The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

“But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a shilling a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing in the marketplace idle; and to them he said, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.’
And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he saith unto them, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’
They say unto him, ‘Because no man hath hired us.’
He saith unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard.’
And when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, ‘Call the laborers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.’
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a shilling. And when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received every man a shilling.
And when they received it, they murmured against the householder, saying, ‘These last have spent but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a shilling? Take up that which is thine, and go thy way; it is my will to give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Or is thine eye evil, because I am good?’
So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 19:30-20:16).

When it comes to work and compensation, people tend to get very, very sensitive. Most people have some subjective standard in their minds regarding what types of effort are worth how much in compensation. For most people it is intolerable to think that some people are paid much to do quite little, and others are paid quite little to do much. Ultimately, for many, fairness and consistency is the key– if I work hard and do more than you do at the same job, I should get paid more, and you less. If we get paid the same, conventional wisdom says, I am being punished for doing more and you are rewarded for doing less. In such a circumstance I am better off doing less and making the same. Perhaps such logic is part of the reason why communism has not worked out so well in practice.

It is quite easy to translate such thoughts and feelings to the spiritual realm. Many would like to think that there are levels of reward in eternity. Those who did more should be more greatly rewarded, right? And those who did less should receive less, right? Surely those who did more should receive greater prominence, and those who did less should receive lesser prominence!

And yet Jesus overthrows this line of logic, just as He does with so many other expectations that humans have based upon how the world works. He presents a parable regarding workers in a vineyard, and the parable itself has a statement as its “bookends”– the last shall be first, and the first last (Matthew 19:30, 20:16). This connects the parable with what came before– the distress of the rich young ruler, the declaration that what is impossible with man is possible with God, and that those who follow Jesus and sacrifice for doing so will receive a hundredfold in the “regeneration” or “new creation” (Greek palingenesia) and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16-29). The rich may be humbled and the poor exalted, indeed, but Jesus wants one thing to be entirely clear: the Kingdom presents a very level playing field.

He communicates this through the parable. The sense of the story is easy enough to understand. In what was a very common circumstance in Jesus’ day, an owner of a vineyard hires men as day laborers to work the vineyard. He begins going around 6 in the morning and hires workers for a denarius— the average day’s wage for a laborer (Matthew 20:1-2). The money is not extravagant but is also not measly. Later in the day– at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm– the owner does the same, but does not specify the wage, but says he will give “what is right” (Matthew 20:3-5). He even goes out at the eleventh hour– 5pm, one hour before work tended to be finished for the day– and finds men idle, and hires them as well (Matthew 20:6-7). When the day was done and the wages were to be paid, the steward is instructed to begin with those who came at 5pm, and they received a denarius even though they worked but an hour (Matthew 20:9). Ostensibly those who began work from 9am through 3pm also received a denarius each.

And then we get the original workers– those who began working for the denarius. They have the same mentality we all have, and they start trusting in a vain hope. “Well,” they say, “he gave them a denarius. We have worked far longer than they have. We should be getting more!” But they also receive a denarius (Matthew 20:10). They do what any one of us would likely do– they began grumbling. This is patently unfair. “We” deserve more because they got what we got even though we worked more and/or harder. And so the workers grumble (Matthew 20:11-12).

Now comes the paradigm shift. We hear from the owner of the vineyard. He declares that he has done them no wrong, and in truth, he has not– he promised a denarius, they received a denarius (Matthew 20:13). The owner is in charge of the money and dictating how he will pay his workers, and if he wants to be generous toward those who worked less, who can tell him that he is wrong for doing so (Matthew 20:14-15)? The owner concludes, literally, by asking them if their eyes are evil because the owner is good– in effect, asking if they begrudge his generosity or are envious of it (Matthew 20:15)?

