LUKE 8:1-15

20 Oct 2013


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             I offer six facts.  Let's see if anyone can guess what I'm talking about before I mention all seven.  Ready?  Here we go. 

            Fact number one.  Construction on this started in 1922 and was completed in 1932

            Fact two.  The architect was Bertran G. Goodhue.

            Fact three.  The building is four hundred feet tall.

            Fact four.  The city code dictates it will be the tallest building in the city.

            Fact five.  It's the third tallest building in the state.

            Fact six.  A thirty-two foot statue of The Sower adorns the top of the building.

            Given the fact that a thirty-two foot sower sits on top of our state capital building, this parable should be a slam dunk for us.  This parable should be in our sweet spot.  This parable should be right up our alley, and as I unpack this parable today, I want to say three things. 

            First:  if I were a woman, Luke would be my favorite gospel writer.  I'm referring to the first three verses of the eighth chapter.  In these verses Luke makes a special point of mentioning women who were part of Jesus' entourage. 

            It was always considered a pious act to support a Rabbi, but these women do more than send money from afar.  These women are with Jesus, not just for Jesus, and like the twelve this is really a mixed bag of females.  He mentions three by name.  There was Mary Magdalene, that is Mary from the town of Magdala, out of whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.  According to the Gospels, demon possession caused various maladies of the body and the mind, and did not refer to moral or ethical depravity.  One wonders if she suffered from some of the mental demons that have plagued people in the news recently, including the woman, the dental hygienist  from Connecticut who recently thought the President of the United States was speaking to her and tried to get on the White House grounds, ramming into a barricade.

            And then there was Joanna, the wife of the CFO in Herod's government. The Greek word here for steward most commonly referred to an official who looked after the financial interests of his employer.  So we have Mary Magdalene with a troubled past and a lady of the royal court in this one company of women.  Then there was Susanna, but since this the only time in the Gospels Susanna is mentioned we don't know anything more about her.  Then there were other unnamed women traveling with Jesus as well. 

            This is but one example, of Luke's great appreciation of women.  Luke's favorable reports about women began earlier in his gospel with Elizabeth and Mary, and will continue through the Book of Acts, where he will comment on the presence "of not a few leading women" in the church at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), and at Berea, where he mentioned "not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men" (Acts 17:12).

            He had a great appreciation for women and if I were a woman, Luke would be my favorite gospel writer.

            Second thing I want to say is this: it's good to ask questions.  Note verse nine. 


            Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that

            looking they may not perceive,

            and listening they may not understand.


            It's good to ask questions and the disciples asked Jesus the meaning of the parable.  Obviously, they were not from Nebraska and did not have a thirty-two foot sower on the top of their capital building, so we understand their being a little slow on the uptake, but given Jesus' response to their inquiry, we are left with a question of our own.  Is Jesus really saying here that he spoke in parables so that some people would not be able to understand?  Was it Jesus' intention to cloak his meaning in order to hide it from certain listeners? 

            If so, that flies in the face of the purpose of a parable.  The word "parable" from the Greek word parabole means, literally, "that which is tossed alongside," implying a comparison, an analogy, an elaboration, or an illustration.  It's a way of adding further clarification to a theme or a point, not a way of confusing the matter.  So, if Jesus is saying here he speaks in parables to confuse people, to throw them off track, to hide the truth that flies in the face of what a parable is intended to do.

            So why is it then, that some look and do not perceive, some listen and do not understand?   Every teacher faces that question.  Why is it in the same classroom some hear and some do not?  Some get it and some do not?  Same teacher, same audience and the light bulb goes off for some and the bulb needs to be replaced for others?  So what's the problem?  Intelligence?  Are some so dull they have trouble connecting the dots?  Sin?  Are some so blunted in mind that when God's truth comes to them they cannot recognize it?  Predestination?  Are some internally wired to understand calculus and others art and others things of God?

            That's the mystery every teacher faces.  Why do some get it and some don't?

            Any of you watch Duck Dynasty?  My brother-in-law introduced me to the cable show last May.  I had never heard of the show, and now you can get all sorts of Duck Dynasty paraphernalia.  While we were in Birmingham taking care of two of our grandsons last week, Trudy and I popped into a Books-A-Million store and they had a huge display of all sorts of Duck Dynasty stuff you could buy.  Duck Dynasty calendars.  Duck Dynasty mugs, Duck Dynasty T-shirts, a Duck Dynasty board game, and Phil Robertson's book Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander. 

