Down by the river

There are blessings that accrue and appreciate only as one’s years accrue. As the time remaining in life decreases, experience increases, and so does, one hopes, wisdom. Perspective lengthens, and in the longest perspective all of life’s experiences – diverse and contradictory as they seem – may be viewed in their proper places, as integral parts of a whole life.

Fresh from college and just starting my career, when I needed a longer perspective, when I needed to put the pieces together and figure out what my life was becoming, I often retreated to a 300-foot limestone bluff on the west bank of the Mississippi, overlooking the Shawnee National Forest. From that perspective, I listened to the river, and it taught me this: to wait, to have patience, to listen.

Recently I’ve been listening to a parable Jesus told from his perspective on life. A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matt. 13:3b-8).

The early church used the parable to make sense of their failures and successes (Matt. 13:18-23). Why did some not accept their message? Why did their work at times produce little or no fruit? Why did the gospel fare so poorly in competition with other values and priorities in life? They looked for encouragement to continue their work, and they focused not on their failures but on their successes, as any reasonable person might.

But the thing about parables is, they’re not reasonable; they rarely make sense to our logical minds. When he told this parable, I suspect Jesus had in view a longer perspective, something other than the failures or successes of the church. I suspect he was not thinking about the quality of the soil or the pushback and competition his message encountered. I suspect he was focused on the God in whom all things hold together in perfect unity. I suspect he had learned to wait, to have patience, to listen to the flow of grace until he learned that all the failures and successes, the gains and the losses, the good and the bad of life combine in one great river.

In Jesus, God was accomplishing radical reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), not saving the lost but revealing that nothing is lost, nothing exists or happens outside God (Acts 17:28), that all people and things and experiences are one, members of the same creation, inseparable pieces of the whole, elements of the same divine flow, the same river of life. Jesus knew that everything has its season and every matter under heaven its time, and that everything, every opposite in life, has its perfect place (Eccles. 3:1, 11).

If we would find the life we seek, the abundant life that is already truly ours, we need to sit by the river and learn to wait, to have patience, and to listen.

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