Tag Archive: humility

We’ve covered what “born again” means: not judging, but feeling and sharing unconditional love for all; and why we need it: without love, we sabotage ourselves and everyone else; and how to achieve it: be mindful, and accept the billions of other lives, all needing and worthy of dignity, respect, forgiveness, and compassion.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”-Matthew 11:29, 30.

Despite what Jesus said, we find little about his yoke that is easy or light: mostly because we aren’t meek and lowly in heart, and our souls are anything but restful.

Let us say we do reach that point, what, in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus called “the good ground.” We work and work, until we achieve, through grace and sacrifice, what should be easy; and we are reborn. Then begins our most difficult trial.

When we succeed, our pride swells. With pride as our guide, we fail. Until we learn how to maintain humility in God’s presence, and practice unconditional compassion, and automatic forgiveness, then we’ll have to be reborn again and again.

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.”-Matthew 22:2.

We studied this marriage last time. We are the bride, and Jesus is the groom; we are the life, and love makes us whole. This parable doesn’t mention the bride. But that’s because we have other parts to play.

God is the king. And since God is love, then love presides over the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus told Nicodemus:

“…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

So we understand love by feeling and practicing mercy, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and respect; and when we learn to do these things naturally, we are reborn.

Jesus is the king’s son. He is the door, and we must pass through his lessons of our own free will, in order to reach the kingdom.

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”-John 10:9.

To find rest for our souls, all we have to do is follow the example Jesus gave us.

“And [the king] sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.”-Matthew 22:3.

God calls us to love one another: This is the invitation. If we accept, we are born again; through our actions, we invite others.

This is the first path: the servant.

With our wedding, we commit to a life of love, for better or worse, together. But first, we choose to accept or decline the groom. When we say yes to Jesus, then we become the bride, and the servant. These roles combine, as we minister to others; with our comforting of them, we invite them too.

Now we switch to the second path: the invited. After we’re born again, servants come to offer us a chance to show loving kindness.

How we react to the invitation determines our path.

When we’re offered the chance to love life, and we say no, we harm ourselves.

“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”-Proverbs 11:17.

No matter how others treat us, if we react with love, then we accept the groom’s proposal. We enter the kingdom of heaven, and live a wonderful life.

No matter how others treat us, if we react with hate, if we refuse to forgive, and be compassionate and merciful, we harm ourselves.

When we deny the groom, we deprive ourselves of heaven. Then, we live a hellish life.

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”-Isaiah 48:10.

This tribulation afflicts and refines us. We resort to this drastic method so we learn how someone else feels, when they hurt: So that, next time, we’ll comfort them when they need it; we’ll accept the invitation, react wisely, and enter the kingdom of heaven.

“Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.”-Matthew 22:4.

One fatling (or fattened calf) would feed an entire village. So multiple fatlings, and oxen too, made a huge, country-wide feast, which celebrated the king’s son getting married, and the propagation of the king’s reign: spreading the word.

Remember, the king invited the people who had already been reborn. After a difficult trial, they succeeded in winning the king’s favor. He honored them, and expected them to honor his son.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”-John 4:14.

God blesses us with everlasting life. God is love, and love is life, which is all around us. For the Hebrews, “everlasting” water meant flowing water. So everlasting life flows from one person to another, a cascading waterfall, gentle brook, the thunder of an ocean, and pouring of a cool drink.

We flow into each other, whether we know it or not, believe it or not, want to or not. For better or worse, we influence others, and shape the quality of all life around us. Acceptance of this awesome responsibility is the door to the kingdom of heaven.

To honor the king’s son, we love one another, as he loves us.

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”-John 12:26.

If we commit to this flowing life, which circulates from God, to Jesus, to us, and back again, then God invites us to the marriage. The feast celebrates our covenant: to cherish, honor, and not even in death do we part.

Refusal of his invitation insults the king. And insulting the king is treason.

“But they [who were invited] made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.”-Matthew 22:5.

Remember, the people who refused the king’s servants were already born again. They had gained the king’s favor, and received an invitation to the wedding.

Then their pride took hold of them.

“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”-Proverbs 11:2.

They chose to honor their farms and merchandise, what they accomplished on their own. After all, we need our jobs to support our families; and we feel pride in taking care of our own.

Happiness and pride differ greatly, though we often use them interchangeably. By being happy with our success, we also show gratitude for our daily bread. With happiness, we honor life; with pride, we worship our own greatness.

“Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.”-Isaiah 2:8.

Remember, Jesus is “meek and lowly in heart.” Without reverence for God, for all things, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. We cannot bow, in meek reverence, if we’re prideful.

When we’re reborn, then we love as God does, as Jesus taught.

“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”-1 John 2:6.

But, we say, if I don’t tend the farm, or work in the store, my family doesn’t eat. First I have to take care of my family and myself, and then donate what’s left to others.

We never finish looking out for ourselves, or caring for our loved ones. The store needs stocking, and the field needs plowing, every day.

“…No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”-Luke 9:62.

So how can we look forward to others, if we’re always looking back on ourselves?

Since God is everything, love for all is the only way to neglect nothing. That’s why Jesus wants us to seek God first.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

By loving God, we love everyone and everything all at once. Jesus gives and teaches us this divine love; in return, we honor his (and our) union with all life.

Keep in mind, whether we pass or fail doesn’t matter, compared to how we react to the test. After they refused the king’s invitation the second time, “the invited” returned to their businesses.

But some went too far, and reacted with hate.

“And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.”-Matthew 22:6.

