Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34: Love is the Seed

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 6, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage we have two parables about the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom is like a man planting seeds and the seed grows night and day. The man doesn’t understand it but the seed grows and grows into a plant and when it’s ready, he harvests it.

The kingdom of God is also like a mustard seed, which is so tiny but grows into a large plant where birds can be protected from the sun.

So the kingdom of God grows and grows and we don’t always understand it.

 

Interestingly, the passage ends by saying that Jesus often used stories to teach people but explained more to his disciples. I sometimes wish a few more explanations had been included in the scriptures.

 

My own interpretation for today is that we can go plant those seeds with love. Love is the seed of the kingdom of God–what else could grow so beautifully?

Proper 28, Year A: Matthew 25:14-30: Invest in Love

Love

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 28, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this parable, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as like a man who leaves on a trip and before he goes he leaves his servants in charge. He gives them each different amounts of money and they each responded differently. Some invest it but one just digs a hole and leaves his master’s money in a hole. When the master comes home he calls in his servants to see what they did with his money. he’s pleased with those who increased it, but he’s really angry at the one who only buried the money he was given. He takes money from that one and gives it to the one who made the most money.  The master says,   Everyone who uses what they have will get more. They will have much more than they need. But people who do not use what they have will have everything taken away from them.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

The master in this parable is really giving very large amounts of money to these servants (not for their own use but to keep safe for him and also to increase for him). It’s a big responsibility for each of them. Those who took the money and invested it were given even larger sums of money–so the reward was actually more responsibility to use it wisely. The one who hid the money was afraid to even attempt to invest it–his fear reminds me of Christians who hide away in their own church communities and don’t step out in faith to invest God’s love in the larger world to grow it more. God will come back and say, “What did you do with what I gave you?” and they can only look around at their own small world that they haven’t expanded. We have to step out in faith and use God’s love to change the world, not only to dig a hole and bury it in fear of his wrath. God’s love is meant to be shared, and then it will only grow.

 

 

 

 

Proper 27, Year A: Matthew 25:1-13: Be Ready and in Relationship

Parable of the Ten Virgins

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 27, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s parable is about something that would have been more easily understood at the time (and in some other cultures today). The bridesmaids would all wait at home with the bride for the bridegroom and his own companions to come and pick them all up to take them to the place of the wedding. He would be busy making arrangements and he might be late in coming, so they might have to wait some time. The foolish bridesmaids are unprepared and didn’t bring extra lamp oil (they would have had little lamps that needed extra oil for a long wait). Finally the bridegroom is on his way and they all gather up their lamps to go. The wise bridesmaids have enough for their own lamps (because they were prepared and ready) but none to spare, so when the foolish girls ask them for some, the wise ones advise them to go buy more. But when they are out buying oil, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. They can’t even get into the feast and are shamed for their foolishness.

 

Jesus finishes his story by saying, “So always be ready. You don’t know the day or the time when the Son of Man will come.” So we have to be ready for Jesus at all times–so often we are distracted by the world around us and our own troubles and not giving our live in love to Jesus and to others. Each of us is responsible for our own relationship with God and our readiness, even if we are also in community within a church. 

Proper 22, Year A: Matthew 21:33-46: God’s Vineyard

Vineyards in autumn harvest

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus again has a parable for his listeners. In this parable, a man owns a vineyard. He prepares it with a wall and a hole for a winepress. He builds a tower on it. Then he leases the land to farmers and leaves town. When it’s time to pick the grapes, he sends servants for his share of the grapes on his own land.

As it turns out, the wicked farmers grab the servants, beating one, and killing two others. So the man sends more servants to the farmers, but the farmers do the same thing. Finally he sends his own son, thinking they will have more respect for his son than his servants.

But the farmers see the son and think that if they kill the son, the vineyard will be theirs, since he is the heir to the vineyard. So they kill the owner’s son as well.

Jesus asks his listeners, “So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”

The leaders and priests say that he will kill the evil men and lease his land to other farmers, who will give him his fair share as promised. 

Then this:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders refused to accept
    became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
    and it is wonderful to us.’ 

“So I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do what God wants in his kingdom. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken. And it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Matthew 21: 42-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

When the leaders heard all this, they knew Jesus was talking about them and they wanted to find a way to arrest him. But they were afraid because the people believed that Jesus was a real prophet.

In this parable, I think the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders are the faithless and murderous farmers. The servants God sends are the prophets and the son is, of course, Jesus. It’s a simple allegory of the history of God sending prophets who are mistreated, until he sends even his own son. Of course, the leaders do not take it to heart when Jesus basically tells them that they will kill him and then be crushed. They go from this to looking for a way to arrest him. They will not learn. Others (the apostles and all of us who follow them) will experience the Kingdom of God, not these religious leaders who refuse to listen to Jesus.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.

Proper 20, Year A: Matthew 20:1-16: The Last First

Vineyards on a hill overlooking the Mosel river

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires people to work in his vineyard.

He hires some first thing in the morning, some more around lunchtime, and more in the late afternoon. Then when the day is done, he has them line up to be paid, starting with those hired last. He ends up paying them all the same amount, even those who had only worked a short time.  It should come as no surprise that those who started first thing in the morning complained that they were paid no more than those who worked only an hour. But the landowner insists he is being fair–he paid them exactly what he had offered them when he hired them in the morning. He says he can do what he wants with his money and they shouldn’t be jealous because of his generosity.

