Modern Christians love the Beatitudes. The poetic beauty of Jesus' opening to his Sermon on the Mount has captured our attention and inspired awe for so many. We learn about the Beatitudes as we grow up in church, we sing songs about them, there are probably many of us that could recite at least a few of them from memory. But the truth of the matter is that when Jesus sat down on a hillside in Galilee thousands of years ago and began preaching, his words would have come as a great shock to the crowds listening around him.
The Beatitudes seem to have lost their shock value in the modern world, though really they should seem as shocking to us today as they did do those first crowds so long ago. For those who had been struggling through life, Jesus is bringing shocking news that now they will be blessed. While those who have been relatively comfortable in life are now hearing that perhaps their life is not as blessed as they thought. But no matter from what perspective or time period you hear the
Beatitudes, the most important thing is to understand what Jesus is teaching through these announcements of blessing.
You see, these are not prophecies about the way things will be in some yet to be determined future. Nor is Jesus here speaking new commandments that must be followed by all people. These are not even conditions for being included or incorporated into the kingdom of God. Rather, Jesus is stating here the reality of God's kingdom as it is. Through these Beatitudes, Jesus assures the community that while life may be difficult now, those who faithfully endure will be blessed through God's kingdom.
A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule "braying", or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well were worth the trouble of saving. He would have to rent a crane, and the old well was dried up anyway. So instead of going to such trouble, the farmer called his neighbors together and told them what had happened. He then enlisted the neighbors to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.
As you can imagine, initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck the animal. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he should shake it off and step up! So this he did blow after blow. "Shake it off and step up...shake it off and step up...shake it off and step up!" he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed the old mule fought "panic" and just kept right on shaking if off and stepping up! It was not long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, actually blessed him, all because of the manner in which he handled that dirt being shoveled into the well.
That's life! If we face our problems, respond to them positively, and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness or self-pity, the adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to benefit and bless us!
Most of the people standing around listening to Jesus as he began to preach were probably feeling a lot like that mule. They would have felt like an entire village was throwing dirt on their back. Many would have been struggling through life, just trying to make ends meet. They would have felt like all their efforts were getting them nowhere and it was just one struggle after another. Then, for those listening to Jesus who felt that they were not poor in spirit, or mourning, or meek, or any of the other traits Jesus mentioned; they would have believed that they were doomed. There probably would have been a sense of panic among such people. What do I need to do to get out of this mess?!? What do I need to do to be blessed?!? I've got to get busy or I am going to be buried alive!
Jesus words might have caused great panic among those listening to him, but it turns out that he was speaking exactly the words they needed to hear. These "blessings," the "wonderful news" that he's announcing, are not saying "try hard to live like this." Nor is Jesus suggesting that these are simply timeless truths about the way the world is, about human behavior. If he was saying that, he was wrong because mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don't inherit the earth, those who long for justice often take that longing to the grave. This is an upside down world, or perhaps a right-way up world; and Jesus is now saying that with his work it's starting to come true. Jesus is saying it may feel like you're at the bottom of a well with dirt being heaped upon you, but it turns out that dirt is a real blessing. It turns out that dirt you thought was going to be the death of you is actually going to bring you life! That's why Jesus' words here are gospel, good news, not just good advice! This is something important for us to realize as we read the Beatitudes. Our 21st century busy-body minds are trained to believe that at least some work is required for any good outcome. So when we read the Beatitudes, our interpretation tells us that if we want to be blessed, we have to do those things that Jesus mentions. We have to be poor in spirit, we have to mourn, we have to be meek and merciful, we have to be pure in heart, we have to be peacemakers, and we have to be persecuted for righteousness' sake.
But the Beatitudes are not direct calls to action; rather, the Beatitudes are promises. We do not have to do anything, we just have to be in God's presence. We do not have to rig up any elaborate system to extract ourselves from whatever mess we may find ourselves in, we just have to recognize that through Jesus Christ, God is blessing us in ways that we couldn't even imagine. And we have to realize that Christ blesses us simply because that is the way of God's kingdom; extravagant love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and life offered freely and willingly to all who will recognize the blessings that are right before us.
The good news of God's kingdom is that to know it's blessings, we do not have to do anything, we just have to be. How often have we gotten into trouble because we got too focused on getting something done? I think we tend to do that a lot these days, and often it causes trouble. Maybe because we're not spending enough time at home or with family. Maybe we mess things up because in the midst of getting one thing done, we forget about something else that needs to be done. It can really be a problem if we get too focused on the doing of Christianity, and forget about the simple being. We just need to be in Christ's presence. It is when we allow ourselves to slip out of Christ's presence that things become problematic; that dirt starts to pile up on our backs rather than becoming the stepping stone that will free us.
Jesus' words in the opening of the sermon on the mount describe those who find their being in the eternal God. The message of the Beatitudes is that it's what we are that really counts, not what we possess or have done. And all these characteristics Jesus describes are a result of our being in Christ. When we really start taking just a quick little look at these promises of the kingdom of God, and also the descriptions of those who receive the promises, we find that we begin to get a sneak peek into God's kingdom. And we also begin to realize that God's kingdom is the polar opposite of what the world has stamped down as accepted standards.
