“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” -Jesus, Matthew 13:3-9
The biggest problem that people have with grace is when it comes to those who will abuse it. The thought of someone, who isn’t sorry for the pain they caused, is what stirs up anger and righteous indignation in the hearts of those who know the cost of grace. ‘Grace isn’t cheap‘ is what I was once told by someone who didn’t think I was sorry for my sin. The result is that grace is withheld. If you don’t measure up, if you don’t fix it on your own, then grace is kept from you. It’s balanced in the world’s mind, but it’s not the way it works in this ‘Kingdom’ Jesus teaches us about.
“What do you make of this?”
The farmer plants seed on gravel and in weeds. He doesn’t restrict his seed to the soil that is ready for it. Is the farmer foolish? Doesn’t he know that rocky lives can’t sustain a crop? Doesn’t he know that weeds choke the seedlings?
Who are you questioning?
In the story Jesus told, the farmer is God, the ground is people and the seed is grace. Grace is all inclusive, even though some will not believe. The belief or worthiness of the gift is not the focus. It’s a blanket of grace under which God shelters us. Those under the blanket, all of us, are not sifted out. Not yet.
Don’t try to do the sifting yourselves. Don’t try to decide who is sorry, who has properly asked for forgiveness, or who is ‘good earth’. That’s not for you to decide. You’re still being decided on, yourself.
Grace is all encompassing without regard to who it covers. That’s a fact. It’s no secret that people reject it for themselves and try to hoard it from others. There are people who will take advantage of the freedom grace gives and they will use it to get away with their own selfishness. There is nothing wrong with grace, or with the ‘seed’. The wrong is in us.
Jesus told another story about planting, but this time, the seed was truth, the plants and weeds were people, the field was the world, and the farmer was Jesus. Jesus has an enemy who plants seeds of lies that grow thistles (false ‘believers’) among the seeds of truth, which grow ‘Kingdom subjects’.
“God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
“The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’
“He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’
“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’
“He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.'” -Jesus, Matthew 13:24-30
No doubt, there are ‘false believers’, but what if they just appear to be a weed in the baby stages of their development? Didn’t we all look like weeds at some point? Some of us look like weeds right now. However, our story isn’t finished yet. ‘If you pull up the weeds, you pull up the wheat, too.’ We are still plants in the field and it’s not our job to weed out the body of Christ. The ‘harvest hands’ who have been given the job of weeding the field at harvest time are angels, not humans. The ‘harvest’ is when the curtain comes down on this entire thing we call life, it’s not right now. Not while people are still breathing from lungs that still have the ability to cry to Jesus.
“The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.” -Jesus, Matthew 13:39
It’s still planting season and you’re still growing.
“The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act.” -Jesus, Matthew 13:40
Jesus gives another example of His all encompassing grace. It’s a picture of a huge net being cast in the sea to catch anything and everything in its path. We are all citizens of the sea and we’re all caught in the net. The net is grace. When life is over, we’ll be divided into fit and unfit, but not now.
The Kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. -Jesus, Matthew 13:47-49
There are those who will take advantage of grace. They will not be sorry and they will not learn. There will also be some who take advantage of grace and learn deep, painful lessons from doing so. We’re surrounded by grace because it sets us free to be who we are and learn all that we can. We gather storehouses of information accumulated through failure and success, selfishness and selflessness, and from being wrong and being right. Living in grace is living without fear. Living without fear practically promises failure, but not as the end. Because of Jesus, failure is no longer the end. Without the threat of death, we are set free to learn. Only after we learn, in whatever fashion that may be, do we have something to offer.
Jesus asked, “Are you starting to get a handle on all this?”
[The disciples] answered, “Yes.”
He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” -Jesus, Matthew 13:51-52
When a person comes to your church and needs to connect with someone who has been through the hell of shame, failure, and pain that she is enduring, do you have a storehouse full of failures rescued by grace to offer her? Or have you removed all of your big ‘messes’ from your community? Do you have an adulteress? A porn addict? An alcoholic? A pregnant teenager? A homosexual? An ego-maniac? A thief? God works overwhelmingly obvious in these lives when you submit them to the life changing power of love and grace. If you played ‘harvest hand’ and kicked them out like garbage to be burned before they were finished growing, then you have nothing to offer the real world. With nothing to offer the real world, you are not ‘well-trained students in God’s Kingdom, you’re a community of over-grown thistles.