When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Sermon of the Seven Stories

This sermon was preached, not on a mountain, but on the lake, where our Lord sat in a boat and the people stood on the bank. The sermon was all in stories, seven of them, one after another; though some of them were very short. These stories are called parables, which means that they were told, not for the sake of telling a story, but in order to teach the truth: for sometimes there is more valuable truth in a story than there is in a long chapter full of facts.

All these stories were about the kingdom of heaven. The people were looking and praying for the coming of the kingdom of heaven, but they were thinking more about the kingdom than they were about heaven. They were expecting a king with a crown upon his head, and a sceptre in his hand, and a royal robe over his shoulders, sitting on a throne. What they wanted was that such a king should conquer their enemies, and make them again a free and rich nation. They wanted wealth and power. So, when the King came with no palace and no throne, going about quietly like other men, and dressed like a carpenter, they did not know him. In these stories, the King tried to show his people what was the true idea of the kingdom. The kingdom, he said, is not like the kingdoms of this world; it is not on the map, but in the heart. Its power is the truth; and they belong to it who are trying to live here on earth, as well as they can, the life of heaven,—the life of goodness and usefulness, and love of man and God.

So he said that the kingdom of heaven is like a beautiful pearl for the sake of which a man sold all that he had and bought it; that is, the most important of all things is the life which is lived in obedience to God. And he said that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven,—or, as we say, yeast,—which is put into dough so that it makes bread; meaning that the citizens of the kingdom would little by little change the world in which they live, and make it as different from the present world as bread is different from dough. And he said that the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, a very little seed, which grows up into a big tree, so that the birds built their nests in it; and that meant that the kingdom was indeed beginning very small, only a little company of disciples, but it should grow and grow and grow till it should include the whole world. These were some of the short stories. The longest of all was the Story of the Sower.

Once upon a time, our Lord said, a man went out to sow his field. The man had a large bag of grain by his side, and as he walked he kept putting his hand into the bag, and taking out the grain and scattering it over the ground. In the middle of the field there was a path, a hard path, trodden day after day by the feet of men and horses. Somebody was walking over it, or driving over it, all the time. Some of the seed fell on this beaten path. There was a place on one side where the field lay at the foot of a hill, and the hill was made of rock, and over the rock the soil was very thin; only a few inches of earth, and then the rock beneath. In a corner of the field there had been a great many briers and thistles the year before, and they were just getting ready to start up again and make a bramble patch. The rest of the field was ploughed land, ready for seed.

So the man with the bag went back and forth across the field, scattering the grain. And some fell on the hard path, and some on the thin ground, and some among the brambles, and some on the good ploughed land. And pretty soon a man came walking along, wearing heavy boots, and, as he went along the path, he stepped on some of the seeds which lay there and broke them into little pieces. So they never grew. And by and by a bird came along that way and caught sight of the grain, and he was glad, for there was nothing that he liked better than grain. But, as he was a generous little bird, he took only a nibble or two and then flew away to tell all the other little birds in that neighborhood that there was a fine dinner ready for them on the path, and wouldn't they like to come and eat it! So a whole flock of little birds came flying as fast as their wings could carry them, and lighted down among the grains of wheat, and in a very short time nothing was left there but the path. And so nothing ever grew out of that grain.

But the seeds in the shallow soil began to grow at once. When the sun came out, there was so little earth that it was warmed through very quickly: and as there is nothing which seeds like better than to be comfortably warm, the grain grew beautifully. Little leaves poked up their little green heads through the ground, and there they breathed the air and drank the rain, and every morning they were taller than they were the night before. But while seeds like to be warm, they object very much to being scorched. Unhappily, after these seeds had got their good start, and the stalks of wheat were beginning to say to themselves that they were much taller than any other wheat in the field,—for the other wheat did not grow nearly so fast,—there came a very hot day. The sun blazed and blazed until the tall wheat felt as if it were living next door to a big bonfire. The little roots tried to get away from the hot sun, down in the cool earth but there was the hard rock. They could not find a cool place anywhere. So the wheat began to wither. It began to feel like a man who has a sunstroke. At last it fell down flat upon the ground, and it never got up again. So that seed did not amount to anything.

Meanwhile, in the bramble patch the wheat was growing, but the thorns and thistles were growing also. Now all seeds need to have enough to eat, but thorns and thistles are like greedy children who try to get all the food there is upon the table. The corner of the field was the table, and the dirt was the food, and the thistles crowded out the wheat; and as there was not quite enough to go around, the wheat grew more and more hungry, and thinner and thinner, day by day, till it was starved. And nobody ever got any grain from that seed.

But in the ploughed land, where the man came with a sharp hoe and cut away the weeds, the wheat grew and became taller and taller, until at last it was above the heads of the farmer's boys and girls, and the ears of wheat appeared; and finally, when the man who had planted the seed came to reap the harvest, he found that these seeds had grown into good wheat, a hundred times as much as he had sown.

That was the end of the story; but after the sermon was over some of our Lord's disciples came to him and said, "What did you mean by the Story of the Sower?" For they knew that he did not tell the story just for the pleasure of it. And so he told them. He said that the seed is like the word of God; that is, like the message which comes to us from God in a sermon, or in a book, or in a talk with a friend. And some who hear have hearts like the beaten path. Thoughts about other things are trampling up and down in them, like the man with the heavy boots; or such thoughts are flying about and whispering to them, like the little twittering birds; so that the word of God does not make any impression upon them. They do not pay any attention to God. Others who hear are like the shallow places. They are at first greatly interested, full of joy and enthusiasm, and determined to do great things. But they go home, and the little daily duties and worries come; somebody teases them, somebody tempts them, somebody asks them to do what they do not like to do, and all the good resolutions wither away, like the grain in the hot sun. Others who hear are like the bramble patch. They begin well, and hold out bravely for a time, and really wish to mind the word of God. But bad things that used to grow in their hearts commence to grow again, like thistles in the field: briers of falsehood, briers of laziness, brambles of selfishness. And the good is crowded out. The easiest garden to take care of is a weed garden; it needs no care at all. But it is good for nothing. Some people, our Lord said, have weed gardens in their hearts.

But the true citizens of the kingdom try every day to do the King's will, to keep down all that is wrong in them, and to make what is right grow strong. They are like the good ground. In them God is well pleased.