Outlook Standard Lesson for July 16, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus prayed for the kingdom’s arrival on earth, intending to bring heaven to our world. The kingdom is characterized by the abundant life God intends for all creation. Jesus, who preached, taught, healed and restored people to their communities, represents God’s pursuit of a missional agenda in the world. Where there is life, God is present and actively working. Jesus calls us to open our ears and eyes to recognize the kingdom in our midst and then to become agents of the kingdom in God’s world.
Many things in parables
Matthew 13 marks a shift in Jesus’ teaching method. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught using direct instruction — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a master’s class in conveying the kingdom message directly: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world. … unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:13, 14; 20).
In chapter 13, Jesus changes his methodology to communicate his message indirectly through parables. “The kingdom of heaven is like …” becomes a recurring refrain in the Gospel. The disciples inquire about this change in verse 10, asking why Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables. Jesus responds that he does so because the people have hardened their hearts and are unwilling to accept his message.
Matthew knows that all prophets encounter opposition. Even Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes (13:14–15; cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). Isaiah asks, “How long will the people listen, but not hear?” God replies, “Until the cities are emptied out, not a soul left in the cities … Every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” (Isaiah 6:11, 13, The Message, emphasis mine). Even though most people have no ears to hear, Jesus, like Isaiah, is determined to teach parabolically – scattering the seed metaphorically – trusting the kingdom to grow from the stumps.
If you have ears, hear!
Jesus shares a story about farming. A farmer distributes seeds without discrimination and in a lavish, wasteful, and perhaps even foolish manner in soil unlikely to yield a good harvest. Why? It seems like a waste of resources and no way to manage a farm.
The parable reveals the kingdom’s agenda to those ready and willing to listen. In God’s kingdom, sowers sow the seed with abandon and trust the harvest. If you didn’t receive it, it may be because you have hardened the pathways of your heart. Nevertheless, the harvest will still yield abundantly.
The sower – God, Jesus, the Spirit, the church – spreads news of the kingdom. It’s what Jesus said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4–5).
Go, church, into the world, and tell everyone what you’ve heard and seen — the life God desires for the whole world is breaking into history. Some may hear it; others won’t. Some may see what you have seen; others can’t. Regardless, keep spreading the news and trust the harvest to God.
The one who hears the word bears fruit
As the church, we assume from reading Jesus’ parable and allegorical interpretation (vv. 18-23) that we are the good seed and good soil. But soil quality can change; levels of receptivity can vary. Sometimes we may relate to the seeds stolen by birds, lost to the noonday heat, or choked by thorny underbrush. Yesterday, life’s difficulties may have hardened our hearts, but today, we find our hearts open to God’s amazing grace. The same is true for the other soils/seeds. Let’s celebrate every instance of an open heart, regardless of when or where it occurs. Who knows? Maybe one little seed of good news will take root.
“So shall [God’s] word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
God is actively spreading the seed of the kingdom and waiting patiently for its harvest. Are we willing to allow the kingdom to take root in our lives? Will we demonstrate evidence of it? Will we bear fruit? Are you ready to waste yourself in service of the kingdom? Are you prepared to practice the patience harvest requires?
Questions for discussion
- What wild, unexpected seeds might you be holding in your hands?
- How will you scatter them in your family, neighborhood or workplace?
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