“A Thorny Subject” Friday Meditation. 05-22-20. Alan Neale.
Trinity Church, Newport, RI

Mark 4 “18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

If any of you have read the Peter Rabbit books, you will know of Mr. Michael McGregor who is at war, constantly and violently, with marauding rabbits. Three years ago my beloved Wendy started a vegetable garden that has (over the years) like Topsy just “grow’d”. Her warfare with rabbits ended with the most effective fencing system but the warfare against thorns and weeds has continued apace. And even I, the least happy yard worker there is, even I am called to battle against these wretches as they decide to settle on our driveway. Oh, as a vast digression, I tried a homemade weed killer earlier this week… I think I saw them waving to me the day after they were soaked!

I recount all this because verses 18 and 19 today describe an ongoing battle caused by the existence of unwanted thorns. Mark uses a word that suggests these thorns, once ensconced utterly chokes and crowds upon the hapless victim. One commentator suggests that the word indicates “a person cut off from Christ’s provisions and left inoperable, stalled, spiritually suffocated”.

“The cares of this world” are a sort of neutral term describing worries and anxieties. The Greek word suggests a tendency to fracture a person’s very being into parts. That these thorns are, as the Greek word suggests, often well-hidden until the moment of strangulation makes our health all the more difficult.

Friends, the healthy functioning of our spirits, our psyches, our deepest being, is dependent not upon a Pollyanna-ish denial of challenge but rather upon a dedicated, intentional, deliberate work to put everything into the perspective of our Almighty and Loving Lord. No wonder the Psalmist cries out: “Set me on the rock that is higher than I” (62:1); no wonder our Lord urges us to “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). With ever marked pace I am approaching a day when, like millions of others, I will be unwillingly unemployed with all that surrounds such a day. When friends ask me how I am, I answer that I move from anxiety to anticipation sometimes even from moment to moment.

In these weird and alienating days of pandemic, our enforced absence from public worship (be it with two or three or more) has stripped us of the opportunity to bathe in, immerse ourselves with praise of God and recollection of God’s goodness and faithfulness towards us. These surely have been rocky grounds where our spirits and psyches have been pummeled, pounded, punched “by cares of the world”. Cares that move from the basic (paper towels etc) to the sublime (can I survive emotionally).

Even to acknowledge the struggle to ourselves, to a friend, to the Lord is the first step towards strength. Those horrible thorns intent on our fragmentation are confronted and conquered by all that makes for divine restoration, reconciliation and wholeness.

I believe so very strongly that in each of us there is the good soil. Good/kalos – look at what it means… attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); well done so as to be winsome (appealing).

Apparently in 1440 a phrase was used for the first time and has been used ever since… “comparisons are odious”. It is not for us to compare the fruit of our soil with that of another; we never know the circumstances, the challenges, the cares of any individual. I suggest it is even odious to make comparisons in our own lives; though the senior can often feel less productive than the junior… all is good in the economy of God.

But note, note well, this treasured soil grows as it receives the word (the word of God in Scripture, the word as God in Jesus).

And the Greek word used means to acknowledge, receive warmly, welcome with personal commitment.

In the mid-1960s I attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Earls Court, London and there I welcomed Jesus into my life as Lord, Saviour and Friend. It was a decision to receive Him deeply and thoroughly into my life and, I think to quote Professor CS Lewis, there I gave as much as knew of myself to as much I knew of the Lord.

But this welcome across the threshold of my life has been made countless times since then and even now, as I write these words, I make this welcome again. Will you join me?