2012 Sexagesima

Sexagesima Sunday
February 12, 2012
Verses 9&10 of St. Luke 8:4-15
“Being Fruitful or Fruitless?”

Last Sunday, Septuagesima Sunday the conclusion of the gospel included these words: The first shall be last. The question today’s gospel poses for us is: Will the first last? It has to do with being truly fruitful unto the Lord; a calling that will require of us endurance to success-fully finish the course. Hence our question: Will the first last?

The parable is of the Sower and the Seed. Jesus’ audience that day was a cosmopolitan one. It is one made up of many people, described as being representative, that is, ‘out of every city’. The message of Jesus’ parable is a universal message intended for all to hear. It raises yet another question: Will they listen intently, sufficient to discern what is being said!

The parable’s setting is not a contemporary one, unless you happen to be a farmer or a grower. Last week had us thinking about a vineyard. Today’s parable has us thinking about a field. We’ve gone from thinking about grapes to thinking about seeds. Most of us have never sown seed in a field. Perhaps at best we’ve planted seeds for a vegetable or flower garden.

Today’s parable setting is an extensive open field. And there is one farmer to sow it. Apparently the field is not that carefully prepared for planting. Large rocks are abundant and sections are overgrown with thorns. Nothing’s been set up to fend off the birds. Fortunately there are some areas largely free and clear of such impairments. In sowing the seed in that field a good deal of it is going to be wasted in the process.

Some hits the wayside. It misses the mark and is side-tracked. It will never come to fruition because quite simply it will be walked upon, crushed under foot, and what is not will be bird seed for the fowls of the air. So that seed is simply a waste!

Some landed atop rocks. It soon began to sprout up, but it had nowhere to grow, nor the possibility of sinking down roots: hence no way to draw or retain moisture. So it will simply sizzle in the sun and be reduced to dust. It will never come to fruition!

Some made it to the ground; but a precarious area it was. It landed in a thorn bed. So don’t plan on anyone bothering to try to tend it through all of the prickly needles. And, so overgrown by thorns is the area, the rays of the sun will never land upon the seed fallen beneath it. That seed too will never come to fruition!

But some of the seed hit pay dirt! With sufficient sun and regular watering, weeding and tending, it sprung up and grew to maturity, budded, blossomed and produced the desired end product, in the hundreds if not thousands. This seed was not wasted!
And that is where Jesus ends the telling of the story, but concluding it with a proposition: If you have listened to the story, HEAR what is being said! But how many of the crowd would you suppose stayed on and sat there pondering the story?

Was the scene not more like that in a movie theatre, where once the film has ended the moviegoers quickly absent the theatre, except perhaps for those who sit through the credits! Leaving the theatre many a child (many an adult), after viewing a movie, might turn to some-one they viewed it with to ask: What was that all about? You both viewed the same film but somehow you didn’t ‘get’ it! You saw it; but you didn’t see the point of it! And so quite understandably, you ask!

Just so! Jesus says you who have ears to hear – HEAR what is being said. You who have eyes to see SEE what is being shown you. Or, at least ask to have it explained. As did the disciples, who like children turned to Jesus and said: TELL US the point of the story. And because they asked his help; Jesus will say to them, I will make it clear to you! But of those others who too heard the parable; he says most all will hear the parable only! They heard it, but did not bother to listen sufficient to grasp the deeper meaning of it, the point, the message, the teaching behind the story!

They were not curious even to ask! Rather they will be on their way, content to have been entertained by Jesus; but then left, their minds and lives unchallenged, unchanged, no different! But his disciples had taken up his challenge to HEAR what was being said. They had ears anxious to hear! Rabbi, tell us plainly please, what might this parable be?

And so he does tell them! There is a universal meaning to what he said in the parable. And universal application is to be required of those who heard it – if they truly HEARD it! It is a universal story of how persons respond, and of how they ought to respond. And of how their given response will either rend them fruitless; or enable them in becoming fruitful!

The area upon which seed landed determined how and whether it will germinate. The story itself is not about agriculture or seed; but about people in relation to ‘areas’ of their lives that can make for growth and productivity, or lead them to stagnation and depravation!

Who may be the seed that hit along the ‘wayside’? Folks who are treading a path that is never to bear fruit. Even if someone tries to show them a better ‘way’, they won’t take it. They won’t listen to reason and hence they won’t hear. Advice offered is advice wasted. They will simply trod it under foot, or cast it away!

The seed upon the rock? Those are they in whom the seed will never, can never take root: because like those rocks, they are immovable, impenetrable, hardened by self-interest. One can’t break through to them; however hard one might try!

The seed among the thorns? Remember the adage: One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel? Well likewise, a barrel full of bad apples can easily spoil the one hitherto whole. Here described as seed that falls among the thorns are those who make the mistake of travelling in bad company. Those who play with fire and think they won’t get burned. Those who knowingly allow corrupting forces to influence their thinking and effect their ways of behavior.

These are some of the ways in which this parable could be open to possible interpretation. However, clearly Jesus gives a theological interpretation to the disciples regarding some of the attractions and distractions in life that can hinder and impede a soul; and potentially lead to one living a fruitless life, coming eventually to a meaningless end.

The first hindrance has an identifiable name: the Devil. It is the Satan who can and will work to influ-ence a soul to prevent it from hearing, believing and hence from being saved. He is most effective in that regard: If you need evidence, just look at the world round about us!

There are folks who may at first respond to God’s Word enthusiastically upon hearing it, thinking they have grasp of it easily. But then comes the nitty-gritty of actually putting belief into action with regard to fending off temptation, or the treatment of their neighbor; and suddenly they aren’t all that anxious to apply it, or to change their ways, or their lives. And guess who emerges the winner!

There are the folks who hear the Word and are sincerely interested and plan to do something about it one day: but for now there is money to be made, delights of this world to taste, fun to be had, appetites to be indulged and sated. Predictably these distractions capture and hold the attention, to the exclusion of the redeeming of the soul. These folks will ignore the Lord’s warning that one cannot serve God and Mammon! And it is the alliance with Mammon that tragically seals their eternal destiny.

As a pastor of souls, I can tell you that this parable Jesus told describes par excel lance the experience of most, if not all, ordained clergy who have ever been pastor of a congregation. We have seen and have known many who proved fruitful to the Lord.

Conversely we have seen and known many who proved fruitless through and by their actions or their inaction. The latter are folks who you just cannot penetrate with the Word of God. Or enthusiasts who come on strong in the beginning but who just as quickly fade away, usually having been overcome with some particular temptation. And there are the folks who try to have a foot in both worlds, and are just too busy in and with this present life to decide which of the two choices it is finally to be!

But I’ve also witnessed hundreds who sought the right path and were on their way upon it, and dealing with temptation with good success because they kept their full focus upon God, and their feet following upon the footsteps of Christ, and did not permit themselves the luxury of being distracted with the things of this world.

And if and when these folks faltered or fell along the way, they confessed their stumbling, and got up again onto their feet, and got their focus again upon God. Who over the course of their life bore fruit unto God and their fellow man: yes, a hundredfold!

These folks had ears to hear, and they HEARD. Eyes that see and they SAW! They ‘got’ it’! Have we heard in this parable today only what we want to hear; or what the Lord wills for us to hear? We’ll know the answer to that, if we were truly listening!