Back then, the king’s messenger was exempted from harm. Killing him was a crime worthy of death. The proverb still exists today: You don’t “kill the messenger.”

Why? Because we aren’t just killing the servant, who represents the king. Really, we’re destroying the message he delivers. In this case, we murder the celebration of love.

“He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.”-John 13:20.

If we reject the king’s authority, then we renounce his rule, and remove ourselves from his protection, and the abundance of his kingdom.

This is the definition of sin.

So far, Jesus has set two paths before us. As servants, after we’re reborn, we spread the good news (the Old English word is “gospel”). But, if we take the other path, if we’re invited but refuse to tend to each other, we stifle the sharing of the gospel. The former we call ministry; and the latter, sin.

When we refuse to share and receive love, for whatever reason, we pay the ultimate price.

“But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”-Matthew 22:7.

Conquerors burn resistant cities. And love conquers all.

If we exalt ourselves above the king, then we put what we want before the whole world. God humbles us, and forces us to confront our selfishness. Then, when we admit that we refused to accept and share with others, and rejected our angelic potential, we destroy our city of sin.

When we say God burns our cities, we actually mean that our refusal of loving kindness ruined us. We brought disaster on ourselves.

As John the Baptist said of Jesus:

“…I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”-Luke 3:16.

When we see how we suffered, then we know how others feel when they’re in pain. As we hope for someone to help us, so we understand that others need us.

This is the baptism of fire.

We reap what we sow. We reflect the love or hate others project on us, and vice versa. If they’re mean to us, we’re mean to them. Hate begets hate; but love defeats hate. We can choose to break the chain.

If we kill the messenger, we reject and destroy not only the love God offers us, but the potential for us to be messengers (the Greek word for which is “angelos”). If we deny love, then we reject the better angels of our nature; and, therefore, we condemn ourselves.

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”-Proverbs 3:5.

Until we are reborn, we learn everything incorrectly: Our sustenance is selfishness; our goals, temporary. But when we nourish ourselves with God’s will, by accepting instead of judging, our burden becomes much lighter.

However painful and heavy at first, this process humbles us, and teaches us how to be worthy of the invitation to the marriage of all life.

“Then saith [the king] to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.”-Matthew 22:8.

How do we become worthy? How do we achieve the blessing of God’s invitation?

From The Vulgate (the late 4th century Latin translation of the Bible), the word beati (plural of beatus) means “blessings.” That’s where we get “beatitudes.”

During his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus points out the effects and importance of humility, which result from the blessing of being born again.

Blessed are the following: the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

In other words, people who are humbled, and pass through the baptism of fire, but react to their apocalypse with wisdom and loving kindness. These are only examples of how to reach that end result. There are as many paths to being born again as there are people.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”-Matthew 7:20.

We are worthy when we realize that what we thought were curses, are actually blessings. Our tribulation allows us to understand suffering, which leads to our blessing of others.

As God gave us strength and faith, which lifted us out of affliction (which God gave us), so we should comfort others (who God gave us). As Jesus feeds our souls with love and acceptance, so we should nourish and nurture others. We do so because it is all God.

We are all a piece of the puzzle, a part, and an aspect of the cosmos. We are small circles, inside a larger, universal circle. So when we harm or help a single part, then we do the same to the whole. Thus, we bring pain or joy on ourselves, and build or burn our cities.

The invited guests weren’t ready, and lost everything. Remember, we are the servants, when we’re born again and bless others. We’re also the invited, who were reborn, grew prideful, and then rejected the offer to share and receive love.

In this parable, we have a third role or path: the uninvited.

“Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. / So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”-Matthew 22:9, 10.

When we’re reborn, God invites us to love one another. If we accept, and say yes to Jesus, then we marry all life; we become servants of loving kindness: We share and receive compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and respect with and from everyone and everything.

If we say no, if we refuse to see how we need each other, then we no longer experience the joys of compassion.

The terms good and bad apply to decisions, individual reactions; they are not equal to identity. We aren’t good or bad people; we just make good and bad decisions, with our mindful or mindless reactions.

Before we become servants, we are the invited. Before opportunities invite us, we are the uninvited. So, at one time or another, we are all three paths.

The opportunities present themselves with as many people as we find. Everyone is uninvited, until we invite them.

“We love him, because he first loved us.”-1 John 4:19.

When we’re born again, we marry everyone and everything. Abuse results in divorce. But patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion, i.e., love results in a happy marriage, a beautiful life for all.

Keep in mind, wolves circle our flock, waiting and searching for the weak. We have the potential to do each other great harm, even (or especially) when we act in Jesus’ name.

“…yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”-John 16:2.

Not everyone accepts what we offer.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”-Mark 6:11.

Jesus told this to his apostles, as he sent them out to spread the word. When we say yes, we become apostles. We do what we can, but we must allow every person to determine their own path, and covenant with life. If they aren’t ready, then plant the seed, and walk on.

When we say yes, we accept all things, even rejection. We do this because, when we reject someone, we want them to respect our path.

When we say no, we set ourselves up for disappointment and tribulation. Without the love offered by others, we have nothing to hold onto, when the floods come.

If we react wisely to the apocalypse we bring on ourselves, we learn how much we need each other, and how much others need us.

With every interaction, we are born again, through our acceptance or rejection. We cycle through everlasting life, becoming new all the time. Therefore, no one is without hope, or above mistakes.

“As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”-John 6:57.

This cycle shows us how easy it is to live without despair and hatred. Just love one another, as God loves Jesus, and Jesus loves us; that’s all. But that simplicity circulates through complexity; the finite flows through the infinite. How impossible it is to love everyone! So we pass from the kingdom of heaven to a burnt and decimated city.

