Saturday, December 17, 2005

Don't Choke the Word

‘Tis the season to be jolly—and for some, to be gluttonous, mercenary, frantic, miserable, or drunk. One might wonder how that came to be a response to the glorious and awe-inspiring Incarnation of the eternal Word of God for the salvation of mankind. It is always helpful to turn to the Scriptures to discover God’s “take” on our strange goings-on and out-of-control culture. Jesus may not have specifically mentioned 21st-century holiday revelers or miserly scrooges, but his words are always to the point.

Jesus said in a parable that, as a seed is sown in the ground, He sows “the word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:18). Now there are various kinds of “soil” that receive this word, with various results, all of which—with one important exception—end up bearing no fruit. I’ll just focus on one of them today, the soil that is full of thorns and thistles and does not allow the seed to mature or bear fruit. (I will combine the texts of Matthew 13:22 and Luke 8:14 for the full understanding of this teaching.)

What are the “thorns” that hinder the flourishing of the word of God in many souls? According to Jesus they are the cares of the world, the delight in riches, and the pleasures of life. What happens when these are filling a soul in which Christ sows his word? They “choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” That is one of the most frightening things we can be accused of doing: choking the word of God. It’s not a small thing to turn from the way of faithfulness to the way of “the world, with all its seductions” (1John 2:17). There’s no room for the word to take root when those other cares, desires, and pleasures are cluttering up the soil. God didn’t send his Son to the earth (soil) with a tractor or bulldozer—only with a bag of seeds, the words of truth that He hoped would be freely received and bear the fruit of righteousness. But since so many tried to choke the word, He Himself had to become a seed that would fall to the earth and die (see John 12:24), so as to bear the ultimate fruit of the redemption of mankind—which still, however, must be freely received and responded to.

When we see the crass commercialization, the debauchery, the anxiety and depression that often mark this holy season, we can’t help but wonder if many people are still choking the word. The word of Christmas is a word of gladness, the annunciation of the Savior, and all heaven is in song. But that word is choked in those who live “by bread alone.”

It is not only the word, however, that is choked. Jesus also says that the very ones who choke the word by their selfish indulgence and desires are themselves choked, and they do not mature. Immaturity is certainly among the chief characteristics of the greedy and hedonistic. But we’re not talking here merely about a sort of temporarily extended adolescence. Many people never mature, for they never grow out of their self-centered world view and way of life. The choked word, the choked soul, prove unfruitful, and such people die with nothing to show for their lives. Jesus isn’t just telling quaint stories about gardens and plants for our amusement. The bottom line is: receive that word of the Kingdom and bear fruit, or you will forever be incapable of experiencing the happiness you are now seeking in all the wrong places.

At all times, but especially in holy seasons like the present one, take care not to choke the word. If some holiday preparations get left undone, so be it. Sit at the feet of Christ and receive the word. Make room for it, let it sink deep roots into your soul and bear fruit a hundredfold for the richness of life here and hereafter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cook or shop or decorate and do the other “Martha” things, for they are important in their own way. But keep the right priorities: don’t choke the word for the sake of the cares or pleasures of these days. You will see how all things work for the good when you put God first: you will mature, and your fruit will be sweet.