Scroll Top

More Fully Understanding Christ / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

23As 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.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed all the news stories about new technologies designed to help us communicate better. Many of these stories say that artificial intelligence, or AI as it is known, will revolutionize the way we communicate, whether through writing emails or articles or using social media or simply texting or talking on the phone. And all of that is well and good, but what happens if your technology doesn’t understand you?

Back in 2003, when much of today’s communication technology was still being developed, a police department in Louisiana had to temporarily replace its advanced voice recognition call system with a lower-tech substitute. Why did they have to replace their high-tech system? It was because their fancy new technology couldn’t understand Southern accents.

The Shreveport Louisiana Police Department added high-tech voice recognition equipment to their call center that would let people request different departments or individual people within the police department. The purpose was to route non-emergency calls to the right people easily, so that emergency calls could get through faster.

But the voice recognition system couldn’t understand the Southern drawl very well, so it frequently re-routed calls to the wrong person or department. This was according to Capt. John Dunn, who oversaw the Shreveport Police Department’s police communications, “In Louisiana,” he said, “we have a problem with Southern drawl and what I call lazy mouth. Because of that, the system often doesn’t recognize what (callers) say.”

The Chief of the Shreveport Police Department at the time said, I can count on one hand when I have been transferred to where I’ve wanted to go, and I know the system. I can imagine how frustrating it would be for an ordinary citizen. So, if you have ever had difficulty understanding someone with a thick accent of any kind, you’re not alone.

Even Google Translate, which processes 143 billion words per day in 103 languages, sometimes gets it wrong. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Norway, chefs used Google Translate to figure out how to order eggs for the Olympic Village’s breakfasts. They thought they ordered 1,500 eggs; unfortunately, Google Translate made one tiny error in translation. To their surprise, the chefs ended up with 15,000 eggs instead.

And sometimes, the problem isn’t that our technology can’t hear us, or it can’t understand us. Sometimes humans can hear the correct information but miss the point entirely.

A man left his office job to start a home business. He explained to his two little daughters that Daddy had an office in the basement now, and people paid him to do projects from home. They thought this explanation was good enough, until the day he heard the three-year-old daughter tell a friend, Daddy doesn’t have to go to work anymore. He just makes money in the basement.

That three-year-old’s honest mistake reminds me that there’s a big difference between hearing information and understanding it. Jesus understood that. Many people heard His message but were unable, or unwilling to understand what Jesus was really all about.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus taught today’s lesson about misunderstanding His message to a very large crowd. Many people were attracted to Jesus’ ministry for the wrong reasons. His teachings were unexpected. His miracles were exciting. He challenged the local religious leaders. For these reasons and more, large crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Everybody wanted to see what He would do next.

But Jesus wasn’t fooled by His own popularity. He knew that even if large crowds heard His teachings, only a small number of them actually understood Him. And a much smaller number lived according to His teachings. Anyone can be a fan; few actually become followers.

How about us? How would our lives look if we completely understood Jesus’ message and put those teachings into practice? More importantly, how would we impact others’ lives if we lived out the message of Christ’s kingdom? Listen to Jesus’ teachings like you were hearing His words for the first time and see whether you’re on the right track.

That same day Jesus leaves the house and sits by the lake. Large crowds gathered around Him, so He got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Jesus told them many things in parables.

In this parable we, of course, are the soil that receives the seed which the farmer has sown. And to paraphrase Jesus’ teaching, some of the soil is fertile and quite receptive to the seed. But some soil is rocky or shallow and resists the efforts of the farmer. And some of the soil is packed so hard it’s practically hopeless as a place to grow crops. How do we know that we’re those who properly heard Christ’s words and have understood them?

The first characteristic of such people is that they evidence spiritual growth. That makes sense, doesn’t it? People who understand Christ’s words and live by them, grow spiritually. This thought can be intimidating or insulting to people who have spent their life in church. Aren’t I good enough already, we ask? But spiritual growth isn’t about being good enough. It’s about being more like Jesus.

The more we understand the message and spirit of Jesus, the more our thoughts and values and actions will align with His. His Holy Spirit living in us changes us. And other people can see that change. Just like the shoots of a plant break through the seed’s outer coat and invade the earth, our inward spiritual growth will affect the people around us. This is what is referred to by the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians, chapter 5. Paul writes, “. . . the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5: 22-23) Such virtues occur unconsciously in those who saturate themselves with Christ’s words. The fruitful life is never a static life, never a complacent or apathetic life. Those who understand Jesus’ message evidence spiritual growth.

The second way that we know that we have properly understood Christ’s message is when we put our faith into action. If you read through the life of Jesus, you see that He was bold, passionate about doing God’s will even when it put His life in danger. He cared deeply about people and was even questioned for hanging out with the folks everyone else rejected. Jesus was always on the move, taking the message and power of God to the marketplace and to people’s homes, to the synagogues and to the countryside.

As we grow to be more like Jesus, we will put our faith into action. Being Christian includes participating in God’s passion for the world. When people see a Christian, they should see someone who is passionate about doing the work of God in the world.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. What kind of person do you wish to become? If you wish to become more like Jesus, then your faith must be put into action.

And the final thing we learn from this parable is that those who understand Jesus’ message will live in such a way that they draw others to Christ. Their example will be contagious. Their character and their actions will align with the character and actions of Jesus. They will become undeniable witnesses to the power and love of God.

It’s a sad truth: a person can spend their whole life in church and never be fruitful. Notice that only one-fourth of the seeds in Jesus’ parable ever bore fruit. The rest were lost, wasted on those who listened but never really understood. Will the message of the kingdom of God be wasted on us? Do we want to live an ordinary life, or do we want to live a passionately, courageously effective life that draws other people to the truth of Jesus? Then we should commit ourselves to a life of spiritual growth and put our faith into action. Then our lives will be a powerfully contagious witness to the truth and love of God.