The Thorny Soil

“And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them…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” (Matthew 13:7, 22).

“I’m too busy.”

If there were a universally agreed upon anthem for our modern world, this would surely be it. It seems that everyone is always too busy. There is always too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. How many times have we made or heard pleas for there to be more than 24 hours in a day, or for time to stop for a moment so we can get “caught up”?

Part of our difficulty involves the unprecedented number of people and things that compete for our time. Employers are demanding more hours and work out of employees. Depending on our phase of life, our parents, children, and/or spouses place demands on our time. There is the ever-present computer with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail, games, and a thousand other ways of spending time. Not to be outdone, television and movies and other forms of entertainment also beckon. Beyond all of these are sports activities, book reading, indoor and outdoor maintenance, and all sorts of other activities. Little wonder, then, that we never have any time!

Many of the purveyors of entertainment and other forms of distraction are quite aware of how busy we are, and so they work diligently to gain our attention. Forms of entertainment become more sophisticated and designed to draw you in and keep you watching or playing. News programs and politicians often use various scare tactics to attract your attention and support for their cause. All of these tactics are very seductive and very hard to resist!

While the quantity of distractions and forms of entertainment today might be unprecedented, the root problem is not. As Jesus presents the parable of the sower, He describes the third type of soil as the “thorny soil.” The thorny soil is full of thorn-bushes and other weeds. In such ground, the sower’s seed cannot take root and grow, for it is out-muscled by the weeds.

Notice that the problem here is not the soil quality in and of itself, as it was with the “road” soil and the “rocky” soil. The soil is not the problem– the competitors for that particular patch of soil are the problem! If the competitors– the thorns– were removed, the seed would grow and multiply.

Jesus goes on to say that the thorny soil represents those people who hear the Word of God and believe it, but the cares of this world, the desire for riches, and various lusts and pleasures choke out the Word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14).

We see this often when we present the Word of God to others. As statistics show, the majority of Americans believe in God, Jesus, and even His resurrection. Therefore, they know that God exists. They know that Jesus exists and that He is Lord. Many such people know that they should probably be assembling with Christians somewhere and should be serving the Lord more faithfully.

And then there is the “but.” They know they should follow God, but there is not enough time. They should assemble with Christians, but they have to work, or Sunday morning is their only time to rest and relax or spend time with family, or it is the time for a given sporting event or other form of entertainment. They know that they should devote themselves to God, but there is always something in the way– money, entertainment, sports, even family and friends.

Jesus’ image of the thorns is very apt, for it gets to the heart of the problem. As said previously, the problem is not with the soil but with the competition for the soil. The difference, then, between “thorny” soil and “good” soil is not the soil itself but the cultivation thereof. The invasion of the “thorns” is an ever-present danger, and great care must be taken to cultivate the ground to clear away the thorns so as to allow the seed to grow and multiply.

This speaks to the need for priorities. No one can assume that time will automatically be made for God and spiritual things. As with all things, we must make time. Left on our own we will succumb to the temptation to play around more on the Internet, watch another TV show, or do a thousand other things. We must decide to make God the priority– to make His Kingdom and His righteousness the most important thing in our life (Matthew 6:33).

We must hasten to add that not all of these “thorns” are inherently evil. In fact, there are many “good” things with which we can fill our time– our family, our friends, employment, helping others, etc.– but even these “good” things can distract us from the ultimate good– God and His Kingdom. We must first serve Christ– and then reflect Christ to our family, at work, and in other realms of life (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). God must be first and foremost.

There have always been and will always be a lot of people who know that God exists and and that they need to do better at following after Him but remain distracted by money, cares of the world, and various pleasures. They have just as much potential for good in promoting God’s purposes as those who are the “good” soil if only they would clear out the weeds and focus on the Word of God. The thorns, however, are an ever-present danger. If we are not careful, even if we begin as good soil, we can allow the thorns to move in, becoming distracted with worldly cares and concerns, and prove to be unfruitful in the end.