Then we see how simple our mistake was. We forgot to accept the marriage of our will to the wills of everyone else. Life becomes beautiful again. Then we realize how impossible it is to combine what we want from a marriage, with what everyone else wants.

So many people; so many covenants!

Like Pilate, we wash our hands of Jesus, and surrender his love to the bloodthirsty mob. And we’re back to a heartless life. We wail and gnash our teeth, until we swear to try harder. We succeed, then succumb to pride, which we mistake for happiness.

Pride usurps humility; so when we serve, it is for our own ends, and not for the well-being of our marriage. The uninvited sense our lack of universal love, and reject us; then, in our confusion and frustration, we surrender to hopelessness.

“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”-Mark 14:38.

We must accept weakness, just as we say yes to everything else in our marriage. Take it in stride, because we know that we’ll make a new covenant. We’ll rise from the ashes of our self-sabotage. Faith in ourselves and others will breathe into us new, everlasting life.

We are reborn again and again.


God is everything, everyone, everywhere. So, whatever we do, we are a part of the kingdom of heaven, and not apart from it.

Nebuchadnezzar enslaved the Jews, taking them into captivity for 70 years. Still, he was God’s servant.

“And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant….”-Jeremiah 27:6.

King Cyrus, who freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity, was not just God’s servant, but his anointed king: the Greek word for which is “Christ.”

“Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden….”-Isaiah 45:1.

Jacob was God’s servant (Ez. 37:25), as well as Moses (Joshua 1:2), and David (2 Sam. 7:8). We all work for God. In the kingdom, no work or person ranks higher than any other. What we call good or evil, meaningful or meaningless, doesn’t matter, except to us and our need to judge.

God loves all of us, and needs everyone and everything.

Jesus emphasized this point with a parable about a vineyard. Unlike my other interpretations, this time I want to start with the moral, the conclusion, and then work our way from the beginning.

“So the last shall be first, and first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”-Matthew 20:16.

Jesus loves riddles. He wants us to pray and meditate on his wordplay. How can the last be first? What’s the difference between being called and chosen? Our answers determine our unique, personal covenant with God. There is no wrong answer. There are as many answers as there are people.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”-2 Peter 1:20.

My interpretation requires the insertion of a few key words: “So the last shall be [equal to the] first, and first [equal to the] last: for many be called [to follow God’s will], but few [have] chosen [to follow it mindfully].”

Do we know, and accept, that whether or not we choose to follow God’s will, we already do?

Now we can backtrack, develop our understanding of equality, and dismiss our judgmental ideas of separating Alpha and Omega.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:1.

The Bible writers left out one important detail, assuming, no doubt, that their readers recognized the time of year when extra workers were needed: the harvest. The rainy season followed the harvest. If extra laborers weren’t hired, the rain ruined the crop.

Last time, in the parable of the Wheat and Tares, we learned that the harvest symbolized Judgment Day, the humbling Day of the Lord, preceding rebirth, which is the kingdom of heaven.

“…in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares…to burn them: but gather [last] the wheat into my barn.”-Matthew 13:30.

Jesus told us the reapers symbolized the angels; and the harvest, the end of the world. But we reasoned, in the previous essay, that we judge ourselves; we choose to enter heaven, or remain without love. So we are the angels, in that parable; and, in this one, we are the laborers.

“And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:2.

I love the King James version, because it usually gives literal translations of the original text. But sometimes it doesn’t. The standard payment for a day’s work, at this time, in Palestine, was a “denarius.” We lose nothing in the given translation, but it’s nice to know.

The laborers made a covenant with the householder. These workers hired themselves out on a daily basis. Without that payment, they and their families didn’t eat.

“And [the householder] went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. / And said unto them: Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.”-Matthew 20:3, 4.

The first hour of the day was 6 am. Instead of the time of day, let us think of this as the ages of humanity, or the morning, afternoon, and evening of our lives. In the beginning, God made a covenant with Noah; later, with Abraham (Noah’s descendant), then with Abraham’s descendants (Isaac and Jacob); still later, with Moses, and finally with the Israelites as a whole.

The renewing of the covenant ended or, rather, transformed, with Jesus: the personification of the Promised Land, whose teaching and example of love allows for our own personal covenants. While the Israelites made a national agreement, for a set wage, Jesus gives the rest of us “whatsoever is right.”

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”-Revelation 20:12.

Here in the vineyard, God pays us according to our works, what we do, think, and say. The last equals the first: God is Alpha and Omega. It doesn’t matter how long we labor, or how highly our task ranks.

Still, we tend to think that way, defining as important the number of hours on our time sheet, and whether we’re a supervisor, or newly hired.

“…Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and the great ones exercise authority upon them. / But so shall it not be among you…. / …whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”-Mark 10:42-44.

We must guard against the assumption that God thinks as we do. The closest we get to understanding the Lord is when we know that God loves us all.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”-Isaiah 55:8.

The householder doesn’t promise a set wage for those hired in the third hour, or the others who come later. Only the first know what they’ll receive for their work. If the householder pays them, who’re recently hired, less than a denarius, they won’t be able to feed their families. Yet, they work anyway, not knowing what they’ll be paid.

They live on faith, and survive on grace.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”-Ephesians 2:8.

We can’t understand, and shouldn’t try to interpret an isolated passage from the Bible, like this one. If we did, we’d assume that we can do whatever we want; and God will forgive us. Whether or not that’s what Paul meant, we see the idea in a new light, when we are born again.

