Jesus says he speaks in parables so that, “seeing they might not see and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10).
So Jesus says things on purpose that we can’t understand. That’s not really helpful. We can’t see him as God and Savior either, and that’s his fault too. How are we supposed to worship him as God and Savior if he doesn’t want us to see him as God and Savior? What kind of a God doesn’t want us to know he’s God? What kind of a Savior doesn’t want us to know he can save us from sin, death, and the devil?
Well, since we’ve pretty much misunderstood (or misinterpreted) Jesus at every turn, would it really help if he just came right out and said it? For most Christians, a pastor stands in front of them Sunday after Sunday proclaiming that, “Jesus is God. Jesus is your Savior. He forgives all your sins. Rejoice and enjoy the freedom Christ gives you to love and serve your neighbor!” But do we believe the preacher? Will we actually go and love our neighbor in a similar way to how Jesus loves us? Or do we chalk up the pastor’s preachments as one person’s opinion?
“Sure, Jesus is my God and Savior,” we say, “but that other stuff pastor says, I’m not sure I agree. I don’t really like what he has to say about my Jesus; telling me I don’t know Jesus and I don’t understand him. Who does he think he is, telling me how to believe and what to believe? It’s not as if he’s speaking for God.”
This is why Jesus is always thinking up examples that baffle us. Because we just won’t take him at his word. “Jesus is my Savior? Good. But, what kind of a savior do I want? What kind of a God am I willing to worship week after week? Tell me, Magic 8-Ball Jesus, what’s my future?”
But what would happen to our faith in Jesus if he came along and upended all our ideas about him? What if he was mysterious? What if we didn’t correctly understand him? What if we simply couldn’t take him at his word, and more than that, didn’t want to from the start? Then what? Where does that leave us in our relationship with Jesus?
In his story about the sower, for example, Jesus paints a picture of his kingdom that baffles everyone. Jesus’ hearers don’t applaud his parable, they’re frustrated by it. The sower sows the word of God. What does that mean? Does it mean that Jesus plants us like seeds, then we go and bear fruit. Is that the point? Or is the Christian Church the sower? Are we supposed to go around preaching the Gospel, spreading Jesus-seeds everywhere? It’s all very confusing without more explanation, a footnote, or the director’s commentary.
But if we just say to God, “We don’t get it, please explain,” he will. He will send us a preacher to point us to his words for more clarification. The Word of God, according to John’s Gospel, is the same one who was at the beginning with God, and who is, in fact, God. More than that, he is the one by whom all things were made, and he is the one who comes into the world to enlighten everyone, and his name is Jesus. He is the true God; the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and a whole list of other useful things, like bread, light, a door, and the resurrection to eternal life. So if God’s Word is the seed, that means that Jesus is the seed that is sown and his father is the sower. He is planted everywhere in the world without anyone’s help or say-so.
If we just say to God, “We don’t get it, please explain,” he will. He will send us a preacher to point us to his words for more clarification.
So we see that he is the seed, and we hear that he is sown in the world, and do we then believe him? Do we take him at his word, or do we start concocting our own interpretations of the parable? Aren’t we exactly where he says we’ll end up as a consequence of his telling a parable? We see but don’t see, and hear but don’t understand.
And that’s the mystery of Jesus’ kingdom. He’s been here the whole time, but we don’t receive him as God and Savior on his terms. We insist that he conforms to our definitions of what a god is and what a savior does. Because of this, the church has missed the point of Jesus’ parable of the sower for most of her history. That’s why she’s always in a hurry to run out the door and start bringing Jesus to sinners. And why not, there are sinners out there that need saving. And who better to do it than us!
What if instead, we enjoyed the good news that Jesus’ parable about the sower isn’t about us. It’s not about how much fruit we can produce for the kingdom of heaven. It’s about a loving father going out and planting his son in the world so that he can die and by dying he can produce much fruit. Or, if that’s not clear enough, let’s call the fruit what it is in fact: us.
We are the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We sinners have been called and saved by the Holy Spirit. He sends us preachers to proclaim the good news that we don’t get it, we never will get it, and we’re forgiven in Jesus’ name for not getting it. And that way, when we do get it, we won’t take credit. We’ll thank God that he opened our eyes to see and our ears to understand that Jesus is God and Savior for us. He even gives us faith to take him at his word. Then we ask and our question is answered. We knock and he opens the door for us. We seek and “he is a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105).
We are the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We sinners have been called and saved by the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ parable of the sower, we are seeing the fruit of God’s love for us bud and open into full bloom. It may not look like much at first: a few words, a little water, and some bread and wine, but when we look and listen in faith to what Jesus has to say about himself we learn that it’s everything we need for this body and life, and life eternal.
So we are preached to, we are washed, and we are fed these strange gifts that upend all our ideas about God. And we learn that, yes, he is mysterious. We don’t correctly understand him. We can’t take him at his word, and more than that, we haven’t since the start. And where does that leave us?
We are the fruit of the seed that was sown. We are forgiven sinners in full bloom. We are the ones to whom our God and Savior says, “My beloved, in whom delight. Be at peace. All is well. You are forgiven.”