Jesus was a storyteller. He was never without a story. His stories were not idle chat like our local fishing stories – you know “the big fish that got away” kind of tale. His stories, or parables, reveal deep truth in the ordinary language of the people with whom he spoke. It’s not that Jesus did not reference fish when he spoke, as in when he invited Simon and Andrew to become “fishers of men.” After all, they were fishers of fish when he encountered them. Aware of his audience, Jesus tailored his stories to draw people in, creating an image or story to which his listeners could relate and through which they could understand the deeper meaning he presented.
In the Gospel reading today we are presented with two parables dealing with seeds. In the first, a man scatters seed in a field and those seeds grow in the dark. “The seed sprouts and grows and he has no idea how it happened!” (The Message). With no apparent effort on the part of the person who scattered the seed, the earth brings forth the stem, the bud, the ripened grain. And when the grain is fully formed, it is reaped. It’s harvest time!
In the second parable, a small mustard seed sewn becomes a plant with large branches, so large that birds can nest under its shade. In the contemporary translation provided in The Message, the example of the mustard seed is replaced with the following: “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like an acorn. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge oak tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it. With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.”
Personally, I find the allegory of the acorn easier to imagine. Here we are in Northeast Washington and Northern Idaho surrounded by trees, mighty cedar, red fir, and tamarack, and we often see eagles perched on their branches. This imagery speaks to me and perhaps to you in a way that the mustard seed does not – yet it is the same story – the same parable – put in language suited for this place.
Thus, Jesus spoke words his audience could understand and easily grasp. With his disciples, he went into more detailed teaching as they were more mature in their understanding of his message — just as we would use easy explanations with toddlers and provide more detailed information to an adult.
As Christians, we are called to tell the story of Jesus, the story of salvation. Are we aware of our audience? I am sure you have encountered those who would cram their beliefs down your throat, seemingly unaware that they are turning you off from listening to their message or where the conversation becomes argumentative. And I’ve sat in classes where deep theological concepts were discussed of which I had difficulty understanding. And I certainly have been in situations in which the language and concepts presented were beyond my ability to grasp. What good does this do the listener? Certainly, a more mature Christian could have benefitted from the conversation, however, I was not that person.
We speak God’s truth in many ways. We’re called to act like Jesus as best we can. Feed the hungry, heal the sick, speak truth (even if it is uncomfortable), uplift the downtrodden. We tell the story in our actions as well as in our words.
Our actions and our words are the seeds. The hearts of those who witness our actions and hear our words are like the earth. In their hearts, what we say and do in Jesus’ name can grow there. Granted, our actions and words are imperfect. Trust me, I’ve said many a word I wish I had never spoken, and I’ve done many an act I regret. However, God uses imperfect instruments for His good.
Sometimes we are called to speak plainly, instead of in stories. I recall working in a buffet in which the manager was arrogant. He had the habit of disparaging his employees in front of other staff members. Because of this, it was an unpleasant job and morale was low. Most of the staff were people who needed work when little work was available. It was an unhappy situation. One day a teenaged boy bluntly asked me this question: “How is it you are always happy?” Having been asked a straightforward question, I responded with a rather straight answer. I did preface it with something like, “I’m not sure you’ll accept this answer,” followed by “I have the Lord Jesus Christ in my life.” We continued to be friends and had many conversations for as long as we worked together. The seed was planted; however, I have no idea whether the seed took hold or not.
There are other times when we have no idea we are planting seeds – it’s more like the analogy of the acorn dropping from the oak and nature taking its course. Later we may find that something we said or did brought growth. My daughter had a boyfriend whom I didn’t particularly care for. As in the course of many a teenager’s life, the couple broke up and I didn’t see or hear from the young man for several years. One day, as I was driving from Billings to Bozeman in the early morning hours, I felt a nudge from above to pray for him. Well, I argued bit about that directive, but gave in, praying without any idea of what I was to pray about. A few months later I received a call from across the country. It was this young man who said, “I want you to know that I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Thank you for being witness to God’s love in my life.” Wonder of wonders! What words had been said? What example set? I have no idea.
I am certain every person in this room has spoken God’s truth in words and in action. I’ve witnessed it in our business meetings, in overhearing conversations before and after church, and in feeling the prayerful love and support we share.
Our lives are the tools God uses to scatter the truth about His son and salvation. Do we always know when we have planted a seed? Maybe not. But we need to be aware that what we say and do impacts the lives of others.
Jesus was never without a story. He was a storyteller. May God grant us the ability to share His Story with all who would hear.