Many have extrapolated fancy ways of interpreting the parable. Some overlay Biblical history upon it, understanding the different laborers as successive periods of covenants between God and man, with the Gentiles coming in at the eleventh hour. Others look at it exclusively in terms of Jews and Gentiles. While such concepts are interesting, and it is true that the Gentiles are lately brought into the fold in which the Jews have been for generations (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18), such expositions are far from the heart and soul of this parable. We need not extrapolate periods of time or types of people to make sense of this parable– we just need to think about people!

The owner of the vineyard is God. The vineyard is the Kingdom. The marketplace represents the world, and those in it waiting for work are those seeking the truth. Those entering the vineyard are those who obey Him. Some begin serving the Lord from a young age, working many years in the Kingdom, and God has promised them the hundredfold inheritance and eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:29). Others enter at various stages of life– in their 20s or 30s, or more toward middle age– and such are those entering the vineyard from 9am through 3pm. Some might come to the faith as older people or with very little time left on earth to serve God; such would be those coming at 5pm.

Ultimately, they all receive the same as what is promised to the first group. They all get the same reward– the denarius. It is not out of disrespect to the “original” workers but a reflection of the magnanimity and generosity of God the Master. This logic is offensive to the world but ought to be a source of joy to those in the Kingdom. It is not designed to be a damper on spirituality and spiritual growth– it should not lead anyone to assume that they can just squeak into the resurrection without diligently seeking to serve God. Quite the contrary (Matthew 7:21-23, 10:22, 19:16-26). Instead, this message is hope for the world. It does not matter whether you enter His vineyard at 9am or 5pm– the important thing is that you enter His vineyard, and once you are in it, to work diligently to serve the Master! Salvation can be had at any age– because salvation, ultimately, is more about what God has done for us and establishing that association with Him, and not about what we “deserve” based upon what we have done (Ephesians 2:1-18)!

In the resurrection all saints should be sated with glory beyond understanding and eternal life (Matthew 19:29, Romans 8:17-18). Those who worked for a long time and those who worked for a short time will both receive it. Let us praise God for the opportunity for salvation and eternal life and let us all be active in His vineyard!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Value of the Kingdom

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Everyone is taught to be wary of the deal that is too good to be true, because more often than not, it is. A free car is never really “free.” That e-mail from Nigeria promising you hundreds of thousands of dollars is a scam; do not send them any money! While that “hot stock pick” sometimes might make you money, more often than not, it probably will not. Most everyone has a story about having high expectations for some great and wonderful thing that proved to be too good to be true.

But what happens if we actually do come across something that is wonderful and good– and it is true? What if we could discover something that, in reality, is worth far more than anything we could ever own or dream to own? What if you were promised security in the midst of every situation? Peace no matter the circumstances in which you find yourself? Unwavering hope for the present and future? The prospect of unimaginable glory for eternity? How much would that be worth to you?

These things are what Jesus offers people in His Kingdom (Romans 8:18-25, 31-39, Philippians 4:7). He describes this Kingdom for us in many parables, and two of them really show us just how valuable we are to consider His Kingdom to be: the parable of the treasure in the field and the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).

In the parable of the treasure of the field, a man, for whatever reason, is digging in a field, and he finds treasure in it. He buries the treasure, joyfully goes and sells all that he has, buys that field, and thus obtains the treasure (Matthew 13:44). In the parable of the pearl of great price, a merchant is seeking pearls to buy, and happens to come across one magnificent pearl, and he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy that pearl (Matthew 13:45-46).

There are some distinctions in these parables that are profitable to consider. In the parable of the treasure in the field, the Kingdom is likened to the treasure itself; in the parable of the pearl of great price, the Kingdom is likened to the merchant seeking pearls. The merchant is more of a “specialist”– he has seen many pearls, he knows what he is seeking, and he finds the ultimate pearl. The man in the field, on the other hand, does not seem to be a “specialist”; it would seem that he discovered the treasure by chance.

Some people, therefore, come upon the Kingdom of God by chance. Others are seeking the Kingdom and then find it. Some may not be very knowledgeable about God; others might be quite knowledgeable about spiritual things, seeking divine truth. Nevertheless, however one ends up finding the Kingdom, the result is to be the same: it is to be held in such high esteem that it is worth getting rid of any hindrance, any possessed object, so as to obtain that Kingdom.