No matter how long we work for God, beginning in childhood or old age, we still accomplish the Word, and shine light in darkness. Even if we comfort only one person, feed one animal, water one plant, by grace the Lord rewards us for doing the work given to us.

“Again [the householder] went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.”-Matthew 20:5.

With the twelve-hour day half, and three quarters, done, the householder hires more workers. He calls as many as possible, to gather the harvest before the rain comes. He needs these last, just as much as the first.

This parable teaches the reality of equality. Since God is everything and everyone, no one is more (or less) a part of God than anyone else.

“…The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”-Luke 10:2.

The Bible reminds us of what we tend to forget. We overlook our natural tendencies for jealousy. We want to show strength, when we feel weak. We put ourselves above others, not by raising ourselves, but by lowering others.

We do this because others do it. We turn everything into a contest of wills and pride. But pride is a lie; humility is the truth.

As our example, Jesus showed us what it means to be humble.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”-John 13:14.

The harvesters are all equal, because we all do God’s will: whether a little or a lot, for years or minutes, hundreds of times or once.

“And about the eleventh hour [the householder] went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?”-Matthew 20:16.

Even in the 11th hour, God needs all of us to finish the work in time. Is dinner any less important because it’s not breakfast? Is that good friend we meet, when we’re elderly, any less loved because we weren’t childhood friends?

Everything has a time, place, and purpose; each of us accomplishes what no one else can do. This uniqueness equalizes everything. We fill in the gaps, and do the work, that no one else can.

“[The laborers] say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.”-Matthew 20:27.

When we’re mindful of God’s will, and our participation in the planting, growth, and harvest of the world, we’re always on the clock, always on the move, never slowing, or ceasing in our work, spreading the Word with our example: go, go, go!

But when we aren’t mindful, and, therefore, in denial of our mortality, and frail limitations, then we ignore the ticking of our time clock.

There is a day, hour, minute, and place with my name on it. When my shift is over, then I will work no more, forever.

We must love every moment, every one, and every thing: That’s what the Bible means when it tells us to love God. If we waste any time, standing idle, by not loving whatever work the Lord gives us, then we risk not eating at the end of the day. Without love’s nourishment, not only will we die, but we’ll take others with us.

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”-John 17:4.

At the end of our shift, our only “day” on this world, how soothing it would be, to know that we finished our task, our reason for being here in the first place. Maybe we never knew what work we needed to do, what, precisely, God had in mind for us. But God knows.

Even though I don’t know how I fit into the boss’ grand plan, when born again, I answer the call; I choose to love whatever and whomever finds their way into my life.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:35.

And so, in the words of my favorite song: “My heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest.”

No matter what we do, or know, whether we stand idle, or keep moving, the end of the work day comes. The harvesters gather the last of the wheat and tares. The vines collapse beneath the torrential rain. The Lamb breaks the seventh seal, and opens the Book of Life.

“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.”-Matthew 20:8.

Pay day! Judgment day; the Day of the Lord; the end of days: Everything we did and worked for comes down to this. We can’t add a cubit to our stature, or an hour to our time card. What we did is what we have to show for ourselves. What we did is who we are.

What will you have to show, when you lie awake in bed, or when your loved one passes away? Will you be left with the eternal lake of fire of your regret, wailing and gnashing your teeth? Or will you know that you did your best? There can be no doubt, as that’s pointless. What you did, and who you are is, simply, what you did, and who you are.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.”-John 15:1.

If we love everyone, all during our work day, and repent when we stumble and stand idle, then we’ve harvested the love we learned from the vine, we accomplished the gardener’s job (which is God’s will), and there can be no doubt, fear, or regret.

The fun (and often confusing) part of Bible interpretation is that God is all characters, and so are we. God is the householder, lord of the vineyard, the steward, and laborers, the vineyard as a whole, and the singular vine.

God is everything, and more. Infinity is always larger than the biggest number.

“That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.”-Isaiah 45:6.

And since God made us, and directs our path, we are of God.

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”-Jeremiah 1:5.

We judge and reward ourselves, based on what we choose to do. We harvest what we plant, reap what we sow; and if we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind.

No matter how much we lie to ourselves, we cannot escape the truth in our hearts. We know what’s written in the book of our lives: We write it, seal it, and open it. We are Judgment Day! Likewise, so is God.

God is the truth in our hearts, the works that we do, the lake of fire, and eternal peace of mind.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

We are God’s prophets, the Word, the light of Jesus that shows the way; and we create evil. We are God’s work.

So when we, the stewards, and Jesus (who is also the steward), call ourselves, as he calls us, we reward ourselves, as God pays us, “whatsoever is right.”

“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?”-John 10:34.

We are gods, when we do God’s work. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say it this way: We are God’s. We are the least important, because ours is one small life among countless billions, and the most important, because we are unique: You are the only you there ever was, or will be.

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. / I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”-Revelation 22:12, 13.

So the lord of the vineyard tells his steward to give “whatsoever is right” to the workers; the steward pays the last, first; and the first, last.

“And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny [a denarius]. / But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more, and they likewise received every man a penny.”-Matthew 20:9, 10.

How hard it is for us to be satisfied. Even if we’re rich, and have everything we want, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for us to be born again, and enter the kingdom of truth, the love of God.

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”-Proverbs 27:20.

Our jealous eye sees that others have more, or worse yet, others have what we have, when they didn’t work as much as we did.

Remember the Prodigal Son’s older brother?

“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: / But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”-Luke 15:29, 30.

