July 23, 2017
This week we continue our journey through parables. Last week Amber’s contrasts helped us understand parables by describing what they are not. She also helped us see that they are not something that’s tidy; that we solve or interpret in neat and clean ways.
We can see that parables are stories with meaning and that they often reveal or illustrate the kingdom of God.
A big take away from last week is that God is extravagant toward us. The parable of the sower was illustrating God’s generosity as seed was generously scattered on all on kinds of soil without discrimination.
Today our parable begins: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.”
Last week in our parable – one seed. This week – 2 seeds: good seed and seed sown by an enemy. This week there is more than one sower – there is an enemy sowing weeds in a field of wheat.
This is intentional…this enemy is not secret, but strategic. The Greek more tangibly communicates that the seed the enemy sows is almost indistinguishable from the seed of the wheat – they are not differentiated until they bear fruit. Additionally, the word for asleep here in the Greek has a few directions of meaning. One of them is that of indifference or laziness, which would perhaps get our attention more. It would be something like this: but while everybody was indifferent or lazy an enemy came and sowed seed…
This could be taken to be describing kinds of people – one good seed, another of bad seed. Or it could be taken as describing seed in our lives personally. That in my life, in your life, we all have more than one seed. Not only do we have more than one seed, but as it grows and bears fruit, it is intertwined, one with the other. Jesus gives instruction through the parable that shows how deeply these seeds grow together in our lives: “The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ (the weeds among the wheat) But he replied ‘no; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.’” The fruit of the seeds – wheat and weeds – are intertwined throughout the fabric of our lives.
One of the consistent characteristics we find in parables is that there is a juxtaposition of two unlike things, that on the surface often they seem nonsensical – The kingdom of God may be compared to…here we have 2 sowers, the fruit of 2 seeds. Both sowers intentional and the fruit of the seeds intertwined.
What do we see about the Kingdom?
We see that there is more than one – 2 sowers, 2 kingdoms. We also see the leader or sower of one of the kingdoms is an enemy.
To understand how to respond to 2 kinds of seeds and their fruit in our lives, we need to take some time to build our paradigm of the kingdom of God. (which really warrants much much more time that we can take right now – but let’s try to lay some groundwork for thought)
It helps to think about time and the history of God’s people and their thoughts on the kingdom of God being manifested.
In the Old Testament, the people of God thought about time as “this age” and looked forward to the “age to come” when the Messiah would show up on the scene. Then as Jesus walked the earth, one of the things he quickly said as he started his ministry was: “the kingdom of God (or heaven) is at hand/has come near.” (Mark 1:14). God’s rule and reign were beginning to show more and more through Christ: he preached, taught, healed, delivered, restored. The Kingdom of God.
George Eldon Ladd coined a phrase to describe this: “the now and the not yet” – God’s kingdom; his dominion/rule/reign are showing and growing now, but will not be fully realized until Christ’s return. Other theologians, call this “realized eschatology” or “inaugural eschatology.” Philosopher, Dallas Willard, simply defines the Kingdom of God as the range of God’s effective will. Here and now limited, but upon Christ’s return, fully realized.
The Lord’s prayer frames this reality:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name,
THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN – there is an effective range of God’s will happening – in heaven fully. Here – with limitation.
The prayer also acknowledges that we have more than one seed at work in our lives:
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD
FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, THE POWER AND THE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER.
Language of dependence, with awareness of need and awareness of more than one kingdom.
The prayer expresses a vision of the kingdom, and a need for intentionality and meaningful response.
We participate in the NOW of the Kingdom…or maybe we don’t…
All this kingdom language is a little hard for us in our contemporary American context to really track with. So, on top of help from theologians and philosophers. We need some fiction to round this out…we need the Game of Thrones. Kings and kingdoms. The saga Game of Thrones, now a hit HBO series (season 7 has just started), helps us get an idea of what a kingdom means, and what it means when there’s more than one in charge in a region.
Queen Cersei (a recent development on the show that she’s become a queen) in her crazy, scheming, violent approach to life and leadership, described how more than one kingdom plays out for people: “When you play the game of thrones,” she says early in book one, “you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” There is no middle ground.
In the story of the Game of Thrones, seven kingdoms are vying for leadership over all people. It is the game of thrones. It is violent, it is marked by allegiance, belonging, privileges of loyalty, and cost for betrayal. For them, and for us, as people of a Kingdom, there are demands. If we think through this fictional lens, it’s almost like we’re saying choose whose flag you’re going to carry so we know who you’re committed and loyal to.
We glean the urgency of Kingdoms. And Kingdoms in conflict…and may appreciate, as we hear about the seeds this morning, that there is no middle ground.
We are a people of a Kingdom and live amid kingdoms in conflict now. God is sowing seed and an enemy is sowing seed.
We must be aware of our context, and live a vision of the “now and not yet”
The Psalm appointed for the day provides a spring board for our living in the midst of differing kinds of seeds in our lives:
“Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my restless thoughts.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me
And lead me in the way that is everlasting.”