II Corinthians 11:19-31.
Introduction: A Mysterious Parable
In the Gospel passage, we read that Jesus related a parable to the multitudes that were following him. He told the people the story. And (in verse 9) it appears that his disciples drew him to the side and asked what the parable was about. At first glance, it seems strange that Jesus would tell the parable to the people, expecting that they wouldn’t understand it; after all, doesn’t effective communication require that one person’s idea be properly conveyed to and understood by the other person?
I believe that Jesus’ reply (in verse 10) is an explanation of the sincerity of the people to whom he spoke. That is, when the disciples came to inquire about the parable they didn’t understand, he was quick to explain what he meant by the parable. However, there were lots of people present who heard him speak and didn’t bother to even question what his message was about. The same type of thing occurs in our own time when, for example, the Governor of one of our states comes into town to open access to a new road or to name a building; many people don’t go to the event because the Governor’s message is of considerable importance–they simply attend because the Governor is present. He’s a public figure, and the simple fact that he’s present causes people in the community to show him deference and also to satisfy their curiosity.
Similarly, the people were crowding around Jesus because he was a popular and, perhaps, dynamic speaker, not because they really cared about the essential message he brought. Out of the crowds, only the constant disciples (the Twelve) came to ask Jesus what the parable meant. They were rewarded for their genuine interest. Christ explained the parable to them. And, I think the story of this exchange is a perfect illustration of the whole point Jesus made in the meaning of the parable.
So, this story Christ told was about a farmer doing his planting. This passage always causes an image to come to my mind about a man who planted apple trees (source).
John Chapman was born in 1774 in Massachusetts. In his twenties, he became an apple farmer and planted orchards in New York and Pennsylvania. When the Northwest Territory opened to settlers, Chapman traveled through the wilderness. He would find a good piece of ground to plant; he cleared the land by hand; he built a fence around the field; and, he planted his trees in rows. He lived alone in the wilderness but he sold and gave away his apples and trees to the settlers he met, in order to help them build new lives in what was then considered the West.
Chapman was meticulous in his work.He always walked wherever he went, though he would sometimes use a boat to transport his large quantities of seeds. He obtained the seeds each fall from cider presses in Pennsylvania. He would take the discarded pieces of apples, remove the seeds, wash them, and pack them for transporting back to the wilderness. Chapman never married and he lived alone, but he shared his life and faith with the other settlers, often reading the Bible to them.
He died in 1845, after devoting 50 years to his work of planting apple trees. He was known then and now as Johnny Appleseed, and his legend lives on today.
Christ explained that the seed in this parable is the word of God. But what is the word of God to which he is referring? As most of us probably know, “gospel” means “good news”; the seed being sown in this parable is the good news of Christ’s redemptive work–the offer of reconciliation to God the Father. Christ himself came proclaiming the gospel and he has commanded us to do the same: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). If we obey Christ’s command, his word will be sown throughout the world.
Some of the seeds of the gospel will fall on ears that seem to be deaf. These are the seeds that fall by the wayside.The seed is trodden underfoot–the hearers are induced by the devil to revile the words of the Lord’s redemption. All of us have seen this response to the gospel at some time. Perhaps, when we told a family member about Christ’s reconciling acts, we have been rebuffed. We should realize who is at work in this, though: Jesus says that the devil has come to turn those who hear away from believing. That is, they are being influenced by the craft of the evil one. When we see this, let us not lose heart or forsake our calling: Christ has commanded us to be faithful and to rely on his Holy Spirit to do the work of transformation.
Some of the seeds of the gospel will fall on rocky ground. That is, the message will be embraced by the hearers but they will soon abandon the way of Christ because they have no strong roots in him, and they are led astray by temptation. This often happens in the Church, and it is a sad and sinful matter. When we welcome new Christians into the body of Christ, we should immediately seek to strengthen their roots in the faith.We don’t do that by presenting a so-called gospel of “fire insurance”–a “get out of hell free” card. We do that by speaking truth and helping cultivate in the new convert’s life the understanding that our whole life rightly belongs to the Lord, that we are to live to bring him glory, which is the reason he created us.
Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” If we teach new Christians this thing, they will grasp the value of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection:that we who were separated from God by our sins and were, therefore, unable to bring him glory, have now been restored to the Father through the work of Christ, and can now bring glory to the Father. It is through submission to the will of the Lord that we bring him pleasure. So, let us be diligent to teach and to learn so that we may grow deep roots in Christ and not simply melt away in the noonday sun of temptation.
Likewise, there are seeds which fall among thorns.Christ explained that the thorns are cares and riches and pleasures of this life that crowd out the fruit of the Spirit. Instead of producing love, patience, self-control, and all other virtues, those who grow among the thorns are overtaken by the passions of a self-centered world. Instead of virtue, vices spring up such as materialism, hatred, lust, abuses of power, and so many more. We are to show the new convert the way of truth in this, also. If we are diligent to teach that Christ is the only way and the true way; and, if we are diligent to teach that broad is the way that leads to destruction; and, if we are diligent to teach that our lives belong to God and that they are not our own; we shall succeed in pulling others out of the fires of lustful passions and vices of this world.
A Good Crop
The last seeds Jesus mentions are those that fall on good ground and produce fruit. He says that these are those who have honest and good hearts and keep the word; that is to say, those who have believed on him and live according to his will. Hopefully, all of us are of this kind.
In the Epistle reading for today, St. Paul tells us his story. And his story is not one of great comfort and happy times. In fact, we might even think that what he says is a little depressing, or even very depressing. Yet, we know from what the Bible teaches about Paul that he was faithful in his ministry; he was faithful to spread the good news of the work of Jesus Christ. And because he was faithful, many souls were converted to Christ and the world, as we know it today, was shaped a great deal by the ministry of this one man. So, we might say that Paul was fertile ground; he was of an honest and good heart; and, having heard the word, he kept it.
But that isn’t what we want to hear, is it? We don’t want to go through beatings and sickness and hunger and shipwreck. We don’t want to be tortured or ridiculed or betrayed. No one wants those things, and rightly so. Yet, Paul says that he endured all those things for Christ’s sake.He says that he will glory in his infirmities.In fact, in II Corinthians 12, he writes that the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for thee:for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And what was Paul’s response? He wrote, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Paul did what Christ said seed planted in good soil does:it brings forth fruit with patience. St. Paul kept the word; he endured hardship; he remained faithful; and he brought forth fruit.He was diligent in his task of spreading the gospel. He was diligent in his obedience of Christ. And he came to realize that his weaknesses were opportunities for Christ to work in his life; that his weaknesses were made strong in the Lord; that in his weaknesses, he became pliable in the hands of God. He did not resist; instead he was patient, and his faithfulness produced fruit.
St. Paul and Johnny Appleseed shared the quality of diligence. Johnny Appleseed worked hard to produce desirable fruit in the wilderness. He was relentless in his mission. He went where no one else would go to do work that no one else would do. He cleared land so that it would be conducive to growing apple trees. He was faithful to his task and he was generous with his produce. He studied his Bible and he spread the word about Christ.
St. Paul was likewise faithful, and so we must be also. We have heard the word and we must bring forth fruit with patience. We must endure as faithful servants, no matter what the cost. Christ said that “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35). We can only produce bountiful fruit by following after God; it is in him alone that we can be satisfied.
So, let us be faithful. Let us be diligent in proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ: that he has redeemed us by his blood and reconciled us to the Father. We who were lost are now found in him. The promise of the Lord goes with us:
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)