Jesus mentions four soils in this parable, all with different responses to the sowing of the seed. Later he tells the disciples that the seed represents the word, or message, of the kingdom. This is the gospel, the good news that Jesus proclaimed: that God’s kingdom was within reach and available to anyone who wants to live in it. And this proclamation is received in a variety of ways, producing a variety of effects. I was particularly struck this morning, though, by the third soil: the seed that fell “among thorns.”
While there are some in whom the gospel never takes root (seed on the path), and others that receive it with joy but fade quickly (rocky ground), and others that produce an amazing crop (good soil), there is this curious situation where people hear the word, and presumably it takes root and grows in their lives, but because of the other things that are allowed to grow up around it (thorns), the plant never produces the kind of fruit it was meant to produce.
The implication is that you can be a Christian your whole life and never produce the kind of fruit you were made for if you don’t deal with the “thorns” Jesus mentions. All the potential to produce a massive harvest of fruit is there, inherent in the seed that has grown up into a plant. The “natural” thing for the plant to do is produce a crop thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown, but it will not happen as long as the thorns are allowed to co-exist with the gospel plant.
The gospel/word won’t automatically overwhelm the thorn bushes. If we do nothing about the thorns, they will “come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
Don’t you think this describes the life of most Christians? We’ve convinced ourselves that fruitlessness is normal and settled for an anemic existence among the thorns. What are these thorns that choke the word and make it unfruitful? Jesus mentions three specific things: worries, wealth, and wants.
The worries of this life
Worry cannot co-exist with fruitfulness. Jesus explicitly tells us that those who trust him and live in God’s kingdom have no reason to worry whatsoever. The worries of this life are all the things Jesus says the “pagans” run after: What are we going to eat? What are we going to wear? How will we pay the bills?
Those who trust Jesus, on the other hand, need not worry about anything, because they are single-mindedly pursuing the the reality of God’s kingdom, and finding that all their needs are taken care of. They are the happiest, most relaxed people on the planet. The worries of this life don’t touch them because they’ve relinquished control.
The deceitfulness of wealth
What an interesting phrase. Wealth is deceitful. It promises what it can’t deliver. It fools you. It’s tricksy. It lies to you, speaking security, safety, and comfort; all the while you are about to drive off a cliff. The deceitfulness of wealth is the reason that it’s difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. It lulls us into a false sense of security, dulling our sense of need. It makes us lukewarm, and we think, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:16-17)
And you don’t need to have wealth to be seduced by it. Part of its power lies in its ability to dominate our desires. We imagine that if we had wealth, everything would be better. We exalt it in our own minds as a savior, and we end up serving it as a lord, even before we get any of it. And the result is that even though you have received the word, you don’t bear fruit.
Desires for other things
Our want-ers are powerful things. What we desire inevitably steers our life, and once our imaginations are dominated by anything other than God and his kingdom, we choke out the fruitfulness of the word in our lives.
Once we start dreaming about new furniture instead of new creation we have jumped the shark. If we find ourselves really wanting a new electronic gadget instead of really wanting the kingdom of God, the word will be unfruitful in us. When we are more fascinated with the “lifestyle shows” on TV than we are with the last chapters of Revelation, we make a decision against bearing fruit.
This is why I believe that shows like What Not To Wear and Say Yes to the Dress might be the most harmful shows on TV. These kinds of shows are completely obsessed with clothing, food, and lifestyle accouterments, which is exactly the things Jesus said the pagans run after. Watching them steers our desire in that direction, and causes us to live unfruitful lives.
So which thorn bush are you most susceptible to? Which one chokes the word in your life, making you unfruitful? How might you do some “weeding?” It would be great to hear from you.