Thus we return to the question: what is the Kingdom worth to us? How much is confidence, hope, peace, and ultimate glory worth to us? We know what the answer to the question should be– it should be worth giving up everything else in our lives so that we obtain it. This is what Paul emphasizes in Philippians 3:8-15: counting everything as rubbish so as to gain Christ, to strain forward toward the upward call of God in Christ.

But do we really think the Kingdom is that worthwhile? Are we really willing to suffer the loss of everything else in life so as to gain the Kingdom? Are we willing to be entirely transformed so as to conform to the image of Jesus, and no longer walk in the ways of the world (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2, 9; 1 John 2:15-17)? Are we willing to be entirely expended for Jesus’ cause and suffer in order to obtain that glory (Romans 8:17-18, Galatians 2:20)?

The Kingdom costs everything because it is worth more than anything else we can have or imagine. Perhaps we may not have been looking for it; nevertheless, the treasure is before us. Perhaps we have been searching; the pearl is there for us to find. But once we have found it, what then? Will we understand that the Kingdom is good and it is true, and be willing to suffer the loss of everything in order to obtain it? Or will we find the cost too high and walk away? Let us recognize the exceeding value of the Kingdom of God, and be willing to be entirely expended for Christ’s cause today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Rocky Soil

“And others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away…And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21).

One of the most savage ironies in life is that we learn the most about our character and ourselves when we least expect it. Rare is the person who learns character lessons from winning, success, and prosperity. Just as fire is necessary to remove dross from pure metal, so distress, tribulation, and difficulty are necessary to refine the faith of the believer (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9).

We have the maxim today that “whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.” But what happens to the one who does not survive their difficulties and challenges? Jesus provides an illustration of such people in the parable of the sower with the rocky soil.

The story is consistent in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. The sower casts seed on rocky soil. The seed takes root and grows initially, but the roots do not sink down very deeply. Therefore, when the sun rises, or the moisture runs out, the plant withers and dies.

So it is with many people. Many hear the Word of God, and they receive it eagerly. They believe that Jesus is the Christ. They assemble with fellow Christians. By all appearances, they are growing well as disciples. They may be involved with all kinds of spiritual efforts. And yet, all of a sudden, they are gone.

Why? The reasons are many. Some burn out– they acted more on impulse, and perhaps their personalities are the sort wherein they do not keep any practice or commitment up for any significant amount of time. Others find themselves in some spiritually discouraging situation among Christians who do not act as God would have them act. Many more experience some external difficulty– a family member dies suddenly, they or someone they love endure some kind of evil, or their faith is challenged by some unbeliever in person or on some television show. As a result, many such people entirely abandon belief in God. Others will say that they still believe in Jesus, but not the church, or will declare that they are spiritual but not religious, or some other rationalization.

All such circumstances boil down to the same problem: a shallow faith. Faith is the “roots” that people grow as they learn of God. In the physical realm, roots have amazing power as they grow. Over time roots can often find ways to grow, even in inhospitable places. But when the roots dry out, there is not much hope left. So it is with our faith. If our faith has not grown sufficiently, or was not sufficiently founded in Jesus, when some difficulty comes, it is easy to lose whatever faith we had. If the roots of faith did not grow deeply before boredom set in, then we will move on to some new thing in life. If the roots of faith did not grow past the actions of others, then we are likely to abandon Jesus when some of His followers fail us. If our roots of faith did not grow to the point of trusting God’s goodness in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, then we can easily imagine that God is not there when bad things happen and life seems to go wrong, or when we are posed with challenges in life for which there are no easy answers.

