Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Jesus was not popular with the authority figures.

The accusations that finally brought him to trial developed something like this: one particular Sabbath his disciples went through or past a grain field ready for harvest. They plucked grain and rubbed it together between their palms before they ate the seeds.  I’ve always wanted to do that, but I’m sure it would not taste good.

Pharisees complained that the disciples had broken the law against work on the Sabbath by rubbing the husk off. That’s harvesting, and that’s work. Then on the same day Jesus healed a man’s deformed hand.  His critics again objected to his work — this time because healing also was classified as work. Still later he healed a man who was blind and mute, and they accused him of healing by the power of the devil rather than power from God.

I suspect there were people who wanted to support him, but if they did, they could be accused of supporting a lawbreaker. They hung back, waiting to see what Jesus would do in the face of this growing opposition.

When the Pharisees and scribes called for a clear sign from Jesus, some thought “OK, now we’ll see. He’ll give a signal, maybe a miracle that leaves no question about who he is, and then we’ll know that he’s the messiah and we’ll go along with him.” But instead, he called his critics an evil and adulterous generation for asking for a sign.

Imagine all that happening on one day? How can a teacher say, “But you’re missing the point.  I want to show you what the Sabbath is really all about, how God is more concerned with illness and disorder, and if that isn’t enough, you want to know whether I have the power of God.” “Can’t you see that human need is greater then well- intentioned laws?  You’re lusting after boxed-in rules when you should be open to God’s mercy.”

Jesus knew he was being set up. He needed a break. Needed a walk by the sea Can you put yourself in his place?  But people gathered about him so close that he stepped over into a boat and sat down.

Things were going wrong for Jesus. He was being severely criticized by religious leaders who were respected, sincere people. Would the kingdom that Jesus was always talking about be successful against all this criticism?   It’s easy to imagine that the crowd was asking, “What sort of man is he?”

The pressure for a word builds to the point where he finally speaks to the crowd who won’t give him a moment’s peace. Now we’ll get a straight answer to all these criticism and accusations. Here is what he said:

“A sower went out to sow. He scattered seed everywhere.”  Was Jesus talking about himself and all the recent events?

The sower spread seeds over the entire field, including on hard and unproductive ground, or where thorns and thistles had always grown, or where a path appeared season after season.

The sower was reckless, careless. With a good season, maybe seeds would grow where nothing had grown before.

Maybe people who made the path would start going around the field. Maybe the birds would not pick up as much as they usually did.

But the point of the parable is in the sower, not the seed. The sower did his part.

In spite of religious leaders who misunderstood Jesus or disciples who could not be sure, and the great crowd of undecided, there would be a harvest.

Jesus told the story about God, the sower. He will have a harvest.  The seed will do its work in spite of all obstacles.  Jesus will suffer, but there will be a harvest.

From seemingly hopeless beginnings – hard soil, birds of prey, prickly patches, rocky ground, God will bring forth the triumphant harvest he has promised. Is Jesus talking about crops or the human condition?

The marvelous and miraculous thing the story tells, is not that some seed were lost, but that there is rich ground from which a bountiful harvest will be reaped.

There are people who have no faith that God’s kingdom will prevail in a world of evils such as unceasing wars, mass starvation, dislocation, injustices, and massive apathy about the spread of Christianity to all people.

But Jesus tells his critics as well as his followers that God will triumph over every evil. His kingdom will flourish.  Nothing can prevent God taking the harvest.

Jesus is comparing his work, his kingdom, his mission, to a sower of seeds. A sower went forth to sow, and the sower will be successful.  Harvest day will come.

His story is addressed to any and all who wonder about God’s interest and God’s purpose. It is told to those who need assurance that God will triumph, to those who wonder if Jesus, with all the attacks on him, can be the person sent from God as Messiah.

His critics rejected him because he gathered second-class people around him. They were disappointed because they were expecting a day of wrath  — for everybody except themselves.

They had closed their hearts to the good news, because, while they had intended to serve God, they had achieved too good an opinion of themselves, and that’s a lesson that never goes out of style.

To such persons, the gospel of God’s love for all people was an offense. They were offended by the humble appearance of the savior and those whom he loved.

“Why do you associate with these riffraff who are shunned by respectable people?” And he replies, “Because they are sick and need me, because they feel the gratitude of children forgiven by God.”

What he is saying to these loveless, self-righteous, disobedient critics, is that they have rejected the gospel.

And above all, he is saying, “I associate with the unloved of this world because God is good to the poor, God is glad when the lost are found. God is merciful to the despairing, the helpless, the needy.

In a non-biblical story about heaven, God is pictured as stopping a group before they walk through the pearly gates. He says, “Wait a minute.  Why do you think you’re getting in?”  Immediately a voice comes,

“Well, today’s Sunday and if I hadn’t died I would be in church like I have been every Sunday for over 40 years.”

God says, “Nice; you ought to have been there anyway, but that doesn’t give you a ticket.” Another steps up to say, “I deserve it.

“I gave 1 percent of my income to the church and another percent to Lutheran World Hunger, and I would have given more this year.”

God only shakes his head. Another says, “I prayed every day of my life, and read my Bible.  And I was sincere in my devotions.”

God seems not to hear. “Did y’all miss the point?  Doesn’t anybody know how you really got here?”

A word reaches God’s ears. God says, “Would you say that again, louder?” A moment of silence and then a small voice comes.  “You promised.”

Isaiah told what God promised, “As the rain and snow come down from heaven so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.

“It shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God goes forth purposefully to sow his word in the world, even carelessly, everywhere.

Some of it will bear fruit. Some will prosper and yield a great harvest.  “You promised.”  God plants and God will reap the harvest.

Jesus went on to Jerusalem, trial and crucifixion, where his friends and followers all left him. He died a criminal’s death, a failure.  Everything appeared lost, dead, finished, except that God gave him resurrection and eternal life.

We are children of God whose kingdom will not fail. We are not guaranteed health and prosperity, or that the American way of life will last forever.

By God’s promise alone, the kingdom will triumph, with the cross of Christ as its symbol going before us.

Exceeding all our expectations, the seed will bring forth a harvest pleasing to God.

God the sower does not fail. God the sower will reap a great harvest.  God’s harvest will include each of us.  Our great and joyful duty is to see just how much good we can do in the meantime.

God comes forth into our world scattering seeds that can bear fruit in worship, service, responsibility, good stewardship, love for those around us, respect for all, seeds that can grow up into the kingdom’s harvest.

But such good deeds do not purchase our salvation.

We respond to God’s word because we want to be transformed through struggle and sacrifice to meet his goodness with productive lives, with kindness to each other, with deeds of love and mercy that praise his name and signify his kingdom at work.

The good we do to others without pride, without self-justification, all that is our response to his kingdom.

The harvest comes naturally for the people of God, because it is God who sows the seed.