Jesus Christ is revolutionary, and if we are to truly follow Christ, we are going to have to be revolutionary as well! And as much as we need to be comforted and filled, as much as we want blessings and mercy, as much as we yearn to be the precious children of God; is it worth the cost? The Beatitudes show us that for Jesus, righteousness is more than the sum of any commandments; it is a total change of attitude and mind. And when we allow ourselves to be in Christ's presence, we are transformed. Those who are praised in the Gospels are men and women of humility, love, trust, fidelity, and courage. They are not yet perfect, but they are converted and their interests and desires are turned in the direction of the kingdom of God. Is this a description of us as well?
One preacher has summarized the Beatitudes very simply. He says, "You are loved. Go, therefore, and act like it!" Only then will we know the full measure of the blessings of God's kingdom! May it be so—for you and for me. Amen.
Almighty and eternal God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth: hear the prayers of your people, strengthen us to do your will and to serve you in the world in ways that bring about your reign of grace, reconciliation, peace, and healing.
Hear us, as we pray for those in poor spirit, who feel empty inside and who dread the day.
Hear us, as we pray for those who mourn and grieve, who ache with loss for someone much loved.
Hear us, as we pray for the meek, who do not grasp or shout or demand to be first in line.
Hear us, as we pray for those who hunger for justice, who toil to bring
Hear us, as we pray for all who are merciful, who have learned to forgive even those who have caused them pain.
Hear us, as we pray for all who are pure in heart, in whom there is no vengefulness, but only love.
Hear us, as we pray for the peacemakers, the ones who, by their words and deeds, can change the world.
Hear us, as we pray for those who are persecuted, and keep them safe from those who would hurt them.
Why Teach In Parables?
The stories Jesus taught were meant to teach a lesson and that’s what a parable is. It may be about something that actually happened or it may be a made up story, but every person in a parable stands for something else, and everything that happens is to be understood according to what the lesson means.
Jesus liked to teach in parables for three reasons. First, everybody likes to hear a story and so a parable will be listened to by young and old alike. Secondly, Jesus could hide His true meaning from His enemies in a parable. Since everyone has to tell for himself what a parable means, no one could say that Jesus said ‘such and such’ specifically. Thirdly, since a story stays in your mind better than a saying or a lecture, it would stay in the minds of the listeners for a very long time. Think about it, even today the parables of Jesus have a fresh meaning to us just as when they were spoken to the people two thousand years ago.
Sometimes the disciples asked Jesus to interpret a parable because they didn’t get its meaning. He would explain it, but He always told them they should learn how to interpret the stories for themselves. He told them that they could only do that if they gave themselves wholly to God and let His Spirit shine the light of His understanding upon it. And this is what we, too, must do. We must open our minds to God and let His Holy Spirit guide us.
`The parables of Jesus always had to do with common, every day things. Either they were about nature, which lies all around us, or they were about the different interactions with one another, about men, women and children. If we learn them thoroughly and think about them as we go about our everyday life, we’ll be taught by Jesus as much today as when He lived and talked with His disciples in Judea and Galilee.
We have plenty of parables to choose from. The Gospel of Luke contains the largest number of them – 24, and 18 of those are unique to Luke. The Gospel of Matthew has 23, and 11 of those are unique to Matthew. And the Gospel of Mark has 8 parables with 2 unique to Mark.
Basically, there are 7 themes to the parables: parables about God’s mercy and grace, God’s severity and wrath, the importance of obedience, God looking into our hearts, the importance of the kingdom of God, a spiritual kingdom for all and a kingdom where the weak become strong.
The parable this morning teaches us about the importance of obedience to God. It is about a sower who distributed seed which fell upon different kinds of ground. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable after He tells it.
Let’s go back 2000 years and look at a day in Jesus’ life. Jesus had a lot of work to do every day. So many people anxiously awaited to hear His stories. The sick were waiting to be healed. He was often tired and had a hard time finding a place to rest. He spent His night in prayer, on the mountain, in the garden, under the stars, talking with His heavenly Father. And it was from these times of prayer that He drew more strength and more love for the poor people who were so needy and who were so wrong in their thinking. But Jesus wanted time to rest, too, in the sunlight and the woods and on the hills.
So one morning He started out toward the lake. However, as He walked along, the local people saw Him, and a great crowd soon pressed around Him. There were sick people, and Jesus cured them. There were questions to answer and lessons to teach. But the people crowded against Jesus so tightly that He had no room, and He couldn’t see them all very well. So Jesus got into the disciples’ boat and asked to be rowed out a little way from the shore. The disciples did as they were asked and held the boat there, while Jesus sat and talked to the people.
Once Jesus was out on the water, He was able to see all the people, and He could see beyond the crowd up on the hills that rose a little way behind. As He looked up on the hill He spotted a farmer sowing his wheat. The man had a bag of seed hanging around his neck, and as he walked the field, he took a fistful of seed and slung it in a broad, sweeping motion, allowing the seed to fall evenly. After the seed was strewn, the farmer took a bushy branch and dragged it over the ground to cover the seed with earth.
