God the Gardener (Part I)

(An Excerpt from Parables Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Matthew 13:24-30, Genesis 1-3)

Though Jesus wasn’t a farmer, the first three of His parables from Matthew 13 are agricultural stories.  From His location in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, did He look around at the fields surrounding the lake and draw His inspiration for these three stories by spotting a farmer at work?  I can imagine Him gesturing toward a man scattering seed and speaking His famous words about a sower, his seed, and four different kinds of soils.  In a natural progression of ideas, perhaps his next two parables followed on the heels of the first.

Whatever sparked the ideas for His stories in the moment of their telling, I think it would be getting hold of the wrong end of the stick to think of His parables as Jesus reading into nature all kinds of meanings that He could use to make greater-reality, spiritual applications.  In fact, I think the opposite is true.  Nature itself seems to me to be a kind of parable, endowed from the start by its Creator with all manner of spiritual applications.  The greater-reality meanings don’t need to be read into our physical world.  They only need to be read out of it.  They are already purposefully embedded into it.

Jesus’ illustration comparing His own flesh and blood to bread and wine is a perfect example.  Have you ever stopped to think, even if you happen to be vegetarian, that the only thing keeping you alive is death?  The grain and the grapes that become bread and wine die and are crushed in order for us to live.  Eating!  Such a simple act.  But what an awesome picture of His greater realities God built into our natural realities!

That illustration ties in very directly to what I want to talk about today: God as a Gardener in Genesis 2.

Have you ever wondered why  the only prohibition God gave the first humans was a prohibition regarding their food source?

The main reason I can see is that the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were pictures of God’s greater realities.

We are highly dependent creatures, and God created us as such for a reason.  I  believe our physical dependencies were given to us to demonstrate for us our spiritual dependencies.  One of our main physical dependencies is on food.  Pretty hard to live without it.  Food, in a physical sense, is our life-source.  God gave the first humans a choice between a dependency on Him (pictured by the fruit of the tree of life) or an independence from Him (the fruit of the tree from which He told them not to eat).  The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil became the fruit of death, however, as God warned Adam and Eve it would.  There is no life-source apart from Him.  Independence from Him can only mean death, destruction, and despair.  We can choose independence from Him because God is the God of freedom (the reason He gave the first humans a choice to make), but He warns us that there can be no real life outside the one He offers.

“The year’s at the spring…” and yesterday was garden planting day for me.  As I was turning and raking the soil and dropping my seeds into their rows, I was thinking about the reasons we garden.  People grow gardens for only two reasons that I can think of: for food or for beauty (or for both).

Then, I remembered that God grew a garden once.  It’s nearly the first thing we learn about God, right after the fact that He was the original Creator.  He was the original Gardener.

Also as I was gardening, I was also flipping my mind’s pages to Matthew 13, a passage I’ve been studying lately.   It occurred to me that Jesus’ simple little story in that chapter about the wheat and the weeds portrays a very big picture about the greater realities.  It takes us back to the beginning and lets us see into the unseen world of the spiritual battle that started from the creation of humanity and will continue till the end of time.  Jesus’ tiny story is an epic encapsulated into a nutshell.  For today, I’d like to focus on the aspect of the epic that reveals God as a gardener.

I said earlier that Jesus was no farmer, but that’s not strictly true.  He was there in the beginning with and in His Father.   All things were created through Him (John 1:1-3).  If His Father is a gardener, so is He.  From Matthew 13, we learn that “the Son of Man” is not only a gardener; He is a farmer.  He sowed the good seed in the field of the world.  In a “greater-reality” sense, He is very much a farmer — the original farmer.  The part of Jesus’ little, epic story that I’d like to zoom in on today is found in two words:  “good seed.”

I’ve said that the only two purposes I can think of for growing a garden are for food and for beauty.  If you check out Genesis 2:9, you’ll see that those were the two purposes God had for growing His garden.  I would assume He grew that first, literal garden in Eden for food and for beauty for the sake of the first humans, but in a bigger sense, what about the “good seed” He sowed in the field of the world?

In Matthew 13:38, the “good seed” are the sons (and daughters) of “the kingdom.”

In other words, we are God’s garden — all those of us who have chosen Him as our God.  The One in charge.  The King.  My King.

He once planted a garden in order to feed and to delight His creation — those creations of His that He planted in the field of the world.  But why did He plant His metaphorical “garden”?  Why did He create those human “stalks of wheat”?  I’ve often asked myself, “Why would God create?  Why would God create us?  What did He get out of it?”

I love the answer Revelation 4:11 gives us from the King James Version:  “…for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  I see the truth of it from Genesis 1 as God looks at the riot of life, of colour, of taste, and aroma He has just created and announces that it’s good.  In fact, everything He made was very good.  He did indeed plant “good seed” in the field of His world.  And it appears that one reason He decided to plant Himself the garden we call earth was for beauty — to delight His own heart.

But what about the food aspect of growing a garden?  He doesn’t need food.  God created us dependent on food so we would recognize our dependency.  And hopefully, so we would choose to recognize our dependency on Him.  But He’s not dependent, is He?

I believe His self-sufficiency to be a fact.  He has no needs that are not met within Himself.  Yet Jesus makes an astonishing statement in John 4.  In John 4:34, Jesus casually announces that His food is to do the will of Him who sent Him and to finish His work.

It struck me, reading this verse, that God is self-sufficient within Himself because He is all-relational within Himself.  He is not independent within Himself.  The Son is not independent of the Father, nor is the Father independent of the Son, nor is the Holy Spirit independent of either.

It sheds new light for me on the reason God made us to be dependent on Him.  Independence is the anti-relationship, and God created us for relationship.  In all the delight He took in His creation, there was one instance when He stopped and declared that something was not good.  And that something was the solitude of man.  It wasn’t good that man should be alone.  We were created dependent because we were created for relationship.  We were created for relationship because God is all-relational.

But here’s the truly astonishing thing I’d like to point out from John 4.  Jesus told His disciples that doing His Father’s will was His food.  And if we look back over John 4, we’ll discover that Jesus, immediately prior to His statement about His food, had been partaking in some dialogue with a Samaritan woman He had just met at a well.  Being tired and thirsty, He struck up a conversation by asking the woman for a drink (having made Himself subject to the same physical dependencies to which His creatures are subject).  And from there, the conversation turned spiritual and ended with the woman and many in her village coming to recognize Him as Messiah — and in so doing, to enter into true relationship with their Creator.

That result, reading between the lines, was Jesus’ food: the will of the One who sent Him and the work He had to finish (through His death on a Roman cross).  It satisfied His hunger to satisfy the spiritual hunger of one of His much-loved creations.

Then, in the next verses of John 4 after His description of His food, Jesus goes on to talk about the reaping of human crops and the joy and satisfaction that harvest brings.  He is the original farmer who sowed His good seed in the world.  Why?  For beauty, surely, but also to satisfy His hunger.  And, incredibly, He hungers for relationship.  With US!  That’s the God we serve!

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