4. February 2024
When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables.”
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Last week, you heard how the kingdom of God is the same as the master who hires workers for his vineyard but quite absurdly pays them all the same day’s wage, the denarius. Such a story is an illustration using patterns of our reality to teach a higher truth. It isn’t simply a fictitious narrative conveying some religious or moral lesson. Christ Jesus is giving us the reality of heaven in terms of the earthly.
It is outrageous or absurd because the earthly is fundamentally a distorted version of the heavenly. We live under a benevolent Father and His Son, the loving King, also given to live, move, and have our being by His Spirit. But because of the lies of the deceiving spirit, which led to the corruption of sin within us and upon all the world, our fathers do not always provide, our kings are not loving, and our spirit is hell-bent on death and destruction. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, after all.
That’s why we can’t imagine a world so good as everyone getting the same forgiveness, life, and salvation despite and even contrary to their efforts, strength of faith, or merit. But that is precisely the higher reality Jesus gives us to see in His Word and live by faith in His Church. And if you’ll get out of the way, that same crazy good world He reveals in the Scriptures is already yours in every other part of your life. You can go around forgiving people their sins left and right and confessing Christ to those who would hear it or hear it not.
What this does not mean, however, is that all the things earthly can be lived as the things spiritual. Our physical lives are still under the curse until the day of the resurrection. We still have to work hard to provide for ourselves and our families. Our world is governed and disciplined by those whom God has given to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right. We have to live temperate, moderate, and reasonable lives. As we heard last week, our hiring and pay practices cannot be in this life as the master and his foreman with the vineyard workers. That’s a gross confusion of the comparison Jesus gave.
The Apostle Paul had to remind Christians in those churches he had a part in planting to work and be attentive to their physical needs. I’ll spare you the long list of quotations from the Proverbs, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels, and Epistles. While we believe God can and does work miracles among us in earthly things, we are called to be stewards of what God has given us, not what we hope He will give.
But here’s one example, as St. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess 3:6-15).
In the same way, the Parable of Sower is not about seed-planting practices. Jesus isn’t telling you how to sow this spring to get the maximum harvest. Nor is He telling you to sow absurdly everywhere and just pray for that hundred-fold harvest. That’s as idiotic as those heretical teachers who tell you fervent prayer will make you wealthy, healthy, and prosperous. I’m guessing some of you have tried it and how it worked out. Ah, but maybe you didn’t pray hard enough or had too many doubts? Or maybe Jesus never promised that? Nor has anything Jesus says today or elsewhere permitted you to be lazy, idle, wasteful, reckless, or indebted.
As we heard last week, so again, we hear this week. Jesus is using earthly contexts, terms, characters, and situations that we know to teach about what we cannot possibly know apart from His revelation and faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Seeds, sowing, and soil are narrative devices Jesus uses to teach the higher truth and reveal the reality of His kingdom. We need faith worked by the Word to see, know, and comprehend what Jesus is saying. As He says elsewhere, “seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear.”
In particular, He is giving you to see that the work of His kingdom given to us in the church is exercised by the office of the Holy Ministry and every Christian as an officeholder in the priesthood of the faithful. We are called to preach, instruct, and apply God’s Holy Word, written for our use in the codex of the books of the Bible. Like Jesus, we are given to speak God’s Word in truth and love to everyone with no thought of what we think it’s going to quote-unquote “work” or whether they’ll like it, receive it, or believe it.
Unlike all our earthly work, the spiritual task we’re given as Christians has a word of promise: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). When it comes to your holy calling as Christians to forgive, preach, and teach, Jesus promises to accomplish faith when and where He wills it.
And to this heavenly work to deliver a good conscience, trust, and eternal salvation, Jesus adds many more words of promise. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3). “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).
And particular to our life here in this congregation to deliver the goods of Jesus to all: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin