Thursday, February 12, 2015

Inviting People Into the Kingdom

The Jewish people at the time of Jesus knew exactly what they wanted in the coming kingdom: full restoration and vindication for Israel, and full vengeance on Gentile enemies. Any king who could pull that off would, of course, be welcomed with open arms. Any king who could not manage it would be undesirable.

            Jesus was most certainly a king, but he had no interest in giving the people the things they most longed for, because his vision was much larger than theirs. Jesus was interested in restoration, but he wanted the entire creation to be the object of that restoration, not just Israel. So he was left in the position of trying to invite people to follow a king and live in a kingdom that did not meet up with either their expectations or demands. The very idea that a king would invite, not command, people to enter his kingdom was itself quite novel. The strategy Jesus used to achieve his goal was nothing short of genius.

           He told this story: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:3-8) Besides reaching the conclusion that Jesus did not know much about good farming techniques, it must have been difficult for the people to catch the meaning of this story. Actually even the disciples of Jesus, once they were away from the crowd, asked him to interpret the parable for them.

            The seed, according to the explanation of Jesus, is the message of the kingdom. It is neither easy to understand nor commit to the kingdom of God. So people who do not understand are like the path – nothing gets through to them and the seed is unable to grow. Some people understand, but do not have a deep commitment to the kingdom, and when trouble arises because of kingdom commitment (which it always does!) they quickly fall away (back to previous commitments). Others understand the kingdom and its demands, but their lives are too full with competing commitments that the kingdom just withers and dies due to lack of full attention (what Jesus called “Seeking first” the kingdom). Some people both understand and commit to living in the kingdom with the result that their lives become very fruitful. The task of Jesus and his disciples (in any generation) is to help people move from being the path, the shallow ground or the thorny ground to being good ground for the seed of the kingdom to sprout and grow.

            Jesus ended his story with this phrase: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:9) Apparently Jesus believed that by paying attention one could change the shape of their heart, mind and understanding. If you want your life to be fruitful and productive for God’s kingdom, the best strategy, according to Jesus, is to use your ears to understand and commit to the kingdom!

- Kenny Payne

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