An image of a crwod of people in silhouette to pose the question, Are you part of the crowd?

If I am not a Pharisee, who am I? Matthew 13:1-23

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If I am not a Pharisee, who am I? Last week we thought about being a modern Pharisee, following the ideas of chapter 12. That is, wanting to be spiritually aware and searching for the way to be justified, because I want to be complete in myself. The problem with this route is not that they are bad people but that they seek to justify themselves. In other words, the good works become sin by self-justification.
Jesus’ answer is to challenge us to be honest about our ability to live a life without contradictions and instead to find completeness through the invitation to be God’s family.
Well, if I am not a modern Pharisee, who am I? You’re probably a rebel. Being rebellious is a major theme of chapter 13 and the parable about seeds. How can that be? We’re talking about soil and seeds and I’m putting in the idea of rebellion. What are you saying Andrew?

Last week I spoke to the Pharisee-like people among us and I said I wouldn’t talk to the rest of you who prefer not to worry about integrating your physical and spiritual life. Well now, I’ll talk to you. This parable is addressed to the crowd, people who do not seem to think about life, or reject the idea of the spiritual world, ie the material world is what matters. The people who live each moment instead of analysing it, or do not put the emphasis on the spiritual. It can be passive (I’m not interested, I can’t be bothered) or active (atheism). I’m suggesting that this is an act of rebellion because the only way to develop this kind of life is to deny a greater purpose for it or that we can know what it might be.

Maybe you feel more free than rebellious for having this position of focussing on the material. Well, I grant it to you: feel free The basis is the same: God does not really exist and I will not listen to him.
The interesting thing is to be a Pharisee or to be a rebel, both of them are based my own efforts to shape and control the world. They have a lot in common. Therefore, Jesus does not favour the Pharisees or rebellious people (vv 11-12).

The parable of the sower is well known and very misunderstood. Even putting the title “The parable of the Sower” is a misunderstanding because the words are about us, the soil. We should note that the parable focuses on the soil and its interaction with the seed. It focuses on us and our attitude to what God says. In addition, Jesus tells the parable for a reason, that is to challenge the crowd, and gives the explanation for another reason, that is an encouragement for those who want to get out of the crowd.
Let’s think about the challenge and the encouragement.

Am I in the crowd? The parable is about four reactions to the seed. The soil is the crowd. Jesus challenges you to think carefully as you react to the voice of God, that is, the spiritual reality. Jesus observes three reactions: I reject spiritual reality at once; I explore it, but not much; I explore it, but with little confidence. The results are exactly what Jesus explains: being alone in the world (v 4); being unstable in the world (v 5); being overwhelmed by the world (v 7).
Jesus is wise. Although your life seems stable without listening to him, in the end one of the three alternatives triumphs.

The truth is Jesus speaks the parable as a judgment on the crowd about not listening to him, v 13. Life is a mess simply because you are too selfish to listen. Being part of the crowd is being rebellious.
The alternative: to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God (v 19) In the midst of this judgement, Jesus offers the crowd an alternative, which is to learn to listen (vv 9, 10, 18). It is the way that says I do not have all wisdom but I have found someone who surely knows more than me. I will follow him. Notice how Jesus does not shout at us, nor try to manipulate us with his words. He gives us a story, a parable, a story with meaning. This kingdom does not come by force, nor by witty speech, because this kingdom comes by a king who announces that I am going to die for you. He only calls us to listen.

As Timothy Keller has said, “Listening, listening well, listening deeply and listening with understanding is the main skill of the kingdom of heaven.” And that’s why it’s so difficult. Listening to someone always demands humility. It demands that we shut up and stop making our reality by the script we create for our soul. But, it would mean that we can know the secret of the Kingdom of God (v 11). In the Greek the word ‘secret’ or ‘mystery’ speaks of what was hidden and is now revealed. It is not something we can guess or solve. It does not belong to our own wisdom or abilities to discover it. It is revealed simply by listening.

This simple action changes the parable from a judgment to the way of experiencing the kingdom of God. We are not passive or the only actor in the drama of life. The exchange between soil and seed highlights our participation, vv 11-12. Listening does not mean doing nothing. It is the position of a humble person that results in doing things with God.

Therefore, the word becomes a relief. It helps us to identify three ways that we can stop listening, that impede growth as a disciple of Jesus.

  • v19: If you do not understand (a hard heart). To understand the message about the kingdom, the message has to get into the heart, not just the thoughts. We enter through humility.
  • v20: If you can’t endure (a weak heart). To understand the message about the kingdom, the message has to change our way of thinking about the difficulties of life. I have to grow deeper roots despite the difficulties. I have to learn to listen more intently.
  • v 22: If you can’t focus … (a divided heart). I know what Jesus says but if I follow him, look what I have to give up! The tensions that we face such as sexuality, money, power always play upon us. Am I the same person right now in this room that I am with my family, my neighbours, at work, on the street? I need to understand where my heart is divided. If we do not we will remain unsatisfied; life will disappointing. Why? Because we stand half in half out of from the kingdom of God. The first two soils refuse to fully listen. The third listens but not bear fruit (v 22) because it is not singular in its focus.

If you do not see change in your life, Jesus gives you three reasons for being this way. He wants to help us escape from the lack of growth. Recognise specifically what causes you problems: your heart in a hard, weak or divided, and ask the sower to take them away from you.

How can he do that? It’s difficult to get rid of thorns and rocks in life to make it deeper on your own. So, remember Jesus who took the thorns and carried them on his head and allowed himself to be buried behind a rock, so we can experience the salvation of his kingdom. Jesus cleanses the earth because he is the sower. What type of soil bears fruit? A soil enriched by this truth. What Jesus did for us is the deepest encouragement of what Jesus says. The more you listen to Jesus the more you will recognise that his first word is always, I love you. It is the only fertiliser that enriches the soil so that fruit, one hundred, sixty or thirty grains per seed, is produced. The fruit is produced because the environment of the tree is nutritious. In other words, the process of removing hard, shallow soil, thorns and rocks and enriching the soil with the love of God will bear fruit. The method is to listen.

“Listening, listening well, listening deeply and listening with understanding is the main skill of the kingdom of heaven.”

Image: Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash