Scatter the Word :: Vincent van Gogh, “The Sower”

Van Gogh - The Sower.jpg
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower; oil on canvas; 1888.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there are numerous accounts of Jesus meeting with His disciples. Several of those accounts depict Jesus’ commissioning His disciples to continue the work He began (see Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:6-8). He invites them to become witnesses of Jesus everywhere they go, making disciples as they proclaim the message about Jesus. Earlier in the Gospel accounts, in Matthew 13, Jesus tells two parables about God’s kingdom rooted in agricultural life. The first is a parable about a sower scattering seed on different types of soil with different results (Matthew 13:1-23), while the second is about a sower who scatters good seed in a good field but whose enemy sows weeds into the field during the night (13:24-30). When asked about this second parable, Jesus begins by saying, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (13:37). Jesus’ work is, in a sense, the work of a sower of seed, scattering good news into the field of the world. So, when the disciples go out, they, too, become sowers of the seed, scattering good news about Jesus. Vincent van Gogh’s beautifully rich painting, The Sower, is one of at least thirty paintings and drawings the artist made on this theme. Drawing upon his Christian roots and influenced by a similar work of Jean-François Millet, van Gogh saw his own artistic endeavors as a form of ministry within the world. Painting this while working alongside Paul Gauguin, van Gogh works out with passionate color his sense of how painting can bring beauty and peace from God into a disoriented and pain-filled world. The sun sinks low behind the sower almost like a halo, suggesting the holiness of a vocation lived out under God. Reflecting on Jesus’ self-description, van Gogh helps us see the holiness of the evangelistic calling of Jesus’ disciples—both then and now—who are sent out on mission, while also seeing the holiness within our vocational calling through which we can subversively join God’s mission in this world. It is both in proclamation and incarnation that Jesus’ disciples sow the seed of the message of Jesus.

What Questions Are We Asking of Jesus?

“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:54b-56)

There are different types of questions. There are questions people ask to lead you somewhere, there are questions people ask to accuse you, there are questions people ask to genuinely find information, and so much more. In this passage at hand, we specifically encounter the difference between rhetorical questions—questions posed to make a point that do not need an answer—and probing questions—questions posed to genuinely seek answers.

The series of questions asked by the locals at the Nazareth synagogue are more like rhetorical questions offered simply to make a point. What is that point? The point is that they already believe they know who Jesus is. Their confidence in their own understanding is a shocking revelation to us as the readers of their lack of understanding. They do not know that what they think they know reveals their utter lack of knowledge.

They have severely misunderstood Jesus. They are missing the point of His teaching, but more importantly they are missing out on Him. Why? Because they are smugly self-assured in what they know, which actually reveals their blind spots and their pride.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century Benedictine monk and theologian, had as his motto: “faith seeking understanding.” This essentially means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” This is a good motto for the life of discipleship: “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”

Our love of God should lead us toward deeper understanding. Unfortunately, what we see in the synagogue attendees of Nazareth is less like faith seeking understanding and more like pride reinforcing ignorance. And, unfortunately, it seems that is the motto of some Christians today as well.

It is a great grace and wisdom to know what we do know but also what we do not know. It is humility to admit what we do not understand, and then to seek true understanding.

The life of discipleship is a life in pursuit. It is a life of faith seeking understanding, not pride reinforcing ignorance.

“And they took offense at him….And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58)

The sad end to all of this is that the people take offense at Jesus. And so, because of this, we’re told Jesus didn’t do anything miraculous in Nazareth because of their lack of faith.

This tells us that when our pride reinforces our ignorance, it cripples our faith. A crippled faith ends up in offense that limits Jesus. The limitation is not a problem with Jesus but a problem within us. Our closedness to Jesus bring a closedness to His work in us. This is not because He does not want to work in us or because He is not powerful enough to do such work, but because the Son of God will not open a heart that has willfully closed itself to Him.

But when our faith seeks understanding we will be transformed by Him. Our openness to Jesus leads to the openness of His work in us and through us.

There is a vast difference between faith seeking understanding and pride reinforcing ignorance. So what sort of questions are we asking of Jesus?

Missing Jesus

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I began a new preaching series, “Who Do You Say I Am?” by looking at a little episode at the end of Matthew, chapter 13, on Jesus’ visit home to Nazareth and the response He receives from people there. This leads us into a little exploration of the questions we ask, our blind spots, and what it means to truly pursue Jesus in our lives.

This message is part of the sixth part of our longer series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom.”

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’”  (Matthew 13:57)

Amazed by Jesus (Matthew 13:53-54)

The power of Jesus’ teaching

Echoes of the Sermon on the Mount

Different kinds of amazement

Misunderstanding Jesus (Matthew 13:55-57)

Different types of questions:

  • rhetorical questions
  • probing questions

Knowing what we know and what we don’t know

Faith seeking understanding versus pride reinforcing ignorance

The end: offended by Jesus

Making It Real

Asking the right questions of Jesus

The life in pursuit of Jesus The radical openness to Jesus

Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Draw, paint, or ink this story as a way of reflecting on what is happening and what you are learning about who Jesus.
  • Journal about your questions for Jesus, taking time to let the Holy Spirit search your heart about what you bring to Jesus. Then journal the questions you think Jesus may be asking you in your life.
  • Consider reading a book about Jesus, such as Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew or N. T. Wright’s Simply Jesus.
  • Consider watching a theatrical version of Jesus’ life, such as The Jesus Film or The Chosen.

Eastbrook at Home – September 12, 2021


Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

We begin a new series, “Who Do You Say I Am?,” as I preach on Jesus’ return to Nazareth and the response of his hometown neighbors in Matthew 13:53-58.

This series continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes our previous series “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom: parables of Jesus.”

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

“Who Do You Say I Am?” – a new series at Eastbrook

This coming Sunday at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Who Do You Say I Am?” This continues our journey through the Gospel of Matthew, focusing the expansion of Jesus’ ministry throughout the Galilee region in teaching and activity in Matthew 13-16. The series is an exploration of Jesus’ identity through all this. This is the sixth part of our longer series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom: parables of Jesus.”

Join us each weekend of this series in-person or via Eastbrook at Home.

Here are the weekly topics for the series:

September 12 – “Missing Jesus” – Matthew 13:53-58

September 19 – “Mistaken Identity” – Matthew 14:1-12

September 26 – “Feeding 5,000” – Matthew 14:13-21

October 3 – “Walking on Water” – Matthew 14:22-36

[October 10 & 17 – MissionsFest]

October 24 – “Matters of the Heart” – Matthew 15:1-20

October 31 – “Seeing the Other” – Matthew 15:21-28

November 7 – “Feeding 4,000” – Matthew 15:29-39

November 14 – “Mixed-Up Priorities” – Matthew 16:1-12

November 21 – “Who Is Jesus?” – Matthew 16:13-20