Am I choking?

 There are different kinds of choking. When you have a meatball lodged in your throat and you can't breathe - you know you're desperate for oxygen; your life suddenly shrinks down to an unprecedented urgency of the precious seconds that lay in front of you before your body is deprived of its vital resource. Your breath of life is of ultimate concern.

When plants choke, well it's not quite so dramatic, is it? But, the outcome is unmistakably similar: without precious vital biological resources, death is imminent. 

Jesus, the master storyteller, shares an agricultural parable with the crowds on this day. A story about a farmer, some seeds and some soil. Four different soils, in fact. Devils, birds, earthly pleasures enter the frame. Three fourths of the soils end up desolate. Only one soil proves fecund.

With an economy of words and jolting imagery, Jesus delivers another characteristically prophetic and enigmatic story for the audience that day. A heterogeneous crowd with one shared quality: their thumbs have scrolled to a stop in their daily news feed. Ears bend toward this wandering Rabbi whose words captivate with their beauty, simplicity, power, mystery, weight. Jesus is truly unlike any teacher they've heard.

He doesn't give stump speeches. He's not looking for fans. He's not waiting for likes.

Jesus wants apprentices. Disciples. Students. Not cram-for-the-exam academics, but hungry, humble, moldable disciples who will truly become like their teacher and carry on his legacy. Jesus' teaching wasn't from man, though. It was different. Unsurpassed. Two thousand and eighteen years after his birth, his still hold the world captive.

This day was different for Jesus. He did something uncharacteristic.

He told his inner circle of disciples what his intent was in this parable. He gave away the punchline.
"This is the meaning of the parable...The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature." Luke 8:14 (NIV) 
More than once today already, these words have alighted upon me with heaviness. Worries. Riches. Pleasures. Choking. 

I think of Rick Donlon in Memphis, TN where Amber and I once lived. He was the founding physician of two different Christian medical clinics established with the intent of serving the marginalized and healthcare-insecure population of Memphis. - the type of folks Jesus loved to hang out with, helping them experience the power and healing of God.

In a challenging and prophetic teaching about God's heart of justice for the poor, Rick warned about what he calls "The SAFE Vortex." 

Safety. Affluence. Family. Entertainment. 

A non-exhaustive, but robust quartet of forces which form a violent, destructive vortex. Riches, Pleasures, Worries of life. 

Some days, I feel like I'm choking. It's so easy to get sucked into these subtle - or often, not so subtle - forces. 

Safety, comfort, security: entropy in our flesh leads toward this; we avoid danger (well, most of us non-thrill seekers). The children of Israel got choked by safety, when their spies returned from Canaan and said that the indigenous there were like giants. They feared for their lives and sought safety rather than faith and trust in the LORD. They suffered for 40 years in the desert as a result. 

Affluence, wealth, riches: more money so I can have the pleasure, ease, security and comfort my flesh wants. But, Jesus warned us about greed and riches in both parables and didactic moments. We cannot serve God and Mammon (the spiritual power inherent in what we call "money").

Family, traditions, blood lines: we are made for relationship, so this one is perhaps the most subtle and messy. In Scripture we see both a call to care for and provide for our families, but also, Jesus recognized that family can too easily supersede our love for God and his glory in the world. In short, family can be an idol. Again, family helps us feel secure. We also are prone to worship our tribe (our family) over another and it risks blinding us to God's movement in the world and his love for all people on earth.

Entertainment, excitement, amusement, pleasure: it's hard to escape this one today in our age of ubiquitous entertainment at our fingertips through Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, ESPN, etc. 

So, what good does it do if we gain the whole world - a world of thorns, Jesus warns - but yet forfeit our very souls?

In my next post, I'd like to think about what plan of action we can take if we believe we are choking, or if we see others around us choking.


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