“The Prevenient Grace of God”
I want to start with something funny I found on an internet site: Two men were boasting about their rich kin. One said, “My father has a big farm in Connecticut. It is so big that when he goes to the barn on Monday morning to milk the cows, he kisses us all goodbye, and he doesn’t get back till the following Saturday.” “Why does it take him so long?” the other man asked. “It’s because the barn is so far from the house.” “Well, that may be a pretty big farm, but compared to my father’s farm in Pennsylvania, your father’s farm isn’t bigger than a city lot!” “Why, how big is your father’s farm?” “Well, it’s so big that my father sends young married couples out to the barn to milk the cows, and their grandchildren bring back the milk.”
The bad thing many of us usually do is to compare ourselves with others. In my family we used to be compared with our siblings: Parents or grandparents might say the first one was taller at this age, but the other is so much smaller, or the first one could speak at this age, but the second one is slower; the first one walked at ten months old, but the second one didn’t. Did anything similar happen to you? Why do you think this happens?
I have four siblings: an elder sister, elder brother, younger sister, and younger brother. I was the middle child. I grew up in a big Confucian family, which was a very patriarchal family. In other words, it was a male-centered family. My elder sister was always compared with my elder brother, and my younger sister compared with my younger brother. So, my two sisters gave up going to college, which meant they obeyed our patriarchal family system, which meant no higher education for girls. I heard from my sisters that they used to be compared with my brothers, which made them have low self-esteem and an inferiority complex.
I learned that comparing with others is found in most social systems, such as at home, school, the workplace, and even in political parties. The comparison makes people compete. So, every time there is a winner and a loser. If two or three people gather together, there are comparisons and competition. This kind of system, perhaps, is to encourage people to develop, improve and evolve. It is the world system we live in. The so-called “fair world” makes people who work hard winners. Do you think this is true? Well, think of my family system; was it fair to the girls?
You may wonder if I am talking about politics or social justice. No, but I want to talk about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is totally different from the world-system. An example is here: Matthew 20:1-16 tells us about the kingdom of God (heaven). It says the kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He hired people in the early morning with an agreement of a certain payment amount; he did the same at 10 am, noon, 3 pm, and even just before one hour before work was done for the day. And then, he gathered all employees to give them payment as they had made an agreement at the beginning of their work. They all received the money in gratitude, but later those who came in very early knew that all were getting the same amount. They complained to the owner, who said, “I gave you what I promised you initially. And I also gave them what I promised them. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money?”
From our perspective (it might be a world perspective), we may think it is wrong. Those who came in earlier should get more than those who came in later. Why did he give the same amount of money to those who worked all day and those who worked for just one hour?
But, it is the rule of God and the grace of God. God’s grace is there in the same way whether we have believed in God for forty years or for one year. Think of ourselves: even though we may have believed in God for our whole life, we don’t always run as a winner in faith. We sometimes run in faith, but sometimes stay there, struggling with many challenges. If God loves only those who run faster in faith all the time, is anyone confident God chooses to love them? In other words, is anyone confident God would choose you, if God chose to love us by our faith?
Today’s scripture is a parable story of the sower. Jesus taught people many parable stories, especially parable stories of farmers and shepherds, because they were familiar with the Israelite’s life. Nevertheless, many people couldn’t understand his teachings because he mostly talked about the kingdom of God. The story of the sower is, as Jesus explained to his disciples in Mathew 13:18-23, perhaps about our faithful minds and hearts. But, it is also about the kingdom of God because Jesus’ priority was to teach people about the Kingdom of God. As we read the scripture today, the farmer sowed seeds; some were on the path, some were on the rocky ground; some fell among thorns; and some fell on good soil. And then, only the seeds that fell on the good soil get the grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Up to this point, reading the scripture, I wondered why the farmer sowed seeds everywhere? Why didn’t he sow or plant the seeds only on good soil? He is so silly; if he sows seeds only on good soil, he harvests more. And then, I read the explanation of the parable story in verses 18-23. I realized that “Aha, that is God’s grace!” The sower might be God. I want to repeat the verses: “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Yes, it is about faith. “Faith comes from what is heard, and what we hear comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It is about, according to our hearing of the Words, how our faith may grow in the fruits of faith, Christlikeness. However, God didn’t choose only the good person. We also don’t only spread the good news to good people. Matthew 5:45 says, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God wants us to hear the Word of God and invites us to his kingdom. Even though we are sometimes lazy in faith, God loves us with steadfast grace. It is the prevenient grace of God. If God chose us by faith, we couldn’t be baptized, confirmed, and be Christians. The parable of the sower tells us of God’s grace. Even though our hearts sometimes are like the path, rocky ground, and thorny bushes, God gives us his grace. Only we can’t feel his grace when our hearts are full of worries, anxieties and challenges. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Let’s come close to the Word of God all the time so that we may hear it and grow in the grace of God! Thanks be to God. Amen!
Pastor Jenny Lee