Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sharecropper Co-opt

Matthew 13:1-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. (2) And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. (3) And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. (4) And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. (5) Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, (6) but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. (7) Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. (8) Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (9) He who has ears, let him hear.” (10) Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" (11) And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (12) For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (13) This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (14) Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: "'You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. (15) For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.' (16) But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. (17) For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (18) Hear then the parable of the sower: (19) When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (20) As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, (21) yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (22) As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (23) As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

When many Christians read this parable, they become convicted towards uprooting the metaphorical rocks & weeds from their life & so thereby make their soil “good”. They rightly soul search for the things of life that deter the seed from taking firm root & growing towards full blossoming maturity. Whether it is inordinate pursuit of worldly gain, worldly relationships, or simply a big screen television with every imaginable feature except an off button, many things indeed seem to conspire against our maturity in Christ; Christians prove themselves both fervent & prudent in ferreting out such hindrances towards the hundred, sixty, or thirtyfold yield that is the Landowner’s due.

But taking the Word of God not in part, but as a whole, we also know that:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14, Isa. 64, Rom. 3)

Knowing this fact in addition to the parable, the fact that we cannot make our soil essentially “good” in any way at all, we face a compelling quandary- How do we get the seed to sprout to maturity if all our spiritually agronominous exertion fails in making good soil?

Quite simply, through faith- in a Farmer far greater than us.

Take note of two things in the context of this parable; firstly, the nine verses (9-17) between the simple telling of the parable & His further elucidation wherein Christ implores the disciples to accept that they have been given something special from above, apart from themselves- ears to hear, & eyes to see. This gift, like any gift, is not accounted to the recipient’s deserving, but to the giver’s generosity. So we see implied therein the soil is good not through human effort, but through God’s desire.

Secondly, recognize that Jesus does not speak of the good soil evolving into that state, as would be the case if it were being improved by the application of our agronominous exertion, but that it already was in the condition of being good soil at the time of the sowing. Its goodness was not post requisite, but prerequisite to the time of planting.

That soil was good before the seed was ever sown because the good soil is not you, but Christ within you!

Jesus has this to say in the context of Mark’s testimony of the sower’s parable…

Mark 4:26-29 And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. (27) He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. (representing man’s ignorance & passivity in regards growing the seed) (28) The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. (representing God’s ability & activity in growing the spiritual seed) (29) But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

Therefore understand, this passage is not leading you to labor as a farmer in the field of your soul, but instead rejoice that the essential labor is already accomplished! Rejoice exceedingly that God has worked over the soil of your soul so that it could receive Christ & produce a bountiful crop, for this gift is not universal among mankind. As Jesus told His disciples in the context of telling this parable, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” Are you really so bold that you would think those “blessed eyes & ears” are instruments of your own creation? No, such good soil comes from God, & is intended to readily receive the seed & produce a bountiful harvest.

In Philippians 4:3, Paul recognizes his & others’ labors in Christ, but he immediately follows this recognition of human effort with the following revelation- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Why is this? Because he knows that his efforts are possible only because of Christ’s good soil already extant within him, even before the Damascus road experience, to empower him with ears to hear at the right time. Paul’s work, tremendous as it was, was nothing more than an outgrowth of the primordial work of Christ, already accomplished before Paul had done anything good at all.

So what else do we do in the midst of all this rejoicing in Christ? Get plugged in & allow God to continue working in your field. Even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto. Yeah, you’re right, that pastor, counselor, or Sunday School teacher is not God; but God will work your field through them (& others) if you’re plugged in to their ministry...

1 Corinthians 3:5-11 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (8) He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. (9) For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. (10) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, (18) yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. -

As long as you’re plugged in to His work, you are a “fellow worker”, so don’t worry so much about the harvest; because, after all, ultimately it’s His seed, His soil, His field, His laborers at work in that field, all culminating in His harvest. A bit of an enigmatic epiphany found within 1Cor. 6:19-20 makes it clear that we are mere sharecroppers even in our own field (“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price”). So God bands us together in Christ to form a co-opt of sharecroppers- many individuals, banded together in a common work, each working in others’ fields, each gaining through others’ labors in their own field, but at the same time, none of them truly owns any fields. There is but one Landowner, and ultimately, all the harvest is due Him to re-distribute as He pleases since it’s all founded upon His soil, seed, & labor.

Romans 11 is yet another passage with God as a spiritual Farmer carefully tending His olive tree to produce His fruit, & how does Paul close this discussion? Read for yourself-

Romans 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

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