In our readings today, we have a paradox. God’s Word is all-powerful and yet can be resisted. These truths seem to contradict one another. If God’s Word is all-powerful, then it cannot be resisted. If God’s Word can be resisted, then it is not all-powerful. Yet, our readings this morning call us as Christians to believe in a paradox: God’s Word is all-powerful and can be resisted.
When you hear the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, you see how God’s Word is all-powerful. Using natural imagery, Isaiah proclaims God accomplishes what God wants through His Word. “For as the rain and snow come down from Heaven and do not return there but water the earth… so shall my Word be… it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isaiah 55:10-11). God’s Word is all-powerful, and God accomplishes what He desires with it.
Yet, in the gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the sower and teaches His disciples that God’s all-powerful Word can be resisted. The sower goes out to sow and some of the seeds are snatched away, some are scorched, and some are choked. Only a portion of the seed produces grain.
When you hold these two readings together, you encounter a paradox of faith. God speaks an all-powerful word that can be resisted. This is an important paradox for us to meditate on because it helps us make sense of the tension we see in the ministry of Jesus, both in the gospel of Matthew and in our lives today.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has begun to encounter opposition to His teaching and miracles. Earlier, Jesus spoke and disciples followed (4:18-25). Now, however, He is beginning to encounter resistance. Pharisees challenge His miracles and question His teachings (12:2, 10, and 24). Earthly rulers oppose the Kingdom (11:2). Jesus warns His disciples of future opposition (10:16-25) and denounces the cities who reject Him (11:20-24). Yet, amid demonic forces, earthly powers, and religious leaders who resist His teaching, Jesus continues in God’s mission.
So, this paradox Jesus offers His disciples, that God has an all-powerful Word which can be resisted, is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a spiritual reality. They have seen the Word of God cast out demons, still storms, and heal withered hands, but they have also seen the powers of government, religious institutions, and indeed the Devil himself oppose such work. How are they to respond? In this parable, Jesus offers an encouraging word: God’s Word works, even in the face of opposition. God’s Word can and will bear fruit.
God’s Word works, even in the face of opposition. God’s Word can and will bear fruit.
Such words are powerful for us today. Christianity no longer has the status it once had in our cultural setting. While some might remember the good God has done through the church, others attack our beliefs as destructive of a common, public life. Whether it be accusations that Christianity has been used to subjugate women, to silence science, to foster racism, to fuel homophobia, or that is has been used to cultivate self-loathing and a lack of initiative through calls for repentance and humility, news-feeds and Facebook posts resist the words and works of Jesus.
In such a world, it is easy to wonder how long we can go on. Jesus, however, offers us an encouraging word. His parable acknowledges our reality. God’s Word can and will be resisted. We are not missing the right communication techniques, the appropriate public relations programs, or the gifted evangelists and missionaries who will turn everything around. No, we proclaim an all-powerful Word that can be resisted. And we know in our lives, in great detail, the power of such resistance.
But… Jesus reminds us… but God does have an all-powerful Word. Rather than retreat into the safe havens of our congregations, rather than hide our faith from public notice, Jesus encourages us to trust in the Spirit’s work through the Word. Even though this Word can be resisted, it remains all-powerful and will accomplish the growth God desires in His Kingdom.
Rather than retreat into the safe havens of our congregations, rather than hide our faith from public notice, Jesus encourages us to trust in the Spirit’s work through the Word.
Jesus is the Word made flesh, who encountered deadly resistance. He died under the attacks of this world upon God’s Word. But God raised Him from the dead and Jesus sent forth His people proclaiming His Word to reach all nations, bringing the Kingdom of God to the ends of the world.
We cannot control the resistance of people to God’s Word, but we can trust in God’s power and promise to work through His Word.
So, for me, this parable of the sower does not call us to turn our attention inward, to examine our hearts and question, “What kind of soil am I?” No, this parable turns our eyes outward, to the public conflicts of our world. It asks us to look out the windows of our churches and see how the word is being stolen from some by Satan, how it is being scorched among others who begin to follow but fall away, and how it is being choked out by those who would rather have the pleasures of plenty than the poverty of the Kingdom.
But if we continue to look out the windows and see all the suffering and resistance, we will soon see a familiar figure walking on the distant horizon. Jesus, the sower, continuing to walk amid such great opposition, and continuing to speak His Word and do His work, trusting that, even though it is being resisted, this is still God’s all-powerful Word and it brings about His Kingdom, where and when God desires.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.