Too many people, upon looking back at their lives, realize just how much time was wasted on what ultimately proved to be vain and futile. Some are fortunate enough to have come to repentance before the end, and simply lament all the time that they could have done great things for God but were too busy with themselves and the cares of this world. Sadly, for too many, this realization will come too late, with bitter tears and lamentation, as they hear of their doom (Matthew 7:21-23). It is never too late to clear out the thorns and to cultivate the good seed– let us all remove the distractions of the world and make God and His righteousness the ultimate priority in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Burying the Dead

And [Jesus] said unto another, “Follow me.”
But he said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.”
But He said unto him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).

We can gain an understanding of the critical importance of the Kingdom and its proclamation to Jesus by seeing how He calls people for His purposes.

One of the commands Jesus gives frequently is to be willing to give up family relations for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 10:34-39, Luke 14:25-26). Here this principle is on display.

Jesus calls a man to follow Him. According to the account in Matthew, he is already a disciple– not one of the Twelve, but someone else with an interest in Jesus (Matthew 8:21-22). Perhaps he has only recently begun to listen to Jesus; perhaps Jesus knows what is in his heart and is bringing the matter to the surface.

Regardless, the man has a challenge. He needs to bury his father. Perhaps his father has already actually died; it is as likely, if not more so, that he is still alive but near death.

This is not an unbecoming request. Children are to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3). To provide for fathers at the end of life was honorable: this was the comfort God gave Jacob, that Joseph would “put his hands on your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4), and Joseph makes elaborate preparation to bury his father (Genesis 50:1-14).

Jesus understands this. We do not get the impression that He wishes to cause the elderly gentleman any disrespect or disservice. But the task of burial should be done by another– He says to “let the dead bury the dead” (Luke 9:60).

We understand that He is not speaking literally– no zombies here. Let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead is the import of the message. Yes, burial preparations must be made– but not by this man. He has been called to something greater and more urgent! There are plenty of other people around who are worldly-minded and able to handle that responsibility.

The proclamation of the message of the Gospel cannot wait. The twelve disciples watching this will learn this message well; as the Apostles, they would not allow the matter of serving tables get in the way of their devotion to God in prayer and His word (Acts 6:1-2). Someone can be found to take care of the burial process. The important thing for this disciple is to proclaim God’s message!

It is easy for us to see various commands of Jesus and initially find a way to blunt its force. This is especially true of the commands about renouncing family relations, ourselves, and our stuff for the Kingdom’s sake. We see what Jesus says about loving God more than family (e.g. Matthew 10:37), and we remind ourselves that we are to honor and respect family. It is true that we are to honor and respect family, as far as that goes. But we must be exceedingly careful lest we be guilty of forsaking God’s word to bury the dead when the dead should be left to bury the dead!

All good things are not created equal. There is not enough time, money, or resources in the world to fulfill every good thing. We must prioritize. There are the “greater goods” in life along with the “lesser goods”. We must do the best we can to keep these in perspective.

Jesus has made it abundantly clear what is the greatest good– the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33, 10:34-37, 13:44-46, 16:24-28). Therefore, every other “good” must be subordinated to this greater good. It will not matter how many good things you have done in life– if you have sacrificed the greater good, the Kingdom, in order to accomplish all of those lesser goods, it leads to condemnation (Matthew 7:21-23)!

This is the lesson that this disciple must learn in a stunning way. To go and bury his father is to sacrifice the greater good for the sake of the lesser good. Therefore, he must allow the dead to bury the dead, and to go himself to accomplish the greater good of proclaiming the message of God’s Kingdom.

So it is with us. If Jesus appeared to you and charged you to follow Him, what would you say? Would you ask Him to suffer you to “bury your father”– provide for parents, spouse, children, finish up some undone business, or the like? If so, what do you imagine He would say? “Let the dead bury the dead.” Let worldly concerns be handled by those whose only hope is in the world. Meanwhile, we must go and do the greater good, proclaiming the message of God’s Kingdom!

Let us be clear: taking care of one’s own is part of one’s responsibility to God (1 Timothy 5:8). But far too often we allow the “lesser goods” of this life (and, far too often, that which is not good at all!) to crowd out the greatest good. We will find time for everything but the advancement of God’s purposes. This should not be. Let the dead bury the dead– but let us proclaim God’s message before it is too late!

Ethan R. Longhenry