The older brother was, of course, the first born. He always obeyed his father, and lived a good life because of this.

God made a covenant with the Israelites. The Lord called them his first-born son.

“…Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

To them and their beliefs, everyone else was a Gentile, who would all be destroyed in the Day of the Lord. The Israelites came first; likewise, the older brother, and the laborers who worked all day.

We all see ourselves as privileged, above the common rabble, while we also complain that we don’t get enough, and deserve more. How can we be better than everyone, but evidently lower too, since they have the same, or more, as we do?

Am I a prince, or am I a pauper?

“And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house. / Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”-Matthew 20:11, 12.

For the rest of my life, when I see the word murmur, I will think of the Israelites and Moses. Right after they complained to him that there was no food, in the wilderness, and God gave them manna, then they murmured about not having any water.

“…and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? / And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.”-Exodus 17:3, 4.

Gratitude, friends and neighbors: the older brother lacked it; the first-born Israelites refused to learn it; and the first-hired laborers didn’t express it either. The father gave the older brother a good life, in exchange for his loyalty; God saved the Israelites from slavery; and the lord of the vineyard paid his workers what he had promised, enabling them to feed themselves and their families.

“…to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”-Luke 7:47.

It is God’s will that I be a pauper, so that I know love when repentance makes me a prince. I must go through the wilderness, so that I love the Promised Land. God tests our hearts with affliction, and forgives our weakness, because, no matter how many fiery flying serpents devour us (poor Israelites, see Numbers 21:6), or how many blessings we refuse and crucify, out of pride and ignorance, we endure through forgiveness and love.

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”-Revelation 2:10.

Therefore, with all due respect to Mark Twain, I am the Prince and the Pauper: just not all at once. Taken in its entirety, as seen in the book of my life, I have been first and last, the beginning and the end. Wretched as I am, when I suffer tribulation, and endure by loving God’s work, the King of kings crowns me with amazing grace.

“But [the householder] answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?”-Matthew 20:13.

The standard Christian covenant calls us to action, and, in return, promises to give us our daily bread, forgives us when we forgive others, and strengthens our endurance. We agree to this arrangement, because it saves us from the Egyptian whip, and starvation in the wilderness. This love, which results from our love, feeds us, our families, and everyone else.

Where there is nothing, and we are without hope, God fills our granaries, so that we survive the famine. Though we have no water, now our cup runneth over.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

We are born again when we put God first; and since God is everyone and everything, the blessings of the kingdom of heaven equalizes everyone.

We have no true ranks of importance, only equality. We achieve this equal footing by humbling ourselves, and showing gratitude, when, in the wilderness, God’s love nourishes us.

“Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. / Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”-Matthew 20:14, 15.

God calls all of us to action. We all live and work in the vineyard. But, unless we choose God, unless we live with love and gratitude as our guides, then we see only through the evil veil in our hearts. We project onto others, what we know and feel exists within us.

This happens even without our being aware of it. We sin because we aren’t mindful.

“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.”-Job 30:26.

We judge others by what we see, and refuse to acknowledge, in ourselves. If we are light, then we see light; if we are darkness, then we see darkness.

Those first-hired laborers saw the householder as dealing unjustly with them, because they were greedy, jealous, judgmental, and unjust. If we aren’t mindful, then we fall back into our mindless ways. Being born again gives us new eyes, if we choose to accept gratefully “whatsoever is right.”

“The light of the body is the eye…. / But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness….”-Matthew 6:22, 23.

If we lie to ourselves, by insisting that we are better or worse than everyone else, or that we don’t have to be grateful, because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, then everything we see is a lie. Truth begets truth, and lies beget lies.

Our hearts know the truth. So when we lie, we conquer and confuse ourselves.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

We turn everything around, and blind ourselves, losing our way to the very happiness that we lied for in the first place. All that ends on Judgment Day, when the Lamb within opens the book of our lives, and sees truthfully what we sealed.

At the end of the harvest, when the rains come, we rest within the ark, or gnash our teeth, as our flood of lies and confusion covers our heads. But, in the end, there is no difference between these two: They are both God’s will, and God’s love.

We humble ourselves, when we love everyone, making their needs equal to ours, loving them as we would have them love us. Humility is the truth. So when we bring judgment upon ourselves, in a moment of honesty, we open our hearts.

If we refuse to bow our knees, God drives us to our knees. If we denounce humility, our own pride drowns us, and humbles us.

“For the day of the LORD is near….as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”-Obadiah 1:15.

At the end of that day, we begin to realize the truth, and love fills our eyes with light, so that we finally see the way: The last equals the first, and the first equals the last. We answer the call when we choose to, when Alpha and Omega knows we’re ready to enter the Promised Land, and be born again.

And on that day, we cry out the single Greek word, as Jesus did on the cross, with a mighty shout: Tetelestai! (te-TEL-es-ti.)

It is finished!

Revealed Unto Babes

To be born again, we can choose from three primary paths. Each one corresponds to what comes more naturally to you.

The first path is to love your neighbor, treat your fellows the way you want to be treated. “The Good Samaritan” illustrates what loving your neighbor means.

A priest and a Levite pass by a stripped, beaten, half-dead man, not wanting to get involved; and a Samaritan (despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day) shows mercy and compassion.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? / And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”-Luke 10:36, 37.

The second is to forgive yourself, people who wronged you, everyone. “The Prodigal Son” shows us how forgiveness works. Like The Good Samaritan, this parable reveals how to follow Jesus’ lessons, while also giving us a counter example.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”-Luke 15:31, 32.