The illustration of the rocky soil is designed to be both a declaration of reality and a warning. It declares the reality that many will believe in a shallow way. When such people fall away, it will be discouraging and unfortunate, but it should not shake our faith or cause undue distress. Our Lord knew that many people would follow Him only as long as it was comfortable– in the sports world, those described as “fair weather fans.” And that is the warning– we must not be the rocky soil. We must be prepared for challenges to our faith. There will be times when Christianity will seem boring and/or our zeal for Christ will languish. There will be times when fellow Christians do not act like they should, and it will discourage us. There will be times when evil will confront us head on, and it will lead to questions about the presence and goodness of God. And there will be times when the hope that is in us will be challenged by those who do not accept it. We cannot change that reality– but we can prepare for it. We can decide how we will respond to it. We can understand that such trials are blessings in that they help us to grow in faith (James 1:2-3). They may not be pleasant, but they are necessary for our growth. We can never prove to be the good soil until someone or something tests the depth of the roots of faith we have set down in our lives.

Life is not a bed of roses, and becoming a servant of Jesus does not then somehow make it so. In fact, serving Jesus means to humbly accept challenge, sacrifice, and difficulty (Matthew 16:24, 20:25-28, Romans 12:2, Galatians 2:20). When difficulty comes, will you grow or perish? We pray that you will grow and prove to be good soil, and not rocky soil, and to please the Creator of us all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Road Soil

And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them…Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side” (Matthew 13:3-4, 18-19).

The Parable of the Sower is perhaps the parable par excellence— it introduces Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. It has all of the elements of a parable– a realistic setting, familiar to the hearers, an understandable event, and all of it with a spiritual meaning. It is profound in its simplicity.

We are informed that the seed is the Word of God, the word of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18, Luke 8:11). The sower is the one who proclaims the message. While some have errantly taught that the sower is to seek out and find just the “good soil,” Jesus never suggests that this is the case. The sower goes out and sows the seed– how the “seed” is received is dependent on the hearer and the type of “soil” he or she proves to be.

This is evident from the first type of soil– the “road soil.” In the physical realm, no sower worth his salt would knowingly and intentionally cast precious seed upon roads. While most roads in the ancient world were not paved, they would be very hard surfaces, packed down by the constant movement of people, animals, carts, and the like. Seeds could not penetrate such a hard surface; therefore, it would be most likely blown off the road by wind or rain or, as Jesus presents, eaten by birds (Matthew 13:4).

So it goes with those who hear the Word of God but do not understand it (Matthew 13:18) and/or of whom Satan takes away that word, lest they should be saved (Mark 4:15, Luke 8:12). Their hearts are as the road soil– too hard for the word of Christ to penetrate and grow.

Some might protest here. How is it “fair” if Satan is the one who comes and takes away the word from such people? We must remember that just as God does not coerce or compel anyone, neither can Satan force anyone to do anything. He is the tempter, and he does tempt (cf. 1 Peter 5:8), but if people are unwilling, he can do nothing (James 4:7). Therefore, the reason that Satan can take the Word from their hearts is that they have no problem with him doing so– they themselves have rejected the Word of God and the message of Christ and His Kingdom. Thus Jesus categorizes all those who do not believe in Him and in His Father.

It is interesting to note that disbelief in God must always be rationalized in a way that disbelief in other concepts does not. People must justify to themselves and to those around them why they do not believe in God. In reality, their arguments tend to be rather weak, and end up boiling down to certain principles. For some, it is embracing something that God has deemed sinful. For others, it is reconciling the existence of a good Creator God with the pervasive evil in our world. Many have been puffed up with pride and have no desire to subject themselves to a Higher Power. And, for a tragically high number of people, it comes down to nothing more than a lack of consideration and reflection– they have not cared enough about their spiritual lives to consider whether there is a God or not and whether He should be obeyed.

People in these conditions remain hardened toward God. They have always existed, exist now, and will always exist. Jesus expected it, and through this parable tells us to expect it, also. Many such people will not show much concern; others, however, will be rather antagonistic toward the faith and those who practice and promote it. This is why all those who desire to serve the Lord will experience persecution (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12). Furthermore, when believers attempt to promote the Gospel with such people, they feel the pain concerning which they were afraid– rejection and hostility.

