A note from Kathy: The last piece posted two weeks ago, Independence Day, Part Two, I had said “to stay tuned for more on the topic of “Spiritual Warfare and the Animal Kingdom” next week.” Our family ended up attending a funeral, so I have been unable to do any writing; Ros has been inspired to do this insightful piece, and Part Two will shortly follow! At some point, there will be a piece on spiritual warfare and the animal kingdom!
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn,and I would heal them.” (Mat 13 v 14-15)
Three of the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record Jesus telling one of the most well known of all the parables, the story of the sower whose seed falls on different kinds of ground. The seed, the Word of God, is not well received and has to contend with difficult conditions.
Jesus uses simple stories to communicate with the people who have come to hear his teaching. However many times we’ve heard it, the parable of the sower is an encouragement to stop and take stock of our growth as Christians and also of the seeds that we are sowing in the people around us.
The crowd on the shore is so large that Jesus gets into a boat to teach them. “Listen!” he says. He uses images familiar to His listeners and the parables show that God is revealed in the everyday events of our lives.
The story compels His listeners to ask themselves, “What kind of ground am I?” Clearly, this is a parable about listening – listening to the teachings of Jesus, without distraction, and allowing them to take root and grow to fullness in our lives. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Mat 13 v 9). This teaching is for the committed as well as the uncommitted.
Jesus gives His disciples an explanation in verses 18-23. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:”
The seed is the Word of the Kingdom (v 19), sown at random by God:-
- Some will struggle to hear or understand it at all before it is snatched away by the evil one. (The seed that fell along the path.)
- Some will receive it with joy initially, but find that it fails to take root in them; they will fall away when trouble and persecution arises because of the Word. (The seed that fell on rocky places.)
- Some will receive it and grow for a while, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth will gradually choke their growth, making it unfruitful. (The seed that fell among thorns.)
- But those who hear and understand will grow and bear fruit, making a contribution to the overall harvest. (The seed that fell on good soil.)
If we picture the Church as the different types of ground, what gets in the way of us receiving God’s Word about our responsibility to care for His animal kingdom and continuing to grow?
Firstly, the Church’s judgmental attitudes towards animal welfarists, where God’s Word is ignored and snatched away by the evil one (as with the seed along the path):-
- Animal rights militancy – Whilst many Christians are deterred from linking themselves with any form of animal welfare, animal rights militancy actually only forms a very tiny proportion of the animal welfare movement.
- Preaching vegetarianism – Whilst we cannot ignore the concession made by God to His fallen creation, making the eating or non-eating of meat a choice (Gen 9 v 1-3), the suffering of so many contemporary food animals is clearly not in accord with the original perfect will of God (Gen 1 v 29-30).
- Opposition to animal experimentation (Vivisection) – Whilst animal welfarists believe that humane research, without the use of animals will produce better results, we are as anxious as anyone that medical progress should be made.
- New Age movement – The New Age movement basically includes any ‘world’ system which seeks to replace the authority of God in Christ. But surely the Church should still work with non-Christian bodies who are forging ahead with concerns which represent the compassionate values of God’s Kingdom and we must not hand over the responsibility of the stewardship of creation to a secular world.
Secondly, the Church’s human-centered attitudes towards animals, where God’s word is quickly pushed away (as with the seed on rocky places) or where external factors restrict growth (as with the seed among thorns):-
- “Human suffering must come first, I haven’t time for animals as well!” – This is somewhat hypocritical, as there are many things we could easily do to relieve human suffering, but don’t. Very little is needed to make a huge difference for animals, but profits may have to be cut and customers may have to pay more.
- “I can’t face agonizing about animals, I’d rather not know!” – We all feel the same, but our treatment of animals damages us, either by shutting out what is going on or by becoming brutalized. Unlike most social issues, animal abuse is universal. We all have a part to play in this, perhaps Satan’s safest stronghold.
- “Animals don’t have souls, so we can treat them as things for our use!” – The Bible tells us that animals do have a soul (Job 12 v 10). The same Hebrew word, ‘nephesh’ is used for ‘creature’ and for ‘soul’ over 400 times, beginning in Gen 1 v 21, but the question is whether they feel pain, stress or misery.
- “Animals don’t feel pain!” – But after hundreds of thousands of laboratory experiments it is now accepted that they do.
- “Nature is cruel and we can’t help behaving in the same way!” – But humans are not limited to thinking like other animals.
- “Animals are not members of society (human beings)!” – But we don’t recognize them as fellow-creatures, members like ourselves of the same universe.
As the disciples share in Jesus’ mission, the story about listening has become a story about speaking. Unlike Mark, Matthew tells the story after their mission has begun. The twelve have already glimpsed the truth of His words in their own experience. They are not responsible for the outcome. Success and failure will always co-exist. But the harvest is coming, and their labors will bear more fruit than they can know, as we are seeing almost 2000 years later!
The images of growth in both readings remind us that we are meant to keep on growing in faith and in our knowledge of God. That growth will be shaky at times – we will need deep roots, and an ability to steer clear of the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth – but it is the Word of God that creates growth in us. Those who have received the Word are invited to become sowers of the Word, so that the harvest may continue to grow. At the end of this teaching, Matthew takes us back to where it all began, with Jesus’ challenge to his disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Mat 9 v 37-38).
I believe this applies to all Christian animal welfarists. God wants those of us who have been given the special task of loving and supporting His animal creatures in their suffering, to help and encourage one another and to be sowers of the Word, so that the harvest may continue to grow.
Thank you for reading! Your thoughts are welcome! Part Two, ‘The Church As Sowers’, to follow shortly!! ~Ros