While the farmer has been doing all this, some birds have found their breakfast in the seed, and he hurries to cover it so that the birds can’t eat it. No doubt when Jesus was a boy, he had seen many a field sowed in this way, and maybe He had even helped to sow a field or two. Jesus had lived in a carpenter’s home in the village, but He was a friendly kid, and He knew quite a few farmers. Because He was such a cheerful boy the people of His village were always glad when He came around, and they often let Him help them.
Now, as Jesus looked up from the boat and saw the farmer swinging along, casting his seed, probably a scene of His boyhood came into His mind, and He could see the field with the hard path running through it and a rocky patch and the corners where the brush had been left. He could see the birds following in the farmer’s track. And Jesus made a story from it all, while the people listened and could see the very same thing Jesus was talking about.
This is the story Jesus told. A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he was sowing, some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it all up. Some seed fell on the rocky ground where there wasn’t very much soil. That seed sprang up at once because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up it was scorched and soon withered away because there was no root. Some of the seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked out the seedlings. However, some of the seed fell on good soil and some of it yielded a hundredfold, some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold.
What exactly does this parable mean? There may have been a young boy or girl in the crowd with their parents, listening to the charming young teacher from Nazareth. They listened intently to His story but they couldn’t quite understand it fully, so they ask their parents. Perhaps the parents weren’t quite sure of the meaning either. If they were wise parents and knew the Scriptures, they would have been able to put the story and the Bible together. We can often find in the Scriptures the secret of the lessons Jesus taught from nature. It’s a good thing to try.
The disciples were not yet used to this kind of teaching. Most of them were rough fishermen, who had not yet studied the Scriptures very much. But by listening to the teachings of Jesus, they would come to know the Scriptures very well, and they would be able to understand the parables of Jesus. But on the day Jesus told the story of the sower, they were perplexed, and perhaps a little annoyed because they couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. So they went to Him and asked, “Why do You teach in parables?”
Jesus tried to ease their concern by answering, “You may know the secret of the kingdom of heaven, but they do not, I have to teach them in parables because they could not understand the truth if I were to tell it in plain words, just as the prophets foretold. But blessed are your eyes and ears, for they see and hear what the prophets longed to know.”
“Don’t you understand this parable? You must listen closely and set your minds to thinking when I tell a parable. And the better you know the Scriptures, the better you will be able to interpret it.” And Jesus continued, saying, “I’ll explain it to you. Listen carefully. What the sower sows is the word of God. The ones by the hard path are those who hear, and then the devil comes and carries the message away from their hearts. The ones on the rocky ground are tose who receive the message joyfully when they first hear it, but it takes no real hold. They believe for a little while, and then in the time of trouble they draw back.
And what falls among the thorns means those who listen and pass on, and the worries and riches and the pleasures of life creep in and choke out the message, and it yields nothing. But the seed in the good soil means those who listen to the message and keep it in good and true hearts, and yield much seed to give to others. Some of them are the best and truest, who yield a hundred times as much. Some others may not be quite so gifted, but they give all they have, and they make sixty times as much. Some, perhaps, are very common people, but they have good hearts, and they yield thirty times what they received. They are all good ground.”
The disciples thought and thought and thought as the word of God fell upon their ears. And I don’t doubt that the boy and the girl whom their parents helped to understand, thought and thought as well. So they all took the seed into good ground, and yielded a bountiful harvest.
The crowd was the field. There were hard hearts there, in which the seed did not bury itself at all, and it was soon taken away. There were minds too shallow to think very deeply. And when persecution came, they had no root, and the word withered away. There were souls filled with cares and pleasures, who let these things choke out the good words of Jesus. But, and this is the best part of all, there were men and women and boys and girls who were good ground, and they yielded fruit in their lives and kept the word of God in their hearts.
To briefly summarize the point of this parable: A person’s willingness to receive God’s Word depends on the goodness and purity of his heart. It can also be said that salvation is more than just a superficial hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it. It is the faith, belief and acceptance of your heart that can lead you closer to God. God’s word is accessible to everyone, but the ability to understand, keep and live by it is not the same in all people.
By reading the Scriptures and accepting the Word of God, we will have the nourishment of the good soil to make us fruitful in our lives.
Sowing the seed on the hard path, or where the rocks are found, Sowing the seed in the brier patch, sowing it in good ground. Dear Sower, I pledge You on my part, To give You good soil in my garden heart.
Christ’s parables became an important part of the scriptures. They were meant to be retold. These stories have provided insights that allow us to embrace the kingdom of heaven and eternal life, and show us the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray together: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your guidance. Forgive us for getting ahead of Your plans, and help us know when to stop and listen for Your direction. Your ways are perfect, Lord. Thank You for offering gentle grace. Help us live today in a way that brings honour to Your name. Let us choose to talk with You each day and to hear You when You speak to us. Thank You Lord for all You have done for us. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
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