This is not a reason to quit “sowing the seed” or to get distressed. Believers must remember that it is not their job to judge the soil– it is given to them to sow and water the seed, and God will give whatever increase will come (1 Corinthians 3:5-8). There will be “road soil” out there, but there will also be “good soil.” How tragic it would be if potential “good soil” goes without seed because sowers were distressed because of all the seed cast upon the “road”!

From beginning to end there have been people who have rejected God (Romans 1:18-32). Thankfully, some such people have awakened before it was too late and changed their ways. Nevertheless, many will not, and we should not be overly distressed at their rejection of the Word; we must still promote that Word among all men. Let us spread the Word of God throughout the world as God has commanded!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Mustard Seed (1)

And he said, “How shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof” (Mark 4:30-32).

Many of Jesus’ teachings regarding His Kingdom were set forth in parables. This is understandable, for it is difficult for humans to wrap their heads around the realities of a spiritual Kingdom while living on the earth. We understand things best when they are compared with things we know and understand.

The Jews of first century Palestine would understand the mustard seed and the mustard plant. The mustard seed was incredibly small, about three millimeters in diameter. Nevertheless, when the mustard seed was planted and the plant grown, it far exceeds the size of other herbs, looking like a shrub or a small tree, large enough for birds in which to lodge. The mustard plant, therefore, is a story of growth explosion from a small beginning.

Jesus found the example of the mustard seed and plant quite useful and applied its lesson in different ways. In Mark 4:30-32, the mustard seed and plant represent God’s Kingdom. Its beginnings would seem rather insignificant: Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in the relative backwater of Galilee and Judea in the days of Tiberius Caesar (cf. Mark 1:15, Acts 10:38). Around Him gathered a small following of devoted disciples of whom He selected twelve to be His special representatives (Mark 3:14-19). Neither Jesus nor His representatives seemed very significant– He an unlearned son of a carpenter from Nazareth, His followers mostly Galileans, many of whom were relatively ignorant fishermen (cf. Mark 6:3, John 7:15, Mark 1:16-20, Acts 4:13). This Jesus went to Jerusalem in triumph and yet was soon executed by the Romans (Mark 11:1-10, 14:1-15:47). All of this did not seem to be that earth-shattering.

Yet, on the third day, this Jesus was raised by the power of God from the dead, and He instructed His followers in all things concerning Himself (Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53). After He ascended to His Father, His representatives, the Twelve Apostles, received power from the Holy Spirit and began proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in power to all the Jews (cf. Acts 2:1-36).

At first there was the One (Luke 17:20-21). Then there were 120 or so (Acts 1:15). After the first lesson there were over 3,000 (Acts 2:41). Soon after it would be 5,000 more (Acts 4:4). The message would then spread from Jerusalem throughout Samaria and Galilee (Acts 1:8, 8:4), and then throughout the Mediterranean world, and ultimately into all the world (Acts 1:8, Colossians 1:6). The Kingdom is proclaimed to this day, almost 1,980 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth!

Thus the Kingdom is like a mustard seed: it started extremely small but expanded out into all the world, and its message and those who proclaim it are a refuge for those who despair. Let us be part of that Kingdom and promote that Kingdom in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Soils

“Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. Its meaning resonates for us today.

The sower is the preacher of the Gospel of Christ– the message of His life, death, resurrection, and Kingdom (cf. Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). The seed is that message. The focus of the parable, however, is on the different types of soils.

The “road soil” is quite hard, and the Word finds no room to take ground within it. Such are the unbelievers who choose to stay that way. They do not understand– or do not want to understand– Jesus’ message of humility, service, and turning from sin. The Evil One keeps them in his grip (cf. John 8:44-47).

So go the unbelievers. The next three types of soil feature believers and their fruit.

The “rocky soil” are those who hear the Word, believe and obey it, and start well. The Word is not deeply founded, however, and whenever difficulty arises– persecution for the Name, economic distress, physical suffering, or some other calamity– they turn away from their faith. It may take days, months, or even years for this difficulty to come, but when it does, the shallowness of that believer’s faith is made evident. Their faith is tested– and it fails.