Jesus ends by saying, “So those who are last now will be first in the future. And those who are first now will be last in the future.”

This story seems pretty easy to understand. God’s grace extends to those who do very little to “earn” it (that’s why it’s grace) as well as to those who work day and night to serve him. The true follower of Christ does not seek to be first but serves in love. The grumpy first-comers probably represent the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and didn’t understand grace. They promoted themselves and their own goodness, failing to comprehend the love of God extending to the lowest people.

May we spend our days serving and not seeking to be first.

Proper 12, Year A: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52: Mustard Seed

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 12, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus continues with parables about the Kingdom of God.  Interesting, as a child growing up in the evangelical church, when I heard God’s Kingdom, I thought it was talking about heaven, but that’s not really what he’s talking about if you actually read it.

Here are all the things Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like in this reading:

  1. Mustard seed–starts small, grows into something huge)
  2. Yeast–little bit of yeast makes all the dough rise
  3. Hidden treasure in a field–worth selling everything else to gain it
  4. Fine pearls–again, worth selling everything to gain it
  5. Fishing net–catches so many people, good and bad–good gathered up and evil to be thrown into the fire

That’s a lot to unpack. The kingdom of God starts out as something tiny but grows into something huge and worth everything else in life. And it will gather up both good and bad people and throw out the bad.

I like this part:

Then Jesus asked his followers, “Do you understand all these things?”

They said, “Yes, we understand.”

Matthew 13:51 – Easy-to-Read Version

Do they really understand? Do we?

Finally Jesus says that teachers of the law who have learned about the Kingdom of God now has new things to teach. It’s like he has new and old things in his house and he “brings out the new with the old.” There is value in both the new teaching of Jesus and the old teaching of the law.

Who are you in the Kingdom of God? Are you helping the mustard seed to grow into something amazing? Are you spreading the love of Christ? Or are you doing evil? Go into the world and do good today.

Proper 11, Year A: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Weeds in the Field

Man holding open Bible in a wheat field

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 11, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week we study another parable Jesus told his followers. It’s a challenging one for a modern reader. In this parable, Jesus talks about God’s kingdom being like a man planting wheat seeds (somewhat like the last parable we studied).  While the man sleeps, his enemy comes and plants weeds among the wheat–pretty nasty thing to do. So the weeds and wheat end up growing together in the field. His servants ask if they should pull up the weeds but he says not to, because they might pull up the wheat as well. He says they should leave them until the harvest and then separate the weeds to be burned.

This time, Jesus does not tell all the people he’s teaching the meaning when he’s done. However some of his followers came and asked him to explain it.

I’m going to quote this explanation in full here:

He answered, “The man who planted the good seed in the field is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed are the people in God’s kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One. And the enemy who planted the bad seed is the devil. The harvest is the end of time. And the workers who gather are God’s angels.

“The weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. It will be the same at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will find the people who cause sin and all those who do evil. The angels will take those people out of his kingdom. They will throw them into the place of fire. There the people will be crying and grinding their teeth with pain.Then the godly people will shine like the sun. They will be in the kingdom of their Father. You people who hear me, listen!

Matthew 13: 37-43, Easy-to-Read Version

Wow! That is some wild and scary stuff. I think the point to take away for us today is that it’s not our job to judge our fellow human beings (gosh, this is a hard lesson–I can be so judgmental), but that God is the judge in the end. He can sort the wheat from the weeds. He knows the human heart.

I do think it’s o.k. to call out if we see someone proclaiming God’s kingdom in a way that seems inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. But in the end we cannot determine what’s really in their hearts and how God would judge them.

Proper 10, Year A: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23: Parable of the Sower

Christ Sowing Seeds, Stained Glass Window

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 10, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s lesson, Jesus gets into a boat to speak to a crowd on the shore (because they were really crowding him on land). It’s a cool visual to think of him sitting in a boat speaking to a crowd lining the shore.

Then he spoke to them in parables–parables are just little short stories that teach a bigger spiritual lesson. I think of them as fictions that reveal truth (things can be true without being factual–admittedly hard for me to say as I am obsessed with getting facts right and not spreading false information–I have a whole other blog about that).

Anyway, his story today is one that may be very familiar–about a farmer sowing seed.

Here’s the story (Easy-to-Read Version):

“A farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seed, some of it fell by the road. The birds came and ate all that seed. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was not enough dirt. It grew very fast there, because the soil was not deep. But when the sun rose, it burned the plants. The plants died because they did not have deep roots.Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. The weeds grew and stopped the good plants from growing. But some of the seed fell on good ground. There it grew and made grain. Some plants made 100 times more grain, some 60 times more, and some 30 times more.You people who hear me, listen!”

The great thing about this particular parable is that Jesus goes on to tell his audience the meaning. The seed that fell by the path is like people who do not understand what they’ve learned about the Kingdom of God. The seed that fell on the rocky ground is like people who accept the teaching of the Kingdom but they don’t go any deeper–they follow for a time but then fall away from it. They give it up easily. The seed that fell among the weeds is like people who hear the teaching but let their anxieties and love of money grow up and choke out the growth. Then there’s the seed that fell on good ground–that’s like people who hear and understand. They grow and produce “a good crop, sometimes 100 times more, sometimes 60 times more, and sometimes 30 times more.” 

So what is the good crop they produce? That can be found in studying more of Jesus’ teachings. Here’s one good summation from Jesus himself:

He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

Matthew 22:36-40 – Easy-to-Read Version