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 Story of the Itty-Bitty Seed, #3

From a Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

“He put another parable before them, saying, 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew is writing to Jewish readers, so he chooses to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of the kingdom of God. Essentially they’re the same thing, but his readers probably would object to the use of “God.” Matthew wanted to avoid any kind of controversy–he really didn’t want to create issues, he honestly wanted them to understand. A good move.

Is the mustard seed the smallest? Not really, but for the sake of the story it is.

A small seed gets planted, and guess what? It gets bigger than everything else in the garden (“Miracle Grow?) The little seed becomes a big tree. The birds even build their nests in it. (Some have suggested that the birds are satanic, but I think that’s a stretch.)

Small beginnings which grew up even larger than anyone’s expectations. The little seed exploded into this humongous tree. Who would’ve guessed?

That’s the way his kingdom is to grow inside of us and inside the Church.

The kingdom of heaven (or God) erupts into our lives. It grows fast, and it grows big and it doesn’t fool around. It’s just a very small thing, that takes off and it’s enormous. Everything our Father does grow, but only if it’s his doing.

Obedience is necessary, but the Spirit is critical. Growth is packed inside every seed, I don’t really understand it all, but Jesus has this figured out.

“In the future, the mountain with the Lord’s temple will be the highest of all. It will reach above the hills; every nation will rush to it.”

Isaiah 2:2, CEV

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