Essay for Proper 10A from The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014, page 153.
Speaking in support of funding low-cost housing for homeless people, a 66-year old County Resource Development Director shared how abuse had stolen his childhood; how he eventually found himself a twice-divorced alcoholic living in a cardboard box. After turning his life around, helping people find housing became his passion. I consider his life a perfect example of how suffering can become good soil for the seed of God’s Love increasing a hundredfold.
Jesus showed how suffering could be good soil for the seed of God’s Love. Under Roman imperialism his people were horribly oppressed, yet instead of using military power or invoking God to destroy the Romans, Jesus taught his people to experience God as Abba — a Father, even “Daddy” — who asks his children to care for one another ensuring everyone has enough. In the midst of their suffering, Jesus planted the seed of God’s love in the soil of their hearts to take root so they could begin understanding how God’s power of love would bring God’s kingdom into this world through their caring for one another as sisters and brothers.
In his Gospel, Matthew discloses suffering as the good soil especially in the way he tells us how Jesus begins and ends his teaching ministry. Matthew begins Jesus’ teaching with the Beatitudes (5:1-12): blessed are the poor in spirit, those who are mourning, the meek. Blessed are those who hunger for the rightness of God’s household, where everyone has enough. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. Blessed are those persecuted by this world’s powerful because they stand up for the powerless in God’s kingdom, God’s household. And Matthew ends Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 25:31ff.), ‘You saw me hungry and fed me, thirsty and gave me to drink. You welcomed me as a stranger, clothed me when naked, took care of me when I was sick, visited me in prison. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Jesus’ message is an unusual seed needing unusual soil to grow bountifully. How do we become good soil for God’s Love? Not by our own efforts, but by God’s bountiful grace. The Sower continues to sow graciously everywhere, that seed may land on the parts of our lives where we are most vulnerable — in the midst of our own suffering where our lives connect to the suffering and death of Jesus. And in the midst of the suffering of others, not necessarily that we may end their suffering (though that may be an outcome), but rather that we can love our sisters and brothers within it, sharing their suffering to help ease their burden. This is what the hundredfold yield looks like in our lives: God’s household coming down into this world in the suffering of the Risen Christ, wherever God’s children are working to ensure that the least of this family has enough.