The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday includes the parable of the sower. Jesus speaks of varied responses to the word of the coming reign of God, and he warns how hard it is to be faithful to it, for “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13:22).
When one broadcasts seed rather than carefully spaced planting, seeds can end up in varied contexts. Good soil can encourage growth, but rocky soil or a thorny patch or a trodden path make it very hard for the seed to bear plentiful yields. Varied elements conspire to keep the seed (the word) from accomplishing its true intent.
Responding to the word of God is not any easy thing, for it puts us at odds with the dominant culture of our world, which is all about acquisition, comfort, and personal security. Jesus warns that the claim of this word is difficult: “When anyone hears the word of the basileia (the reign of God) and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart . . .” (v. 19).
Consumerist Christianity has performed a convenient work-around so as to ease the burden of Jesus’ claim. We have relegated his warning to the status of “interim ethics.” Jesus could expect his followers to be radical in their fidelity because the world would soon end; he would return and rescue them from the challenge of living in a world of competing claims.
Wallace Hartsfield II suggests to his preaching students at Central that one who proclaims must find the original claim of the text on the hearer, the claim for the hearer today, and the claim upon the preacher. This parable would make more sense in an agricultural setting; however, its pungent insights remain and call hearers of the word to examine their response.
I recently had the opportunity to write a blurb for an important book authored by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. In her forthcoming text, The Problem of Wealth, she challenges assumptions about why people are in poverty and calls for a new vision of community requiring economic justice. By delineating the problem when theology and economics are not integrally related, she is echoing the teaching of the parable. Wealth is the problem, she contends, for it tramples compassion for the economic other.
When the word of God takes lodging in our hearts, we are beckoned toward generative living, little satisfied with only the world’s goods. Where the heart is located and what fruit it bears makes all the difference for the treasure that is God’s emerging reign.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.