Connections 07.12.2020: “Such Great Crowds…”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable Jesus tells in today’s text is about soil, but I can’t get past the crowds. Can you picture them? Can you see Jesus surrounded by people who wanted to hear him speak? Perhaps his disciples were walking in front of him, behind him, and at his sides, sort of like bodyguards trying to help him make his way to the water as safely as possible. Maybe some people in the crowd were pushing others aside so that they could be closer to Jesus. Maybe some were so desperate for his help that even glimpsing the top of his head gave them hope.

I’ve been one person among crowds of people, all of us eager for what awaits us at the end of the line or behind the closed doors or on the stage. It’s usually hot and stuffy, sometimes smelly, and often a bit claustrophobic. But whether the prize is a ride at a theme park, the latest technological advancement to hit the market, or the performance of a favorite musician or cast, it’s usually worth the wait. (At least, that’s what I tell myself as I sweat among the crowds.)

It takes something powerful to draw crowds of people. I wonder if Jesus knew how magnetizing he would be when he walked outside that day and sat by the sea. Did he go out to do what I like to do when I visit the ocean: sit in the sand and look out over the vastness of the water, watching the waves and the birds and letting my mind rest? Or did he go out with the expectation that people would see him and come to hear him?

The Scripture implies that the crowds exceeded his expectations: “Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach” (v. 2). Can you picture them? I wonder if they were noisy. Did they shift their feet, restless and anxious? Did they find a place to sit where they would be sure to hear Jesus? Did anyone try to approach the boat?

Regardless of the people’s reactions, Jesus didn’t turn around and go back inside. He didn’t row away in the boat. He didn’t raise his arms and dismiss the gathered crowds. Instead, he sat in the boat and spoke to them using familiar images from their own lives.

Jesus tossed lots of seed onto the beach that day. Who among the crowd had the right type of soil for that seed? How many of them went away that day with his words planted deeply in their souls? And how many of them were just there to see the celebrity? How many of them left with gossip but no Truth?

More important, what kinds of listeners are we when Jesus speaks to us?

Discussion

  • What was your last experience of being part of a huge crowd? Did you feel safe? Excited? Frustrated? Was the “prize” worth the wait?
  • In Scripture, Jesus often goes outdoors to be alone and pray. See Matthew 14:23; 26:36; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 6:12; 11:1. Where do you like to pray? What spaces help you feel closest to God? Why is it important to have personal, private times of prayer as well as public, corporate times of prayer?
  • As Matthew 13 begins, it seems like Jesus is getting ready for another personal time, but soon the crowds overtake him. What do you think drew them to him? What draws you to him?
  • Can you describe some of the “seed” (that is, “the word of the kingdom,” v. 19) that Jesus tossed out during the course of his ministry? How was it received?
  • How can you cultivate the best soil in your heart so that you can be receptive when Jesus sows his Truth over you?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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