The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, #34

Luke 13:6-9

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

There must be a dozen of ways to look at this one. Here’s one you probably haven’t heard of yet—I think that it’s really about intercession. The worker wants another year and is willing to make things happen to save this precious tree. He’s even intending to put in even more sweat and blisters, just to bring the tree back to life. He seems to be a diligent chap, and will make a special effort to “git-er-done.”

He intercedes for this tree and will give it an extra boost. The sun is hot, and it really might be easier to knock off earlier, grab a cold one and take it easy. But that’s not his way.

The vineyard guy wants to give the tree a second chance.

Isn’t that a lot like our heavenly father? He deals with us patiently. He will do whatever is needed for the tree to grow. I believe that this parable deals specifically with the ministry of a patient intercession.

“You should accordingly exercise your mind to remember your friends, relatives, and fellow workers to determine if they are in need. As you remember each one so shall you, in turn, intercede for them. If in interceding on their behalf your spirit remains cold and dry, then you know you are not to pray for them.”

   Watchman Nee

Art by Eugène Burnan

The Story of the Wicked Tenants, #27

Matthew 21:33-41

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. 34 When the time came to harvest fruit, he sent his servants to the farmers to collect his fruit. 35 The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again, he sent other servants, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

41 “He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his fruit at the harvest.”

Great care had gone into this venture. The owner determined that money could be made if it was done right. He made a proper vineyard, complete with everything that might make it a success, yes, he made a risk, but it seemed to be a good investment. He had hired workers—laborers and foremen to tend and harvest the grapes.

There is envy here.

The harvest was exceptionally good it seems. The men he hired were amazed when the shekels started to pour in. Perhaps they determined that if they seized the vineyard, and make it theirs, they could possess the profits for their own. They made the decision to hijack the entire operation.

The owner sent stewards to collect the money that was earned. It seems that the workers determined not only to own the field, but deny the yearly profits, When the stewards showed up to collect, the workers attacked them. The tenants violently reacted. They severely beat one, and murdered the other. The workers were committed now, and we see how serious their rebellion was.

The owner kept sending men to collect, and it seems like these tenants kept up their resistance. The owner was baffled, and he came to a decision to send his own son. He felt that this would show his seriousness over this sort of resistance. But it didn’t work. The tenants reasoned that if they murdered the son they could finally take absolute control.

The parable was clear. Judaism had been hijacked by the leaders of the people.

They were resisting God’s work and declared the entire religious system as their own. They committed themselves to taking control of all that the owner had done. The story was obvious to all who heard. The Jews were actually taking ownership of the field—to the point they would murder Jesus.

The end result was total judgement by God. He would destroy these men who were resisting him. He would transfer the entire kingdom to men who understood the true purpose of the vineyard. Judgement was coming; and it would be both fair and just. God had been more than patient.

God requires that we transfer the glory over to him. We’re the “new” workers, and the Church is now the vineyard we toil in. The world has become our field (but not ours—God’s). We dare not get confused, we must watch our own hearts. Any blessing or glory should go to God. We must work knowing deep down that all our efforts, and the harvest, belong to him.

We dare not forget this. It is critical.

Art by Eugène Burnand

The Parable of the Growing Seed, #21

Mark 4:26-29

 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” 

“The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

From a seed to a plant. We have no idea how this happens, it just does. This is a “kingdom” parable, one of several that explain what God’s realm is, and how it happens. In this particular story, we’re told how the Holy Spirit works. It also explains our role in this (which isn’t a whole lot).

The farmer puts the seed in the ground—and that’s it. He’s done his work, there’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t do anything else from this point, and honestly he can’t. And yet the soil needs to be prepared—plowed, fertilized and tilled again. You might say he creates the conditions (that’s what makes a good farmer, I guess) for something to happen.

He doesn’t massage the seed, coaxing it to grow. He doesn’t sing to it, or tell it about the wonders of being lush and green. He does zero. The seed grows on its own. He goes to bed, and gets up. After several days, bingo! That seed turns into a plant—something green and alive. He doesn’t do a thing. Life occurs without his work.

The point is this. God’s work is done invisibly within us (and that’s a relief)!

“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

Robertson’s Commentary

God’s kingdom works pretty much like this. The farmer doesn’t cause the seed growth, all he does is go to bed! He sleeps and waits and watches. It grows and he hasn’t the slightest. It’s a complete mystery. He has done everything he can, and God has done the rest. He “shares” in this amazing transformation, but the father has done it all.

