Everyone knows the first Rocky movie was the best of the bunch for lots of reasons. Rocky in that movie exhibits a quality which we recognize but don’t wish for ourselves. Rocky can endure. He says of himself that he just wants to go the distance, then he’ll know he isn’t a bum.
This week I preach in another church in the valley because they are without a preaching pastor so I’m going to preach a pair of sermons on the parable of the soils and the soils interpreted. I think part of the multi-layered meaning of the parable is the endurance of the seed unto fruitfulness. We usually segregate the seeds because the soils are described differently and we mentally pick out examples of the unfruitful soils in our mind.
Jesus’ interpretation of the parable ends describing the good soil. I think we immediately imagine that the seed in the good soil simply had it easy. It benefited from good circumstance and simply accomplished what was expected of it. What Jesus says doesn’t indicate this. This good heart is “kale kai agathe” which is a Greek phrase that expresses a highest ideal, “good and beautiful”, a heart as it was meant to be. (Peter Kreeft has an mp3 on this phrase following CS Lewis.)
Again, Jesus’ image is NOT that somehow the beautiful people, the well-born, the fortunate for whom everything always goes according to their script somehow just keep receiving good fortune. “The good and beautiful hearts hear the word, hold it fast and bear fruit in patience endurance.” In the first sermon I connect Jesus with the seed. The good and beautiful hold fast with patient endurance. There is a Rocky-ness about the good and beautiful, they endure.
Endurance is not something we pray for. I’ll quote this again because I think about this quote every day.
Story time: almost two weeks ago I taught a class that ran through the Catholic Epistles in one day. After getting through Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter one of my students raised his hand to speak. I typically allow this in my classes, so I called on him. His observation was this: “It seems that all of these letters are telling Christians that our calling is to pray for faithfulness and perseverance in suffering, whereas we always pray for God to change our situation.”
We pray for changed circumstance, God responds by saying “no, I’m going to give you something greater, a heart good and beautiful and you’ll get that through endurance! This is my gift to you.”
I listened to Tim Keller’s sermon this morning on “Waiting and Living by Faith” from Habbakkuk 2:1-4. I’ll have to take some notes from this sermon and post them. I listen to everything from Keller I can get my hands on but some sermons resonate with me and I return to them over and over again. This is one on that list for me. It has a similar message.
We admire Rocky as he gets his face turned to hamburger by Apollo Creed, but we wouldn’t want to be him. We watch him getting pulverized and we, like the crowd ask “Why doesn’t he just give up? Why does he go back into that ring round after round with similar results?” Then when the end of the movie comes and we hear that he loses, we like him don’t care. The judgment of the referees though perhaps unjust is irrelevant. Rocky received his prize, a heart good and beautiful that all of us can see. Why? Because he could endure.
This is the picture of the saints in the book of Revelation. We hear of the lion, but we see the lamb that was slaughtered. That lamb was mocked and jeered on the cross “he saved others, he can not save himself!” Those referees made their call, but we, watching from a distance know, “he’s saving others by not saving himself.” Followers of that heard-of-lion, but-seen-as-a-lamb are given the gift of the one they follow, the gift of patient endurance.
We are sheep, and we usually are too dumb to know what to ask for, but our good shepherd knows when to listen to his sheep, and when to ignore them, giving them what they need instead of what they think they want. He’s made an enormous sacrifice so that they would be good-and-beautiful and nothing in heaven and earth or under the earth is going to keep him from his prize.
Find someone who you know is enduring. They’re not leaving their post, they’re not leaving the ring, they remain and are paying for it. Encourage them. Tell them that you see their pain, you know the strength that staying is requiring while others counsel them to flee, and hold up a biblical mirror to them to help them see that their patient endurance is revealing and yielding a heart that is good and beautiful.
It is Denethor the steward of Gondor in the LOTR movie “The Return of the King” upon seeing the army of Mordor advancing to take his city who cries out to his soldiers “abandon your posts, flee, save yourselves!” Gandalf wisely applies his staff to Denethor’s head and encourages the guards to hold fast. The soil isn’t good because it has easy circumstance, but because it holds and becomes fruitful in patient endurance.