            A pastor in Tennessee probably watches Duck Dynasty.  I say that because he's an avid duck hunter.  His name is Jerry Anderson, and every fall when the first cold front moves in from the north, he takes out his duck decoys, cleans them up and puts new anchors on them.  That way he can be ready when duck season opens. He usually hunts mallards, and according to him mallards are "puddle" ducks.  That is to say they paddle around in shallow water and feed on the marsh grasses growing there.  They eat only what they can reach from the surface.  Occasionally, though, Anderson would see a redhead or canvasback slipping into the decoys.  He calls these are "diving" ducks.  They dive to great depths to feed on plants growing on the bottom of the lake, and Anderson says, people are like those ducks.  Some are puddle ducks, satisfied with surface meanings.  Others are divers searching for deeper meanings.  Apparently, some listen and don't understand because they are content to be mallards, while others get it because they question, they dive below the surface.  That's what the disciples did here.  There's more to a parable than a surface meaning.  It's good to ask questions.

            Now, for the third and last thing I want to say about this parable:  I think the parable goes by the wrong name.  I think it should be known as the parable of the soils rather than the parable of the sower.  There are two constants in this parable: the sower and the seed.  The variable is the soil.  The question is not "what kind of sower are you" but rather "what kind of soil are you?" 

            Kathy Hoffman writing in the publication The Upper Room tells about walking in the woods in early spring in her native Georgia when she noticed an unfamiliar plant along the trail.  Strikingly beautiful, it had tiered large, variegated leaves and was crowned by a deep red blossom.  Further down the path in the gravel was another plant with four small leaves misshapen from being stepped on.  Their color was concealed completely by mud.  Kathy was surprised to discover it was the same kind of plant whose beauty had caught her attention earlier.  She felt sorry that this little plant had sprouted in such a hostile spot.  Then she drew this conclusion.  She said: "Nature does not give seeds a choice about where they are planted.  A plant may suffer malnutrition if it grows in rocky soil or be bruised and broken by passersby, and a plant in inhospitable surroundings has no power to move to a more favorable spot. Unlike plants," she adds, "people can make choices that affect their growth."[1]

            And that's true.  It would be easy to surmise from this parable that we have no power over how we respond to the Gospel.  A path cannot help being a path.  Rocky ground cannot help being rocky.  Thorn-infested ground cannot resist the infestation.  And thus, we might conclude that people cannot help being what they are.  And there is some truth to that.  A just God would not judge a person brought up in an environment hostile to the Christian faith in the same way God might judge those who have lived all our lives in the family of faith.  Having said that, though, we need to recognize that there is a difference between soils and sons and daughters of God.  We may be the product of our environment, but the word of God comes to all of us and we have the power to choose whether we ignore it or whether we will allow the weeds of worldly concerns to choke it out or whether we will root ourselves as deeply as possible in the faith we have received.

            It's like two sisters that John Maxwell talks about.  One, named Lisa, is eleven years old and is an excellent swimmer.  She spends a lot of time practicing for swim meets.  The younger girl, Shelley, is five and also swims, but she shows no willingness to pay the price to win in swim meets.  The older sister won a 220 meter race.  Her father was reading a newspaper article about Lisa's success.  He asked the younger daughter, "Shelley, wouldn't you like to work hard and get your name in the paper?"  "Daddy," she said, "I'd rather just sit here and eat cookies and drink milk the rest of my life."

            People, no matter their age, are motivated by different things.  And people respond to the Gospel in different ways, but we do have some power over how we will respond, and so the question confronts each of us: What type of soil are we?

            At a commencement address, the hall of fame football player and Congressman from Oklahoma, Stephen Largent  told about walking one afternoon in February across the street from his office building in Washington, D.C., on his way to the Capitol.  He noticed a group of Secret Service people on the curb.  When he asked what was going on, he was told that the king of Morocco was meeting with the President that day.  They had to have special permission to enter the Capitol because the king of Morocco has a large procession that travels with him every place he goes.  He brought his twelve wives and also his personal heart donor.  Did you hear that?  He brought his personal heart donor!  The personal heart donor was a person who was a perfect organ donor match for the king of Morocco.  If anything happened to the king ... heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure... this person was there, ready to make the donation.  That was his life's mission to give his life for his king.

            Largent said to the graduating students as this Christian college, "That is our mission as well."[2]  

            What kind of soil does that require?  What kind of soil are we?  People respond to the gospel in different ways.  We can't control that, but we can control how we respond to the gospel.  What kind of soil are we?

[1] The Upper Room, March/April 1996, p. 19.

[2] "Perfect Love Casts Out Fear," Daily Blessing, Jan-June 1996, p. 116.