We trust in a process we cannot see, or really understand.

We don’t dig the seed up every morning to see what’s happening. We just let the (super)natural happen. And it does!

The farmer has faith in the process (after all, he did plant the seed), but that’s it. There’s a verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 the should be considered. It gives us confidence and a definite trust in this process of growth. The Apostle Paul understands this “principle of growth.”

“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing.”

We must trust God completely to grow. We’re responsible for tilling and planting. But you need to understand what happens after that is up to him. The kingdom of God is supernatural. It’s exactly how the kingdom happens—and we must be patient and wise.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold Glascow

The Vineyard Workers, #19

Matthew 20:1-16, CSB

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard for the day. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and about three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The market place in a first century Jewish community was also the hiring office. Land owners who need laborers would come there early in the morning to get day laborers. If you needed a job that’s where you went. Typically, you brought the tools, and waited until you were hired for the day’s work. The standard pay was a denarius a day.

Agriculture was always an irregular business.

There were times when no workers were necessary, and then there were times (harvest) when you couldn’t have enough. Grapes were the biggest crop, and vineyards needed to be cultivated, but that took only a few; and probably more skilled men.

The weather was always an issue, harvest time and the rainy season happened pretty much at the same time. The trick was to get the harvest in as soon as possible. It was always a race against time, rains could come at any moment, and if they came too early, the entire crop would be lost. That’s why even a worker who only worked just an hour was welcomed.

The workday was divided up into four 3 hour increments: 6–9–12–3–6.

After the 6 am group was hired, the landowner made four other visits to the marketplace. Laborers were needed in the worst way—he would take anyone, even if only for an hour. Things were critical, and every worker made a difference. With each group, he told them that their wages would be appropriate. This was his agreement with them. “I’ll give you whatever is right.’”

When the day was done, a table was set up; the day laborers stood in line, the men who were hired last went first. They received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work! The one-hour guys couldn’t believe it. This was generosity in the extreme. They were elated.

Word quickly spread down the line.

The men who worked the hardest—(they were the dirtiest and sweatiest), just knew that they were going to get even more than they ever expected. They were already figuring out in their heads what their adjusted wages were going to be. “If the landowner was forking out a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work, we’re going to get far more.”

Surprise!

It’s not going to happen. Everyone down the line gets one denarius. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or how long, or how many blisters you got. Everyone gets the same! That dear one didn’t seem right or fair. The Greek word used here is γογγύζω, we translate it as “grumble, muttering or angry whispering. To be extremely discontent.” They were offended. Plain and simple.

The guys who worked all day complained. It wasn’t right. They confronted their employer, “how could you do this to us?” They were angry. What the landowner did, in their minds, was wrong—how could he “reward” those who barely broke a sweat. “You made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.”

Verse 16 smashes our conceptions of law and grace.

The law tells us that we get what we deserve. That seems logical; everyone receives what is reasonable. We like the logic of it. But grace doesn’t work that way. Law is man’s perspective; grace is God’s. We don’t understand it, it doesn’t compute. We “get” the law, it’s an automatic; it makes sense to us—grace on the other hand is foolish. “Who in the world gives out salvation to those nasty, evil people?”

God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.

The landowner isn’t unfair to anyone—true, he’s more generous to some, but he’s not wrong or unreasonable to anyone. We read this in verse 13. He has been completely appropriate. He paid what he said he would. Grace is totally foreign to us, we find it offensive. We can’t understand it—we come to God complaining about the grace he lavishes on junkies and homosexuals.

I shudder to think that I’ve accused him of being too merciful, too gracious to some others. The reality is that we deserve nothing. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be here, we’d all be damned to hell. But he is good to all of us. And really, in the final analysis, what does it matter if we’re the first or the last? I should be thrilled that someone else is blessed by a grace that they never deserved.

I get it mixed up sometimes, and I don’t really understand all of it.

Art by Eugène Burnand

An Unworthy Servant, #14

Luke 17:7-10

“Which one of you having a servant tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’?” 

“Does he thank that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.’”

“The will of God for your life is simply that you submit yourself to Him each day and say, “Father, Your will for today is mine. Your pleasure for today is mine. Your work for today is mine. I trust You to be God. You lead me today and I will follow.”

