Thursday, January 10, 2013

Don't We Already Know This? (Unpacking Parables)

Several months ago I started writing out the words that Jesus spoke in a notebook. I will admit that I got sidetracked for a bit of time and just recently started again, but isn't it like God to have a purpose in even that? Right before I began writing the parables of Jesus, I read a book called Scouting the Divine (check it out) which brought a deeper revelation to some of the words I was reading and writing down. 

The following is my interpretation...

Matthew 13
New International Version (NIV)

The Scene: On the hillsides of Galilee, hundreds have walked up from the village to hear this man Jesus speak. Much has been mumbled and rumored about him, this new Rabbi with students who failed school the first time. They came wondering if they would see one of his miracles. They came wanting to know how to make religion easier. Perhaps some even came in skepticism and cynacism to disprove him.

They sit, wanting to be close enough to hear his words but far enough away that he won't notice if they dose off. Jesus steps to the front as the late comers stumble up the hill. The disciples assist in getting the children running around to settle in a bit and shussing the bustling conversations.

They are attentive and Jesus begins...

The Parable of the Sower

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “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. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

"Huh???? We all plant things of one nature or another, even if just for our own family."
"Of course we don't plant seed where it won't grow! Why would we waste good seed?"
"Hey Matthew! I've been farming land since before this young man was born. Does he think I'm stupid?"
"I thought he was going to teach us about God. Is this just his common start intro?"

During the mid-morning break after hearing the confusion, the disciples wanna know why too.

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

It's so simple, it's easy to miss.

There is an intersection I stop at just about everyday. There have been a couple times I've pulled out to make a left turn to find a car right there even though I stopped and looked. I realized that I was looking further down the road at what was coming in the distance, but failing to look and pay attention to what was right there in front of me.

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Farmers know their fields and the areas with good soils and bad. They may still plant in the harder areas but use less seed than areas where they know the harvest will be good and healthy.

God alone knows the soil quality of our hearts.

After the break and sidebar with the apostles, who are now listening to Jesus's stories but also watching to see those in the crowd who might beginning to understand these things. Jesus continues with the next story, as everyone eagerly anticipates that now he'll do or say something spectacular.

Jesus continues.

The Parable of the Weeds

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Good wheat results in grain seed that can be stored and used in a mulitude of ways. Sometimes what looks like wheat ends up being just an empty husk. Unfortunately, the farmer cannot tell the difference until it's time to actually harvest the wheat. In order to tell, the farmer must grab, squeeze, and crush the wheat to find out whether there is seed or not.

God alone knows how much time we need until harvest, when we are revealed as fruitful or a false facade.

The woman are starting to get a little bored at this point, all this talk about farming.  But Jesus wasn't about to exclude them. He was ready to draw them in as well.

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

"Yes! Finally something we can relate to. Now maybe we will understand what he is talking about." 

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

 "Huh? Is that all? There must be more explanation than that? We know yeast gets kneaded into the dough, but we don't understand how that relates to this kingdom you are referring to."

Jesus knows that small things, whether seeds, thoughts, or actions can have significant impact for better or worse.

God takes the smallest offerings and they become exceedingly large.

Not wanting to the merchants in the group to feel excluded, Jesus offers them a story too.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

"Yes Jesus, we understand finding a good deal, but selling everything for one item no matter how amazing is crazy. It works better if you just sell the minimum and keep as much for yourself as possible. One pearl might be fine, but it's still only one. Maybe the sun is getting to you, Jesus."

God wants to be our one prized possession.

Of course Jesus wouldn't forget his friends Peter, James, John & Andrew. Speaking the language of the fishermen, he tells them again.  

The Parable of the Net

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"No one wants a distugting, diseased fish. That's just common sense, but the rest of it sounds really harsh, like being chewed up by something terrifying."

God will live with the righteous and leave behind the rotting.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied. (really?)

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

As the people begin to head home they are perplexed by the day. They feel mentally tired, but aren't sure why. It feels like they are missing something. Perhaps one turns to another and says, "That was a waste of a day listening to stories. We already knew everything he told us, it's what we do everyday."

Jesus desperately wanted them to understand and know the Father the way He did, but most of them never would. He spoke to them based on their personal experiences. But, he knew if they couldn't see God in the everyday around them, all the mysteries and miracles wouldn't change their hearts. He taught using what they already knew to help them understand the kindgdom of God now on earth.

God who is perfect in every way created this earth in such an intricate way that everything points back to Him and his kingdom. The Bible tells us that man is without excuse because creation testifies of God's presence, he doesn't just mean the beauty and creativity of it. He means the way plants grow, how fish are caught, how bread is made, and even in business deals. How can we not see the hand of God in everything!

God teaches us about Himself in the everyday things.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Meet the new family addition

Charles Musumba

This 18 year old Kenyan is my new correspondence sponsor child young man. He is one of 5 children in the family. And like every African boy, he enjoys soccer and running. Most of the adults in his community of 30,000 are unemployed. I hope Charles will not be another number added to that statistic.

I am super excited to begin getting to know Charles and what his hopes for the future may be so I can encourage him in them. Because he is older it is more likely his letters will be more detailed and written by him directly.

Personally, I think he looks a little like Wayne Brady and that purple doesn't seem to be his best color :)

If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship visit Compassion Int'l wesite and find your new family member.