The “thorny soil” also hear the Word and believe it and obey it. They recognize that Jesus is the Christ and know that they should devote themselves to spiritual things. But they have busy lives. They may be devoting themselves to some idol– money, fame, recreation, or some other pleasure. They may be so devoted to the needs of their physical family, friends, and the like that they do not make the time for spiritual matters. Since the Kingdom is not made a priority, their faith weakens and dies. Misplaced and misguided priorities lead to the end of their faith.

The “good soil” are those who hear the Word, believe it, obey it, and make spiritual things their first priority. Difficulties and temptations come, and their faith is tried, but they persevere and grow (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-9). They have plenty of obligations in the world, but they realize that their obedience to Christ is first and foremost and can be accomplished within their other obligations (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9). According to their gifts and service, they produce fruit: some thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, some one hundredfold. As humble servants, they praise God for all that He accomplishes, and participate joyfully in their specific role (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Those producing a hundredfold do not look down upon the those with sixtyfold or thirtyfold, and the latter are not jealous of the former.

Let the one who has ears hear. We can see these responses to the Word in action in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We may seem to be “good” soil but turn out to be “rocky” soil. The thorns of the world are always around us. On the other hand, possibly “rocky” soil may turn and become “good” soil. In the end, let us be the good soil, producing for the Lord, with God giving the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prodigal Son

And he said, “A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me.’
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”‘
And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
And they began to be merry (Luke 15:11-24).

He was a young man who was likely raised well and had a comfortable living. When he comes of age, it is time for him to get up and have a good time; he obtains his share of the inheritance, and goes off. He has a great time “living it up” in the world. That is, until the difficult days came.

The money ran out. A famine happened. Desperate times called for desperate measures. This Jew now stoops to the level of feeding unclean swine, yearning to be fed with the food he provides for them. In the Jewish mind, there was no further to fall.

He finally comes to his senses. Even if he humiliates himself and degrades himself before his father, and becomes a servant, he will at least have food. Humiliation with bread is better than pride with starvation! So off he goes, back to the house of his father. His father sees the change of heart in his son, and is willing to receive him back as a son!

This, the parable of the prodigal son, resonates with many people. In some sense or another, we have all played the part of the prodigal. We all have taken our share of the inheritance of our Father– the blessings of this world– and used them to satisfy our own desires and lusts, regardless of what God said. Things may seem great for awhile, perhaps even for many years. Blessings abound.

But then the difficult days come. Perhaps the money runs out, the spouse leaves us, a loved one dies, or some other disaster. Maybe our habits finally catch up with us. What are we going to do?

We could remain in our pride, refusing to admit error. We could stubbornly hold on to the ways that got us to where we are. But how well has that gone for us?

Perhaps we know that we should humble ourselves and return to our Father, but we fear that He will be harsh and cruel with us. We ought not to fear: God makes it clear that He will pardon us and redeem us (Romans 8:1-17).

We would do well to be like the prodigal son in this story: come to our senses, humble ourselves, and return to our heavenly Father as a servant, so that we can be adopted as sons (Romans 8:14-17). Humiliation with eternal life is far better than pride with eternal condemnation, no?

We all, at some point, are the prodigal son. Will we remain in our uncleanness, and never bother to consider our fate? Will we have that moment when we come to our senses and realize what we have done? And if we do, will we be willing to humble ourselves and turn to God? God stands willing to receive you again and forgive– but only if you will come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fertilizer

And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables.  Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture.  Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.

We expect fruit trees to produce fruit.  Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit.  Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.

Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him.  He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit.  If so, well and good.  If not, it can be cut down.

Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception.  There is much to be gained here!

When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14).  It takes time to grow in the faith.  Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”

Yet fruit is still expected.  What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer?  Should they be immediately cast out?

Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.

This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).  Yet it is not limited to believers.  Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far?  Consider how to encourage them.  Are there people in despair?  Seek to encourage them.

Encouragement is the fertilizer of life.  Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!

Ethan R. Longhenry