Sunday, April 17, 2011

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 into 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 his own field; but at the same time, no one 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.

You may ask “Why is all this so important? What does it matter whether the believer understands his salvation to be entirely from God or whether he thinks his redemption originated, even in part, of his own will & goodness? Either way, he is still saved by Christ if he ends up trusting & serving Him, right?” And the answer would be yes, to trust in & serve Christ is the essence of salvation. But the real question should be “What form of service is that latter believer saved towards?” What you save them with, is what you save them towards. Evangelization that does not present Christ as both the Author & Finisher of faith will produce weak worship, for the proselyte thinks that he has had skin in the game, so to speak. He perceives less of Christ & more of himself as author & finisher, producing false pride that inhibits full worship. And make no mistake, the Christian’s first assignment, his first call of duty, if you will, is to worship. Christ said that if no one gave praise to Him, that the stones would instead cry out (Luke 19:40). He taught likewise of the importance of right worship to the woman at the well…

John 4:19-24 The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (20) Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (21) Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. (22) You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. (23) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (24) God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus is speaking of the importance of worshipping God from a right attitude of the heart, as opposed to worshipping Him at a certain location or in a certain manner. He is saying the physical matters not- if the spiritual, the attitude of the heart, is fundamentally wrong…

Luke 7:36-50 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. (37) And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, (38) and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (39) Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (40) And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher." (41) "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. (42) When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (43) Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." (44) Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (45) You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. (46) You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. (47) Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." (48) And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (49) Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" (50) And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

The point of Christ comparing Simon’s treatment of Him with the anonymous woman’s manner was not to indicate her greater sin, but her greater perception of her sin. Scripture informs us that all have sinned, & maybe this woman did have a greater degree of trespass than Simon, but that is not the point. The point of Christ’s comparison is to call on Simon to dwell on his sin & Christ’s glory, enabling him to turn & offer likewise worship. The woman in this story worshipped rightly because she was more cognizant of both her trespass & of Christ’s ability to save her from concordant judgment. She was not in any way looking to herself as salvific, but instead was relying on Christ alone as she poured out true, spiritual worship upon her Savior. Simon clearly had confidence in himself- his lineage & Pharisaic works, while this anonymous woman had no confidence in anything she was or had done. She was relying solely on Christ to save her, in His abundant power, mercy, & grace.

This prototype proselyte worshiped fully as she had nothing but humility & faith feeding her adoring veneration of Christ. It is only when these two are all that propel us to worship is when we are the true worshippers that He seeks. And His closing words to her are most pertinent, for it is only when we worship God thusly, in spirit & truth, that we can truly find peace with Him.

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