Regardless of the loyalty to his father, a responsible older son doesn’t forgive his wayward brother, who’s willing to humble himself, by admitting his mistakes.

Jesus included these opposite views for a reason.

“And he said unto [the Pharisees], Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”-Luke 16:15.

Love can’t exist without forgiveness; or forgiveness, without love. But if we forgive, then we have shown love; and if we love, then we can forgive.

So if you find it hard to love your enemies, then try forgiving them. Recall my forgiveness equation (Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness); understand the person who wronged you, even if you don’t agree with them: See their perspective, and accept it.

We have to put ourselves aside to do this, deny ourselves, humble ourselves to that which is beyond our control.

These two parables explain love and forgiveness. Now we come to the third path, humility.

Without humility, there is no love or forgiveness.

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”-James 4:6.

When we remember that God is love, we see that love resists pride. To love one another, we must be humble; to forgive one another, we must be humble. However, there is nothing more difficult than to put others before ourselves. Considering others to be our equals is hard enough.

But stop and think. Do you sometimes, even often, put your spouse’s needs above your own, or your child’s, or your friend’s? We’re more humble than we think. What we do for the people who are most important to us, we can also do for everyone else. We behaved that way in childhood.

As children, everyone was our friend. To keep us safe, our parents taught us to not trust strangers. But now that we are older, and able to take care of ourselves, we must return to that trust, faith, and acceptance of strangers we had as children.

“And [Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3.

To become as little children, we must be born again; and to be born again, we must become as little children. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

The two previous quotes from Matthew and John combine in this, the most important and revealing passage in the Gospels.

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:4.

By humbling ourselves, we not only enter the kingdom of heaven, but we become the greatest therein. So this is it; the answer we’ve been looking for, the key to being born again: To be perfect, we must humble ourselves and have faith, like little children.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”-Matthew 11:25.

Jesus isn’t speaking against wisdom and prudence, rather, against people like the Pharisees, who believe they are wise, and despise others for not being as smart as they are.

People who are truly wise admit their ignorance, since that is how we learn. But if we believe that we know everything already, then we won’t bother to learn.

It is with all these things in mind, that Jesus tells a parable about humility.

“And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. / Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.”-Luke 18:9, 10.

Hands up, how many of us have thought that other people are stupid? Even fools despise others for their stupidity. We all have gifts that we should treasure, instead of belittling people who don’t share our unique knowledge and experience.

Pharisees memorized what would, in modern print, be over 6,200 pages of Scribal Law. They were much smarter than the simple fishermen of Galilee. Instead of using their intelligence to help the less fortunate, they succumbed to pride.

But everyone saw the Pharisees as examples of devout faith.

The other player in this drama is a publican, or tax-collector. They were called “publicans” because they dealt with public money and public funds. Israelites hated them, because they worked for the Romans, during their occupation of Israel, and so were collaborators.

There weren’t any newspapers, television, or internet; no one really knew how much in taxes they ought to pay. And there were so many taxes!

People paid to travel on main roads, bridges, or to enter the market places, or towns, or harbors. They paid taxes on their pack animals, on the wheels and axles of their carts.

The publicans charged whatever they liked, and kept for themselves what the Romans didn’t collect.

So Pharisees were supposedly good, and publicans were ostensibly bad.

“…the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”-1 Samuel 16:7.

We think seeing is believing. But that is our pride showing. If we humble ourselves, and admit that we don’t know everything at first sight, that we’re unable to see or understand the past, present, and future of another person, then we would leave judgment to God.

However, perhaps to hide our ignorance and limitations, we act as if we’re such hot stuff, like the Pharisee in the temple.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. / I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”-Luke 18:11, 12.

Here Jesus shows us the opposite of what we should be, what’s analogous to the priest and Levite in The Good Samaritan, and the older brother in The Prodigal Son.

Note how he “prayed with himself.” Sure, he addressed God, but he thought only of how awesome he was, not how awesome God is. He judged others, about whom he knew nothing.

We judge people based on what we see and know about them, both of which are limited. Our pride tempts us to believe that we know the big picture, that the unjust person has always been, and will always be, unjust.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:8.

The proud follow their own will, not God’s. By doing so, they put themselves above God.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”-Exodus 20:3.

The proud are their own god. This is why God resists them, and causes them to fall. But the humble admit their human weaknesses, and worship God not only out of love, but necessity.

“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”-1 Corinthians 1:19.

The wise and prudent are tempted to also be prideful. When we know what some others do not, like the Pharisees, then it’s difficult to be humble. However, if we keep in mind that our greater knowledge is relative, then we realize that there are still others who know more than we do.

There’s always a larger, stronger, more intelligent, more talented person. And so our pride comes to nothing. Our own accumulated knowledge is paltry. To be truly wise, knowledge must be tempered with love and humility.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”-1 Peter 5:6.

God made everything, and exists as everything. Therefore, God is not only equal to the entire universe, but is greater even than that. Pride convinces us that we are greater than that which is greater than the universe.

I think Peter borrowed the previous quote from Jesus (who borrowed it from Proverbs 25:6, 7).

“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shall thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”-Luke 14:10.

Pride is a gamble. We hope to gain respect with our confidant growl. But when someone (or something) calls our bluff, then we’re back to being naked and ashamed.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”-Genesis 3:10.

But now the other player knows we have a bad hand, that we’re scared, weak, and vulnerable. Best to not bluff, be honest, with love in your heart. Because, then, the respect is real, and we will have earned it.

Pride is pure delusion, and if we practice self-deception, then all we see and think will be wrong. We’ll imagine good to be evil; and evil, good.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”-Luke 18:13.

