The kingdom of God is the central message of the Gospel. In the Gospels, especially in St. Luke, the verb ‘evangelize’ has often for its object not people but the Kingdom. To ‘evangelize the Kingdom of God’ means to proclaim the good news that the kingdom has already come [St. Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16; Acts 8:12]. In St. Luke 9: 2, Christ sends out the twelve to ‘proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal’. When the crowds come to Jesus, he speaks to them of the Kingdom of God [St. Luke 9:11]. In the Acts, it is the arrival of the Kingdom of God that is the content of the apostle’s message -- not any kind of personal salvation in the coming world (Acts 1:3; 14:22; 19:8). Christ asks his disciples to make the object of their ultimate concern the Kingdom of God -- 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, shelter), shall be yours as well’ [St. Matthew. 6:33]
But what is this Kingdom, which is thus the central concern of the Christian Church? The Kingdom cannot be easily defined. It was announced to the disciples in parables. They did not clearly understand. But some were attracted by it, fascinated and drawn to it without knowing fully what it meant. In this and the following study we shall look at seven of the parables of the kingdom, in order to begin to understand the Kingdom in its rich and diverse meaning.
The first of the seven parables in St. Matthew 13 that of the sower and the different fields, is well-known to us. We need only to draw some lessons for our time from it. Here the emphasis is neither on the sower nor on the seed, but on the different types of field which receive the seed. The seed is the ‘Word of the Kingdom’ [13:19], and the field is humanity. Men receive the word of the Kingdom in many different ways and respond to it differently, with different results in their lives. The nature of the personal response is at the heart of this parable. Let us look at the narrative to bring to light some of its essential aspects.
Verse 13:1-2 The Context:
Great crowds are around the Master, fascinated by his personality, attracted by his many miraculous acts of healing, enticed by his authoritative presence which dared to question the religious leaders and disputed with them without fear. Many came looking for healing. Others came to be entertained, or out of curiosity. Many might have been attracted because they felt like sheep without a shepherd, and found in this man a true good shepherd. The point is that many came. Why don’t the crowds come when our preachers go out to preach? Because the ‘signs of the Kingdom’ are not present there. Words alone cannot draw attention of people. The quality of life, living in integrity and prayer, disciplined and well-trained, brimming with the power of God that performs miracles -- that was the presence of Christ, who could also speak words of power. Today, our words flow, but the quality of life is lacking. So President Radhakrishnan could say, ‘Christians are ordinary people making extraordinary claims’. We need to regain that quality of extraordinariness which made the words of Christ and his disciples through the centuries capable of speaking with power.
Verse 13: 3-8; 18: 23
The different areas of the field where the seed fell have their own qualities.
The Path [v. 4]
The path typifies the kind of persons who listen to everything, but cannot take things in (v.19). They are the majority of people in the modern world, where there is so much traffic, so much ‘communication’ through the mass media, so many comings and goings, so many travels and conferences, so many millions of words poured into one’s ears. But it is like a beaten track. Everybody has access to it. It cannot, however, receive the seed, because it is so smooth on the outside, but hard and without any opening to the depths. Most of us have become like that, and the seed of the Kingdom falls on us, but it never takes root in us.
The Rocky Ground [vv. 5, 6, 20, 21]
This is another kind of superficiality found in many of us. We are eager to receive good words. We think we have become good Christians simply because we can listen to a good preacher, respond to him emotionally, and generally agree with him [v. 20]. Everything goes well when the environment of the college, the religious group, and the spiritual clique is pleasant and congenial for a ‘religious emphasis’. But when one leaves the congenial environment and goes into another society where different sets of values operate, then all the ‘religious interest’ of the student movement or youth club days disappears. When a small problem or opposition to the ‘religious interest’ appears, the seed of the Kingdom disappears from the mind. No depth [v. 5]; too many of us are like that.
The Thorny Area [vv.7, 22]
This is the kind of commitment to Christ which one tries to keep as one among many other interests. One goes to student movement or religious group activities, exactly as another goes to the tennis or hockey club, to a dramatic society, to the debating society, or to the music club. After a while one finds that many of the other activities are much more interesting and these ‘thorns’ grow up and choke the seed of the Word. The Kingdom demands total and absolute loyalty. It does not mean that one cannot engage in sports, acting or drama and debate if one is a Christian. The point is that the Christian commitment cannot be put on the same level as these other interests. The other interests have to be integrated from the centre -- to the commitment to the Kingdom, to the joy and truth and beauty and justice of God. No single integrated commitment -- many of us are like that. And so the thorns choke and destroy.
The Good Soil [vv.8, 23]
The mark of the good soil is always its capacity to bear fruit. And let us not misunderstand the ‘hundredfold, sixty and thirty’ of verses 8 and 23 as referring to the number of ‘souls’ we save by our personal evangelism. When the Bible speaks of fruit, it always means righteousness or unrighteousness, a quality of life, of acts [St. Matthew. 3: 8 ff, St. Luke 3:8 ff, St. Matthew 7:16, St. Matthew.12:33 ff, Romans. 6:22]. Galatians 5:22 ff clearly speaks about the fruit of the spirit as love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, reliability, humility and inner strength. These are the qualities that the Kingdom ought to create in us. And they are all very relevant to the situation in our nation today.
Christ’s Method of Teaching [Verse 13:10 – 17]
Christ did not teach the same way as the writer of this present study is doing. He was not always discursive and logical. He often said things which sounded almost absurd and illogical -- like asking people to pluck out their eyes if they caused them trouble. Responding to the Kingdom requires a different kind of listening from the manner of listening to our college or public lecturers. It demands a response from the depths, with the will fully engaged, as well as the mind and the emotions. The message of the Kingdom calls in question the logic by which we keep our minds as arbiter and norm for all decisions. The Gospel puzzles and perplexes, in order to open the depths of understanding. Parables are meant to puzzle and to attract only the serious-minded. The great opportunity is there [v.17]. When you are exposed to the word of the Kingdom, what kind of ears do we bring to it [v. 9]? Can we respond from our depths, or are we like the well-trodden path, the superficial soil, or the type with many interests but no integrating principle and commitment? He, who has ears to hear, let him hear.