    Kay Arthur

Really now. What little we give determines so much, since we owe him so much. The service that we can give to our master is just a small repayment for everything. Settle that now and God will use you.

Question: Is the master unfair? Does he lord his authority over the servant–taking advantage of him? Every time I read this passage, questions like this always comes up.

#1, the Holy Spirit really hasn’t taught me yet. That’s very possible. Until he does, the parable isn’t truly understood.

#2, I’m a product of my country, no such things like slaves, we’re a democracy. Equal rights and all that jazz.

#3, It’s purposefully constructed to create issues in my mind and heart. Something that “irritates” me–but in a good way.

And maybe they’re all true. But no matter how I “squeeze” out this parable, I always hit this spiritual speed bump. But I like it, and I love reading it, no matter what it does to me.

We owe everything to him. Plain and simple.

Jesus wants to be my master. I’m his servant (at least I really want to be). Reading this parable puts this idea into a real perspective. I do like this verse, 1 Corinthians 6:20, in the CEV:

“God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.”

A transaction has been made for your soul. God has intervened, and he’s given you salvation. We have a life now that will give us life, eternally. Since he is our master, we can no longer direct our own lives. Like the “unworthy servant” in verse 10, we now walk forgiven and very much redeemed. And we owe it all to him, he’s our savior and our master.

“The question in salvation is not whether Jesus is Lord, but whether we are submissive to His lordship.”

   John MacArthur

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Art by Eugène Burnand

Getting Rich, #5

Treasure!

Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

From rags to riches. We like that kind of story, the newspaper boy turned into a publisher, C.E.O. This parable, only a single verse is almost the same thing. A poor man is walking through a field and viola! He finds a treasure chest, and it’s packed full of golden coins, diamonds, and emeralds.

He looks around, and seeing no one, he re-buries it. (After all, when you accidentally discover a treasure chest, you must take certain precautions.)

A key I suppose–the word “joy.”

And that really isn’t something we really know–unless something wonderful happens to us of course. He has joy, he can’t believe it. I think he was a bit dazed by it all, and he must of walked in an unreal sort of bubble. After all, these things never really happen.

It’s sort of like finding you’ve got the winning numbers of the Lottery, and you just won $10,000,00!

It’s this kind of unreal “luck” that this guy knows what he must do. Now the owner of the field owns everything, including the chest. The finder realizes he can’t just sneak the chest off to his home–there would be too many questions. (Where did a poor guy like you get a gold coin?) His neighbors would figure it out. And besides, he would be a thief. There has to be a better way.

Suddenly he has an idea. If he sells everything he has, he probably could buy that field. And then everything that was there would be rightfully his. Selling all isn’t a problem, he knows that whatever he gives up is nothing close to the treasure in the field.

The listener (them), and the reader (us), should understand two things about the treasure that can be found by “poor” men:

  • It’s about the Bible–the promises in the scriptures are often compared to wealth, at least the spiritual kind. Psalm 119 describes finding treasure in God’s Word. What he speaks is valuable, very much so. There are hundreds of verses that bear this out, Here’s one: “Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72).
  • It’s about Jesus–the Bible is constantly aware of him, and his presence is seen in every chapter and book. He’s the treasure we find, knowing him, is the most valuable thing a person can ever have (by far). “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).

To be his disciple means we give everything else up. We sell it all to get spiritual riches. There’s a field that we find that is worth everything, and the only way we can have the treasure is by giving up everything. There really isn’t any other way.

“You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:21, (context vv. 17-33)

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Those Sneaky Weeds, #2

Can You See the Difference?

Matthew 13:24-30

He presented another parable to them: 

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’”

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he told them.”

“‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ the servants asked him.”

29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’”

Jesus is still sitting in the fishing boat. And he’s still spinning his stories that are true–they’re revealing what God’s rule is like in a human heart, the Church, and the world. If we want to, we can imagine sitting on the shore, just watching and hearing him teach us. Wouldn’t that be great!

This parable is sort of funny in a way.

A man has finished sowing seed, and that night and someone (the passage calls him an enemy) sneaks in and starts spreading bad seed on top of the good. Why he did this is a bit of a mystery? Most likely there was some kind of an issue–bad blood I guess.

The seed the enemy used was known as “bastard wheat.”

