I love to listen to baseball on the radio. I love that my imagination can re-create the scenes of curveballs and doubles into the gap, while at the same tine preserving just enough mental space to carry on a conversation of my own. The radio allows a personal interaction with the broadcaster that television can never replace.
To tell a secret, I have also grown to love the advertisements in between innings.
Tbe best radio spots are the type that drug companies and car dealerships love to throw out there. “New car/drug x is guaranteed to chaange your life, to make your friends jealous, and to put hair back on your head!” And just when I reach for the phone, another voice breaks in. With the swiftness of an auctioneer, the voice says something to the effect of, “This product may cause further hair loss/libido decline/black marks on your credit.” Aha, the fine print.
This is the same tactic we use in the church, all too often. “Come down and follow Jesus. Your problems will be solved.” But then the old familiar switcharoo. “Also, if you could help out with the nursery/tithe/tell your buddies about Jesus, that’d be super.”
And in stark contrast to our PR campaign, Jesus begins his (maybe second) most famous section of teaching with a story about the way things are. For real. And his frankness is always refreshing, provided you are willing to sit with him when he says dangerous things.
So Matthew 13 begins with a story about a farmer who spreads seed a bit haphazardly. He tosses some seed on the concrete, some on the rocks, and some on the topsoil. It doesn’t take a farmer to guess what happens next. The concrete seed is DOA. The rocks choke out the seed and crush the sad little roots soon enough. And the topsoil seed grows into a fruitful harvest.
When Jesus explains his story, we are left hanging. The seed is the story of the kingdom, the concrete and rocky ground are the pictures of those who don’t quite make it all the way to the harvest. The topsoil represents those who would hear and understand his kingdom story.
And we would expect next a lesson on what it takes to be so cultivated as to hear and understand Jesus. But this is not a moral lesson. This is a disclaimer.
This is tantamount to the announcer proclaiming right before the first pitch “We are glad you joined us for today’s broadcast. Just wanted to let you know that only a third of you will give a rip about this game. For the rest of you, sorry but you’re just gonna be lost.”
There is no switcharoo in the kingdom of God. No clever hook that needs to be qualified. Jesus begins the consversation with the hardest part. The fact is that the majority will not hear and understand. The majority will, at best, believe when it easy.
And do you know what is remarkable? He keeps right on teaching. He lets everybody in the first two camps hang around. And his message is unchanged. The door is not shut to anybody. Yet.
Can you live with a King who draws lines in the sand like this? And can you deal with Jesus when he goes right on teaching, listening to, and loving people he knows damn well will never hear him?
In my mind’s eye- the one developed through all these years of listening to baseball, I can see Jesus take a deeply human breath before he goes on.