You ever beat yourself up for doing something wrong and stupid? That’s what the publican did when he smote his chest, but literally.

The publican knew he was a collaborator, and had overcharged, and extorted money from his own conquered countrymen. He knew that everyone hated him, that he was counted among the lowest of the low.

“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”-Proverbs 11:2.

This is the heart of the matter.

We’ve already seen that to be prideful is to think of ourselves as greater than God. We’ve seen that pride is a lie, and our bluff can be called; and we know that when it’s called, we’re headed for destruction.

We are proud when we celebrate our own will.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”-John 6:38.

Humility is important because that’s how we follow God’s will. If we’re prideful, we won’t surrender. If we’re selfish, then we’re living a lie. Pride is like using the wrong set of directions, a map to New York when we want to go to California.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

The publican denied himself by admitting he’d done wrong, followed his own will, his own greed. The Pharisee denied God, by thinking himself better than others, and by listing the qualities that made him better than God. Remember, God is everything, everyone.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”-John 1:3.

Whatever we do to others, we do to God. Whatever we think of others, we think of God. And since you and I are a part of God, as we occupy this universe, then whatever we do to others, we also do to ourselves. We can beat ourselves up only for so long, until we’re weakened from the exertion, and bruised from the abuse.

The publican reached that stage, as he begged for mercy. We must reach that stage, to be born again, to see the truth that is revealed only to babes.

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”-John 8:31, 32.

Only everything knows everything.

That’s why we should follow God’s will, because we don’t know everything. But what is God’s will? We’ll discuss that in the next essay. But here’s the simple truth of it.

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”-Matthew 11:27.

We learn God’s will by looking at Jesus, what he taught, how he acted. Jesus is our example.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”–John 13:14, 15.

Besides honoring God, and our place in the universe, the main reason for humility is that we honor each other. When the prideful put themselves above God, they also put themselves above their fellows. This is dangerous, as it leads to the devaluing of all life besides their own.

We not only need God, but also each other. Washing feet symbolizes our caring for each other, but especially for the sick, starving, homeless, and poor.

“I tell you, [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the [Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

The publican saved his soul that day, as he got down on his knees, and begged for mercy. He recognized not only his faults, his sins, but also just how small he was, how weak, how low.

“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.”-Psalm 138:6.

We act proudly, because everyone else does. We fear that we won’t get a promotion, or charm a romantic interest, that others will see us as weak, and take advantage of us, rob us, even kill us.

These fears are not unfounded. That’s the sad truth. That’s why what we think is great is abomination in the sight of God.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

Being a real Christian (following Jesus’ example) is hard. Make no mistake. If it was easy to love one another, everyone would do it. We all take the path of least resistance. We see the results of that choice all around us.

Jesus made no bones about it.

“…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

He said plainly that following God’s will, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, was like carrying a cross to our own crucifixion. But, and here’s where it all comes into balance, accepting our cross means the granting of inner peace, which we will never get from all the people we’re trying to impress with our pride.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

So choose your path; there are many, and we lose our way easily. Will you follow your own will, be your own guide, not knowing of what lies ahead?

That is the Pharisees’ way, where you ignore the anguish of your fellows, by walking on the other side of the road. You’ll feel hatred and jealousy, instead of joy.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”-Matthew 7:13.

You won’t be alone. All the other selfish people will admire your choice to join them. They will also fight you, pit their will against yours. You will never know peace.

Or you can choose God as your guide. His will allows for three convenient entrances: love, forgiveness, or humility; any one of which accomplishes the other two.

That is the publican’s way, where you show mercy, and feel love for everyone, forgive everyone. You will know the truth, and see everything as it exists.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matthew 7:14.

Upon this revelation, we will beg God for mercy, seeing how small and weak we are. But then God will guide us, through the wilderness, through temptation, into the Promised Land, where we will be born again.

The Sower

Test time! We’ll be grading on a 10-point scale: Anything below 70 = F. Ready?

To ease test anxiety, take a deep breath and visualize my favorite teaching moment from the gospels.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. / And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”—Matthew 13:1-2.

We don’t have to do anything for this test, except be honest with ourselves, and see how far along we are in trusting God’s will: how much patience we still need to learn.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; / Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”—James 1:2-3.

Grade F: By the wayside

“…Behold, a sower went forth to sow; / And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.”—Matthew 13:3-4.

Jesus later explained most of this to his apostles. Remember, he spoke to the crowds only by parables.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

But to his twelve apostles he spoke openly:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”—Matthew 13:19.

Before we can hope to fight temptation, we first have to understand how to fight it.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:11.

Like God, the word of God is everything.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: /…/ That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us….”—I John 1:1,3.

You could say that the word is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to understand the word.

However, before I can get to that point, I have to understand who the sower is. We aren’t told—which seems odd, since it’s the title of the parable. As you read, keep this in mind, and decide for yourself the identity of the sower.

This first type of ground, the wayside, is for those who don’t understand the word of God. Think for a moment. Do you understand it? Do I? I’d like to think I do. But we’re human beings. That means we don’t know much, unless it can be proven with math and the scientific method.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

I think of that plea from the cross as the definition of humanity, which is (or should be) humility.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Therefore I humble myself by acknowledging that I don’t understand everything taught in the Bible. Think about that. Who would dare claim such a thing? I try. Sometimes I think that I have flashes of insight. But it is never total. Should I expect it to be?

My grade: F!

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”—Mark 4:13.

So this is really a learning exercise. If we can understand this parable, which is all laid out for us, then we can apply what we learned to the others.

