It’s fun to play “What if”. Now and then I pretend that our family lives in a four-bedroom condominium on the 88th floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago. If you have trouble sleeping maybe you pretend that you’re someplace else doing something else. It’s nice to pretend and wonder what could be if circumstances are different.
There’s a danger to playing “What if”. The parable of the soil into which the seed falls shows the danger. “What if” sometimes leads to worry. We play the “What if” game all the time in a negative connotation. It’s always good to have a contingency plan should something unexpected occur. But “what if” you’re constantly worried about a contingency plan? “What if” that contingency plan fails? “What if” this or that happens? You can “what if” yourself until you’re crazy.
From our side of things, there’s a lot of “what ifs” to consider as the sower sows the seed. Take the seed that lands among thorns. The seed grows. Hearers receive the Word. They believe in God and are saved. Then thorns arise and take over. Worries creep into the heart. Worries about daily bread, reputation, and so forth, whether actual or perceived worries, are maintained and excused. Worries are seen as our contingency plan. You have to be prepared. You also can worry so much about what you have and don’t have that you fail to appreciate what is given you by the gracious, giving God.
The fruit of the Word implanted in the soil is suffocated by thorns that bore deeper into heart and mind. Before long you’re literally lying on a bed of thorns, walking on a bed of thorns, even sitting on chairs of thorns. What if everything goes bad? What if the Word doesn’t really take root in my life? What if the Word I’ve heard all my life is a sham? What if my congregation can’t survive? What if everything around me isn’t real?
If that isn’t enough, there are thorns of abundance. It’s not sinful to have many things. What is sinful is when abundance causes you to see things in a different way. Instead of putting abundance to work for furthering God’s kingdom, you see the abundance of what you have as a way to get ahead of everyone, including God. The seed of the Word of God is suffocated again. All that’s left is thorns that block Jesus giving you His gifts of forgiveness of sins. You’ll never find satisfaction in abundance that lies to you about having more abundance to better yourself. What if I don’t have more than my neighbor? What if I could show off all that I have to make others jealous of me?
But wait, there are more thorns. If earthly cares and deceitful abundance don’t get the job done, the pleasures of this life certainly can do you in. Satan is always looking for ways to get you to love everything and everyone except the Lord. Your own flesh seeks to find its own salvation in creature comforts. Even the world lies about your life never getting any better than it is right now. No wonder so many choose to live for today rather than live in the grace and joy of God bestowed on His beloved children in the all-availing shedding of blood by Jesus for the sin of the world.
Misplaced lusts for life are perhaps the most dangerous thorns of all. What if I love the image of a scantily-clad woman on my phone more than my wife? What if I spent more quality time with the guy down the street than with my husband? What if I dressed in such a way that makes others turn their head? What if I treated others as if they have to pay attention to me more than others?
It seems as if there is no hope for the seed that is choked by thorns. Maybe a shrug and an “amen” is appropriate here as we mourn what might have been. But “what if”? What if the good and wise Law of God has its way with the sinner’s heart, working contrition and repentance for trusting and loving everything except God? What if the Sower Himself, Jesus Christ, rips away the dying thorns killed by the preaching of the Law? What if the seed is watered with vivifying baptismal water? What if that seed is regularly nourished by hearing the Good News that Jesus Christ has destroyed death and paid for sin, bestowing His unblemished righteousness to the sinner? What if that seed is also nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith in Jesus? What if that seed doesn’t die, but instead lives? What if that seed bore abundant fruit?
With God all things are possible. After all, He is in the death and resurrection business…and business is always good. Sometimes that seed lands on good soil, ready to receive the seed and bear fruit a hundred fold. Yes, there are times the seed lands on bad soil. It’s as if Jesus knows it, laments it, yet rejoices in the seed that bears fruit. The implanted Word regularly nourished can’t help but bear fruit; the fruit of joy and pleasure of resting in the arms of a loving Savior. The “what if” of what seems impossible is certain in God’s only-begotten Son. You live. You bear fruit. You abide in the Vine of Righteousness growing from the Tree of Life.