The King James uses the word “tares” which is probably a kinder word. It looked like the regular stuff in every way, except it didn’t develop a head, it never produced any grain. All it did is rob the soil. It had no value to anyone, it was worse than worthless.

It was at that point that the foreman informs the landowner of the situation. He comes to him with questions (they seem thoughtful, and perhaps he’s just thinking out loud.) The landowner knows good seed was used, and this bastard wheat must’ve been sown by someone else.

An enemy did this,” was the only possibility they came up with. The servant wonders what needs to be done. The logical thing is to walk through the field and pull out the weeds. To him, that was the only reasonable option they had.

But the landowner decides to do nothing, he simply would wait and let them grow up together. He would be patient. But there will be a harvest, and at that time there will need to be a sorting process. It’s then that the reapers will pull out all the bad, collect them in bunches, and have a big bonfire.

The good wheat, the ones with a head, will be collected and stored.

It’s the “wait and see” perspective that interests me. The landowner isn’t losing any sleep over this–the enemy may have done evil against him, but it really isn’t an issue. He knows that, in the end, things will work out. He responds appropriately to a situation that others in his place wouldn’t have done.

The final harvest would mean separation of the tares from the wheat–the real from the false.

In a real way, this parable explains the conclusion of the Kingdom. When it’s all said and done, those who haven’t produced will not go with those who have. A fire awaits at the end. I think you can figure out what that means.

It seems that the servants are the ones who see the difference, they see the authentic grow up with the false, and all they can do is wait and watch. But believe you me, the harvest will certainly come. It’s critical that we be those who bear fruit.

“The amount of time we spend with Jesus – meditating on His Word and His majesty, seeking His face – establishes our fruitfulness in the kingdom.”

    Charles Stanley

A Story About Seed, #1

Van Gogh (obviously)

Luke 13:3-9 (context 13:3-23)

Then he told them many things in parables, saying, “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. 

Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown. Let anyone who has ears listen.”

Luke 3:3-9 (context 13:3-23)

Jesus loved to tell stories. Each of them was jam-packed with truth, and the people loved them. In verse 2, we see the popularity of Jesus–just imagine a preacher doing this today. The people were entranced by our Lord Jesus. They followed him throughout his earthly ministry.

If you were his disciple, you had better get used to crowds.

This parable, believed to be one of his first, begins with the word, “Consider,” and really, isn’t that the needed quality one must have? In the original, it simply means “to see.” But it’s also in the imperative–a command. Seeing isn’t really an option–may be a good word today would be, “Look!” (And using an exclamation mark.)

This is all about receptivity to the Kingdom of God. It concerns seed that is sown indiscriminately–the sower isn’t assessing the ground conditions. He just throw the seed. That’s his job, and he seems to do a bang-up job of it. He “broadcasts” the seed, reaching in his bag and spreading it evenly, and quickly.

In some places the ground had been packed down, things were too hard. Others landed on soil, but it was only a skim of dirt, which wasn’t enough to support any growth.. And yet the third scattering made it to into the thorns. So there was three different possibilities, which none were ideal.

But there was a fourth.

Seed that landed right where it should–good soil, fertile, tilled, and ready. The first three were all wrong, but the parable isn’t given to find fault–no one was to blame. And certainly not the sower, he was merely doing what was necessary.

The parable is meant to explain how the Kingdom enters our hearts. Our lives are the soil, and we all react to the seed differently. Sometimes, there’s no response at all, and “birds” get their breakfast. Sometimes, it’s all rocky, and nothing can grow there. Some tried to grow, but thorns and thistles essentially got in the way.

There are always four responses to the words of Jesus.

There was a lot of people sitting on the beach, and all were listening. But Jesus knew deep down that his words would only touch 1 out of 4, and yet he kept sowing. He hoped for good soil, but that wasn’t a given.

In verses 18-23, Jesus had to explain this story to his disciples, who always did seem out-of-touch with these sorts of things. But I’m glad he did–Jesus, by interpreting this parable, gave us the keys that would unlock every one of his others.

Jesus was never mystical or otherworldly, he didn’t cloak his words in imponderable mysteries like every other teacher longs to do. (Ego, mainly.) He didn’t want things to be an enigma, rather he wanted people to understand the ways and nature of God’s kingdom.

He wanted even the little children to get it–there were to be no secrets, only receptive hearts.

“The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.”

     Augustine