The sower gave me the word of God. This is the first hint at the sower’s identity. Who gives us the word? How does it come to us?

When I don’t understand, it’s because my earth failed to absorb the seeds. I wasn’t doing anything with the seeds, so the birds came and ate them. When we leave our faith up for grabs, and don’t take responsibility, the potential we have for loving one another slips away.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:34-35.

Did you fail too? Don’t give up. Understanding is all we lack. That can be overcome with patience.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; / And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”—Romans 5:3-4.

Grade C: Rocky ground

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: / And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.”—Matthew 13:5-6.

We want the seed to reach good earth, but there’s always something in the way.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20-21.

Notice that the sower is no longer mentioned, and won’t be for the rest of the parable. Yet, everything that happens is a result of his/her actions.

So far, this is my highest score. Sometimes I do understand. I get it, and I’m so happy. Though I have faith in the word, I struggle during tribulation because of a lack of faith in myself. Faith is the root; if it’s strong, then so am I. But sometimes I get caught off guard, overwhelmed.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

If you’ve made it this far, then you somewhat understand the word, but have trouble using it. The rocky ground is where we suffer temptation from within. Maybe we’ve built a stone wall, which keeps everything out, including the word. Or it could be that our hearts are cold, refusing personal investment and connection. Whatever the case, the lack of faith is due to fear. We think that we have to protect ourselves, look out for number one. But this shuts us off, not only from the damage of living, but the love of living.

Since we’ve made it to Grade C, it’s time to start using our understanding to fight temptation. The Bible is full of quotable mantras. This is my favorite one for dealing with fear:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalms 23:4.

Repeating this to yourself in times of need may not make you fearless. It won’t solve all your problems. But it is a good first step. We have to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”—Isaiah 43:2.

Rocky ground is the hardest level for me. I am my own worst critic. While the kingdom of heaven is within us, so are the worst angels of our nature.

My goal is to learn how to control my fear, by reminding myself that God is with me. Through patience and honesty with myself during prayer, and using the Bible’s mantras in mindfulness meditation, I have faith that my grade will improve.

Grade B: Thorny ground

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”—Matthew 13:7.

Whatever we put our faith into, that’s what gives us strength; whatever we put our time into defines who we are.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”—Matthew 13:22.

Sometimes we get our strength from the things of this world: (the good) family and friends, and (the bad) addiction and greed. While these can work, if my strength doesn’t come from God, but from the things of this world, then I’ll have to choke and smother myself with temporary fixes. All we need is one God, but we need countless cars, clothes, food, cigarettes, promotions, larger apartments, etc.

At this level, we would’ve learned to understand a majority of the word, and dealt with our inner demons, but we’re still a fat camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. The good news is that we’re almost perfect, just one letter grade remains. The bad news is that one can’t find anything more contrary to the gospels than the temptations of the physical world.

“…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:15.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…?”—Matthew 16:26.

“…My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

Is that what we are: a den of thieves? Are we the Pharisees, or the Romans who cast lots for Jesus’ torn garments?

At this level, the thorny ground, we must answer these questions. Basically, where do we put our faith? The needs of this world spring up like thorns: unpredictable, unstoppable, at least by conventional methods.

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”—Mark 10:27.

We can’t fight sin without sinning ourselves; it infects everything it touches. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m here: to find a way to cleanse myself, and then share that knowledge.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”—I Peter 4:19.

We suffer so that we can learn patience. We need that very kind of patience to follow God’s will. We have to follow God’s will, or the cares of this world will overcome us. It’s an impossible fight without the word of God: the seeds that bring fruit according to our actions, i.e., what type of ground we’re on.

That reminds me of how the sower’s actions are all we have to determine his/her identity. And it reminds me of Judgment Day, the ultimate test.

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”—Matthew 16:27.

Grade A: Good earth

“But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”—Matthew 13:8.

We are into science fiction territory here.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”—Matthew 13:23.

Our sower never stopped to clear the thorns and stones. He/she didn’t even seem to be aiming. Everyone got treated the same, no matter what type of ground they were on. This is how the word comes to us. The question remains: who is the sower?

At this level we understand the word, and rejoice in temptation, since it tests our faith. We are pros at being tested, because we’ve faced all our demons, maintaining patience through every tribulation; and we were able to do all that because we put our faith in the will and word of God.

If I were to get an A, what would the prize be? What’s my goal in all of this? First, my goal is to be what I just described. But there must be something beyond that, on the other side of the door.

“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”—Matthew 7:7.

Once we’ve understood the word, and faced our inner and outer demons, then we are able to bear the fruit of our seeds. This is unique to the good earth. Since the seeds are the word of God, what kind of fruit would that be? Think back to how you received the seeds, and the peace they brought to your life: comfort during tribulation, strength during temptation.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

That’s what Jesus said to his apostles, before sending them to minister to the people. For the twelve, Jesus was the sower. He brought them the word. For those ministered to by the apostles, the twelve were the sowers. They sowed by their actions: cleansing, raising, casting out; we sow, or bear fruit, according to our actions. Therefore, we not only receive the seeds, but give them to others as well.

We are the sowers. It’s all entirely up to us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. We are the source of evil in this world.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”—Matthew 15:11.

We have two potential roles in this parable: giving and receiving. Sometimes we are the sower; other times we’re on rocky or thorny ground; or we may just be by the wayside.

We are free at any point to shift to another level, seek better understanding, fight our demons, free to decide if we want to follow God’s will at all: Some people like a lost cause; I know I do.

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Luke 19:10.

Amen to that.