sown, just says “some fell on rocky soil, some on shallow,” etc. The ESV is adding the word “seed” because they cannot conceive it is anything but mere information. Jesus names what is sown as the λογον, the word which he is, and names himself only in the interpretation, not in the parable told the crowds, lest they recognize a heart transplant is the “sowing” and run for their lives. 😉
So; did Jesus fool us, a little, about what he’s doing when he sneaks in through our ear by his Gospel, and our heads and mouths by his Sacraments? Maybe, a little bit. But it’s a good kind of fooling Jesus does. “Is it gonna hurt, this heart transplant you’re performing on me, Jesus?” “Well ma’am, it’s not an entirely benign procedure.” 😉
But even the parable, veiled as it it is, is still the word being sown. And even on the stony path, Jesus gets in through the skin, a little, and is rejected, snatched by the devil who appears to the world’s eyes like a benevolent doctor with a vaccine that will inoculate us from the disease of Xnity, forever. 😉
But on the good soil, the word, the Body of Jesus, is transplanted successfully, even though our immune systems rejected with all their might, we have Jesus’ very own heart, now beating forever with a new rhythm, sending us down a new Way…
And everyone gets what they really want, in the End. Those who like their lives as they are, all stony-hearted and self-directed and Disney princess “follow your own heart, just be yourself” and all, get rid of Jesus once and for all. Hell’s the place Jesus lets them hide, making them as minimally miserable as possible…
But for us, with the Body of Jesus transplanted in us by Gospel Word and Sacrament, we’ve got through the pangs of death for Christ’s sake, and have his heart (heaven’s treasure ;-)—peace surpassing all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.