Effecient v Effective

The Efficient vs. Effective

How effective are you?

I throw that question out to our parish community with a sly grin on my face that you probably can’t see right now. That’s because in all the communities that I have served, I rarely have found as many “successful” people in one place. With that success, I imagine many folks consider themselves “effective,” but I don’t know if that I agree on the use of the word “effective” in the same manner we tend to apply. I think many of us in this parish are extremely efficient. We get things done, often very well, but there is a difference between our efficiency or our successfulness and that of being effective. The secret to understand this difference is embedded in our scripture readings this weekend.

Start with the First Reading, Is 55:10-11, (one of my favorites by the way). The reading from the prophet Isaiah cast an analogy between the “Word of God” and “snow and rain.” As we hopefully learned in science class, there is an inevitability to snow and rain in our ecosystem. It falls from the very place to which it will return in a cyclical manner. But for it to fulfill its purpose, it must water the earth, giving life to plants which grow so there may be food for the hungry. Before the water completes the cycle, it fulfills its purpose.

All in all, we could say that the system is rather inefficient. In fact, that’s why we’ve improved the agricultural process through irrigation systems and whatnot. But the Word of God is not judged on its efficiency but rather its effectiveness. Is the Word of God efficient? Seldom. Is it effective? Always.

Now let’s take that insight into the reading from the Gospel for today (MT 13:1-23). Jesus presents parables to us using the analogy of agriculture. Right off the bat, we could say that this is not an efficient literary choice for Jesus to use if he intended to reach those of us living in the heart of Lake View. Agriculture is not the dominant trade for the population of Chicago and even for those of us who meddle in backyard gardens, it’s not a very familiar analogy to use. We tend to buy our tomato plants as pre-grown seedlings not as seeds.

Furthermore, the parable given by Jesus, the sower who plants seed where it can’t grow, is the example of farmer who is not very efficient. Successful farmers plant only where they know they’ll produces a successful yield. Finally, as a hallmark demonstration of how this weekend’s scripture readings seem to be a compendium in praise of inefficiency, we hear the disciples themselves voice their frustration that Jesus even uses parables. They ask, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” It’s obvious that even the crowds to which Jesus spoke somehow didn’t get it. You can imagine them saying “Come on Jesus! Speak clearly! What’s the big deal?”

And to this end, Jesus gives a cryptic reply that should rattle us a little bit. He says, “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.”

For all our skills, talents, ability, and faculty to control the world around us. As efficient and successful as we think we are, we miss the bigger picture. In the end, we aren’t very effective.

But God is. God is as effective as rain and snow, as seed scattered so that it can grow, and as parables and poems that speak not to the mind’s feeble and misguided attempts to understand, but speak to the lived experience of God’s love in our life. God’s word stubbornly persists past the illusion of our vain imagination and transforms our meager attempts into graced gifts of faith, hope, and love.

To be honest, in all our skill and capacity for getting things done, none of us are that effective.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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