I’ve been doing some research into the Gospels lately about what did Jesus actually say about God. And it’s been interesting to see what qualities he is promoting about God. This weeks’ post and next weeks’ share this common theme.
First and foremost, he talks about God as the gardener and the pruner[John 15: 1-17]. By extending that imagery we could say that God is the designer, the creator, the planter and the sower. So everything starts with God. He not only plants but he also tends the garden. He provides for the needs of the plants—water and sun and nutrients. He prunes the vine(Jesus) and every branch(us) so that each will bear the most fruit. God lops off any branch that bears no fruit. So he gets the most potential out of all that he has planted. He stays with his people in order to bring out the best in them.
There is no branch that can live without the vine, and there is no way that we can be fruitful without the vine and the gardener. So our highest potential is in his hands, so long as we stay with the vine, connected to God through Jesus in the most complete relationship we can participate in.
The overarching image of God is of the Gardener who tends to what he has planted so that it will bear fruit.
To continue with this image of God as the gardener, through Jesus we see him scattering seed in four different parables.[Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-8, 26-29, 8:4-8] I think of the seeds as invitations for us to come join him in his kingdom, to lead productive, fulfilling lives, to develop the kind of relationship with the Lord that will bring us the most life just as Jesus had. The “seeds,” those invitations, fall on fertile ground sometimes, but also on dried-up, unreceptive soil or may take root where there is not enough nourishment to sustain them, so they whither and die.
But the picture remains of God distributing these invitations throughout our lives so that we, once we are open to the possibility of living with God as the center of our lives, we might RSVP to the invitations with a wholehearted “Yes!” At last God then has something in us to work with– an openness, an acknowledged neediness, an eagerness, a longing within us to learn a whole new way of living. So we have God as the Gardener and the Inviter, the Host of life. Don’t you think it is interesting that God doesn’t force us to take him in or wrestle us to ground or throw us into jail to accomplish his purposes? He gave us free will and he respects our choices, until we do say “Yes!” and then he celebrates![The Parable of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11ff]
Now we add Father, the parent who meets his children’s needs, to God’s description. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”[Matthew 6:25-33 and Luke 12:22-34]
It is built into the system that God created that he would meet all our needs, so we are not to wallow in anxiety about them and waste our precious energy on what is already given. This passage presupposes that these needs are built into the creation of the earth, but, by extending the idea to all our needs beyond the physical ones, God is already aware of all our needs, physical, spiritual, mental, etc. and will be sure to meet those as well. In the passage about asking, seeking and knocking, Jesus adds “If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” [Matthew 7:7-12]
So God is Creator, Gardener, Father, and now Investor in his people so that we might multiply his gifts in service of the kingdom. In the Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew[25:14-27] and in Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke[19:11-27] the landowner(read God) is going away for a while and entrusts some of his money to three servants. In the Matthew version the first one receives 5 bags of gold, another one 2 bags and another gets 1 bag. When the owner returns, the servant given 5 bags gained 5 bags more; the one given 2 bags gained two more and the one given 1 bag had buried the money in the ground. Both the first two received high praise and a promotion. The third man who had buried the bag of gold because he feared the master had his bag given to the one with 10 bags and then was thrown outside into the darkness.
In the Luke version there is an added dimension in that the man is to be made king of another land, but those subjects hated him. He was made king anyway. He approached his servants in the same way as the Matthew version, rewarding those who had increased his wealth and punishing the one who didn’t. And then he killed the enemies in the new land who did not want him to be king.
These two parables tell us that our reception of God and the use we make of the talents and resources he has given us say everything about how we will be treated by God. If we fear God and don’t do what he asked, then we are punished. If we take what he has given us and use it well, we will be rewarded and entrusted with more. We’ll find echoes of this teaching about God a little later when we will look at what Jesus said about the consequences built into the system.
Perhaps the most surprising parable about God is the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells of the vineyard owner who hires laborers throughout the day, but when the day’s work is over, pays them all the same amount no matter when they started working. When the workers who began work early in the morning complained that some men had worked far fewer hours than they had, God explained that he had stuck to his agreement with them and paid what he had promised—one denarius. “I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
It is on a level playing field that the landowner is hiring. The benefits are the same no matter when you arrived or how much you have done. There are no levels, no castes, no leaders other than Christ in God’s kingdom. So everyone benefits the same whether first or last. Quite a different place than the world!
So God is the Creator, Gardener, Father, Investor in us and the Egalitarian Employer of us. Next week I will continue this theme…
Questions to ponder over the week: How do I see God? How have I experienced him in my life? Is he the one who transforms(prunes) me? Is he my Father in heaven? What has he invested in me? What has he called(hired) me to do? Have I said “Yes!” to what he’s asked of me?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who experience him in our lives in many different ways. May we be open to what he calls us to do. May we help him bring the kingdom of God to light in this world.
News from By the Waters:
All five of the videos about the Exodus story are up on YouTube. Here are the url’s to access them:
Part I: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKfouN0PNH0
Part II: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyvRsnqYrdg
Part IIIa: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZU32Y09UN8
Part IIIb: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqKay89kjE
Part IV: www.youtube.com/watch?v=84z7KF_uv7Q
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.