By Pastor Julian Harris
A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
Understanding begins with hearing what God is saying. God’s Word is not a crossword puzzle to be filled in or a labyrinth repeat with deadfalls and false turns to be navigated. No, God speaks the Word, not through it, not around it, but with one purpose: to reveal Himself. God is the God of revelation; therefore, His Word is simplicity for the simple
and wisdom for the humble of heart:
Father, who art Lord of heaven and earth, I give thee praise that thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent*, and revealed it to the little children. Be it so, Father, since this finds favour in thy sight…Learn from me; I am gentle and humble of heart.
(Matthew 11:25-26, 29)
Don’t you find the word prudent interesting? I am using the Knox Version of The Holy Bible. Beginning in 1936 and for nine years Msgr. Ronald Arbuthnot Knox translated the Latin Vulgate with a singular purpose: clarity is for the poet and the chimney sweep. How appropriate to the theme of this Bible Speaks. Prudence implies a calculating person, one who is reticent, politic, shrewd, one who has an eye on the future and the consequences that might flow from any current decision or action. Prudence is a cardinal virtue—the ability to look at a concrete situation and know what ought to be done, doing the right or moral thing. In Msgr. Knox’s translation, however, prudent is synonymous with a kind of Christian reservation, avoidance of all danger and self-preservation. Timidity is deadly, of course, to Christianity and its highest virtue—Self-Sacrifice:
The spirit He has bestowed on us is not one that shrinks from danger; it is a spirit of action, of love, and of discipline.
(2 Timothy 1:7-8)
What are we to have ears for, what are we to hear and understand from the so-called Parable of the Sower?
The Parable itself is an act of judgment upon a people of calloused heart. They have heard it before, just like every Christian has heard the parable and the sermon on the sower. They are spiritually dull, insensitive and actually quite resistant (even hostile) to God’s Word. The consequence of such behavior—then and now—is this: God gives them a word, which they cannot understand. Those with dull ears receive a dull word the make them even duller:
If I talk to them in parables, it is because, though they have eyes, they cannot see, and though they have ears, they cannot hear or understand. Indeed, in them the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled, You will listen and listen, but for you there is no understanding; you will watch and watch, but for you there is no perceiving. The heart of this people has become dull, their ears are slow to listen, and they keep their eyes shut.
In other words, if you won’t hear a clear word, see what you can do with a confused one.
After His baptism and John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of God’s Kingdom:
The appointed time has come, He said, and the kingdom of God is near at hand; repent, and believe the Gospel.
Now we see Him preaching the Gospel in the form of mysterious parables (the Kingdom parables) about weeds and wheat, mustard seeds, a hidden treasure in the field, a fishnet, the unmerciful servant, and others. Even His Apostles and disciples were unable to understand the meaning of these strange riddles. The crowds had failed to act on a clear word from God and so now all they got was a clouded word. The kingdom parables serve as God's judgment upon a people who have failed to receive His word of grace.
The seriousness with which God treats His Word—The Bibles Name for Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, God’s creative power and the Divine Revelation, The Holy Bible itself—impacts upon the way we handle it when it comes to both instruction and evangelism. Good Biblical preaching is rarely appreciated today and for this reason a congregation can grow dull of hearing. Just as we get the politicians we deserve (we elect them after all), so we often get the preachers we deserve. Protestant congregations call their own preachers and employ them based on training, temperament and guest sermons. And they are on perpetual probation to please the congregation with his or her words. Catholic congregations are sent priests (or saddled with them, as the case may be) but their presence may well be overwhelmed by complaints to his bishop and his ministry reduced to endurance. When a congregation fails to hear and respond to faithful expository preaching then it is liable to get waffle. Sure, it may be really interesting waffle: topical sermons, life-changing sermon series that relate to people's work, family life, self-esteem, God’s finances or sermons that scratch where it itches, the fruit of fanciful imaginations. Beware!
God commissions Priests and preachers of the Gospel to communicate the clear the message of God's grace in Christ Jesus to the community at large. Having done this, there is no need to rework strategies or refine methods.
He must proclaim and allow the Lord to bless.
Jesus reminds His disciples and us how fortunate we are to share in God's clear revelation:
Blessed are your eyes, for they have sight; blessed are your ears, for they have hearing. And, believe Me, there have been many prophets and just men who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it. (Matthew 13:16-17)
We want to experience and express the full counsel of God; we desire to hear Jesus. Yet, Jesus warned His disciples that those who grow dull in their hearing will end up receiving an unclear word to dull them even further. The same danger faces us, so let us actively listen to His word, praying always for our priests and preachers, that they will
make it clear for both poet and chimney sweep. AMEN.