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Turning from the word

Jesus said: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet it has no root within himself, but he takes advantage of it for a while, and when opposition or pressure arises on account of the word, immediately he turns away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13: 18-23
 

People differ. No person is exactly the same as another. Not even so-called identical twins. Sometimes the differences between us are small, sometimes large. When any particular human attribute is plotted on a graph the result is almost always a graph that has the same shape as a church bell.

Take alcohol consumption plotted on a graph. The left hand vertical scale is the number of people and the bottom horizontal scale is the number of units per week starting at none as increasing to, as it were, infinity.

A minority will consume no alcohol at all in a week – they’ll be at the bottom of the graph and to the left. A different minority will consume a huge amount – bottom of the graph also – but to the far right. As one moves from no alcohol to a bit and then a bit more the number of people imbibing that quantity increases rapidly and the graph rises. At the top is where the majority of people are (the average drinkers) and then the graph drops rapidly down – until one reaches the very few who drink heavily.

A bell curve. Most human activities and attributes result in a bell curve.

 
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‘We are so used to disguising ourselves to others that at last we become disguised even to ourselves.’ (Francois de la Rochefoucauld, French author, 1613-1680)

How about a graph to show how readily people take note of the words they hear – and follow them? Where would you feature on that bell curve? Are you with one minority who immediately accept what they hear – and take action? Or with the other minority who, being very sceptical indeed, reject almost every word they hear. Or are you among the average – the biggest group?

Jesus spoke about a particular word being like a seed. Around AD 30 he wanted to explain to ordinary, average people how to become his brothers and sisters. (Yes, quite amazing, isn’t it?) He told them about a sower broadcasting seed – broadcasting word.

The seed falls on the path and the birds eat it up. It falls on stony ground, springs up but wilts and dies in the sun’s heat. It falls among thorns and is choked by them. Finally it falls on good ground and produces 100, or 60 or 30 times more fruit. Those must be his brothers and sisters. 

Jesus said that the seed – the word – falls on rocky places – only a little soil – and there, in that place, it springs up. Are those to the left of the bell curve? Folk who readily accept Jesus’ words? Is that commendable?

Here is Jesus’ explanation of the broadcast word of the kingdom of heaven. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet it has no root within himself, but he takes advantage of it for a while, and when opposition or pressure arises on account of the word, immediately he turns away.

Do you recall one occasion in the BBC’s Yes Minister when Sir Humphrey Appleby, the manipulative civil servant, told the Prime Minister, “That would be a brave decision.” The Minister became very concerned, “What? I don’t want to be brave.” He changed his decision as Sir Humphrey wished.

Does then the receiving of the word of the authority of heaven involve bravery? Are we brave if we receive the word that Jesus spoke about but only keep to it when it’s to our advantage? Or do I, in fact, lack integrity when, in response to opposition and pressure against Jesus and his word from heaven, I turn away from him.

 
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‘Persecution often does in this life what the last great day will do completely – separate the wheat from the tares.’ (James Milner)
Is it brave to stay a brother or sister of Jesus? It seems that a person must needs be brave – must have integrity - when hearing and responding to the word of the kingdom of heaven. Otherwise, I’ve turned away from it.
 
Richard Syvret

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