Matthew 13:1-23 "The Parable of the Sower"

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Jesus tells the Parable of the Soils

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Good Morning Calvary Chapel Lake City! Please turn in your bibles to Matthew 13. We are continuing our chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse journey through the Gospel of Matthew.
In Matt 11-12, we observed opposition to King Jesus (which some scholars see continuing to Matt 16). His ministry, His message…the Kingdom Movement was met with great resistance.
John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was Messiah.
The People of Jesus’ Generation rejected His ministry.
Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum would not turn to Him.
The scribes and Pharisees blasphemed and sought to destroy Him for violating their traditions.
Even Jesus’ mother and His brothers sought to take Him thinking He was out of His mind.
Jesus responded, “He who is not with Me is against Me...” Mt 12:30 …and in V49 “...He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
With these words Jesus shifts focus from the Jews to whomever would receive Him. He went to the Jews first, and now He gives an open invite to all.
In Matthew 13, we observe a change in Jesus’ program…a change in how He communicates IN RESPONSE to the opposition and rejection from Israel.
Now He speaks in Parables…which are not just word pictures... they are a method to communicate truths to believers (those with spiritual sight), and to hide truths from unbelievers (who are spiritually blind and oppose Jesus).
Matthew 13 is a significant chapter where Jesus presents 8 parables and uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 8x (more than any other chapter in the NT), thus this discourse is often called the “Kingdom of Heaven Discourse.”
Today, we are looking at the first these kingdom parables in Matthew 13. The title of today’s sermon is “The Parable of the Sower” …an important parable appearing in all 3 synoptic gospels.
Let’s Pray!
Matt 13:1-2 “On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”
Vs1 begins “On the same day”…scholars place Matthew 13 after Matt 12, so the context...earlier this same day Jesus healed a demon possessed man who was blind and mute...then scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by Satan…then they asked to see a sign from Him…and then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to take Him away.
I’m not sure how you would have handled that “Long day of the Lord,” but I doubt I would have had amazing things to say like Jesus did in Matt 12, and I doubt that I would have gone on to address a great multitude of people…like Jesus does here in Matt 13. But that’s why He is God, and I am not.
I will say, that when I reflect back to some of the crazy days of ministry in the Philippines, I’m not sure how (in human thinking)... that we did what we did then…except I know the Lord called us and filled us with His Spirit to do that work.
You may have a crazy day like Jesus did here, but know that if you are in the center of God’s will…He will give you an extra portion to see you through.
So, Jesus leaves the house and sat by the sea…beautiful setting…the Sea of Galilee…truly a lake…which is easy for us to visualize. Our city is called “Lake City” and our County is called “The Land of Lakes”... boasting more than 100 lakes…more than any other county in Indiana. So, very easy for us to appreciate the setting.
And, at this lake “great multitudes were gathered together to Him”…this is a large crowd. Luke adds this multitude came “from every city” presumably Jew and Gentile alike…and a representative people group of the 4 kinds of soils Jesus will illustrate.
Jesus got in the boat and sat…while the people stood on shore to listen.
Spurgeon said, “The teacher sat, and the people stood: we should have less sleeping in congregations if this arrangement still prevailed.” That’s pretty funny!
Biblically…we observe sitting as the teaching posture, and standing when preaching…when proclaiming a message. Jesus is teaching here.
I have a couple slides of a 1st century Galilean fishing boat to help you visualize the boat from which Jesus likely preached from. These fishing boats were roughly 26 ft. in length x 7 ft. width (about the size of a fed-ex delivery truck)…and had the capacity to hold about 15 people…with a crew of 5.
So, Jesus is in the boat preaching a message from a vantage point where the crowds cannot throng Him…His preaching method here shows His wisdom, and that God appreciates order.
In 1 Cor 14, Paul speaks about the Gifts of the Spirit and expresses the importance of order in church gatherings. 1 Cor 14:33 “God is not the author of confusion but of peace...” Paul ended 1 Cor 14 stating “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Matthew 13 is the 3rd of 5 Major Discourses...
1st: Sermon on the Mount Matt 5-7
2nd: Missions Discourse as Jesus sends the Apostles Matt 10
3rd: Parabolic -or- Kingdom of Heaven Discourse Matt 13
4th: Discourse on the Church Matt 18
5th: Olivet Discourse (on End Times) Matt 24-25
All of these discourses are addressed to the disciples, except the Parabolic Discourse in Matt 13 where Jesus addresses the multitudes.
Some scholars believe Jesus is addressing the multitudes favorably, as in Jesus wants to reach this crowd that has gathered, but that goes against the context. Jesus described this generation as “wicked and adulterous” and as we will see in V11…Jesus is teaching in parables because to this crowd the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” has not been given.
Matt 13:3 “Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying...” [stop there]
What is a Parable? Parables Gk. root word paraballō meaning “to throw alongside.” A parable takes one truth and compares it to another truth…typically a natural truth to a heavenly truth.
Parables compare the visible (the things of this world) to the invisible (the heavenly realm). Thus, parables have been titled both ‘mirrors’ and ‘windows.’
Rom 1:20 carries a similar idea... “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen...” Both creation and parables reveal eternal truths using the natural world.
When I was in Bible college, we were instructed to look for the “simple truth” when interpreting parables…which is not always so simple because not all parables have an explanation.
The Parable of the Soils has an explanation as does The Wheat and Tares, but other parables…Leaven, Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price and so forth…they don’t have an explanation…thus, the simple truth is not always so simple.
But, the Parable of the Sower is the key to understand all the other parables in Matt 13 because they build upon it’s concepts. Mark 4:13 records Jesus saying to the disciples about the Parable of the Sower, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” So, let’s look at this parable.
First, Jesus presents truth coming from the natural world…what we can observe on Earth.
V3 “Behold, a sower went out to sow.”
Behold- by def. “look, see” and when Jesus says “behold” or “lo” (Old English)…pay attention!
The sower is one who sows or scatters seeds with the intent of planting and eventually harvesting a crop. Some Bible translations use the word “farmer.”
In this parable, there are 3 main elements: the sower, the seed, and soil. The Sower and seed remain constant…the soil varies.
Beginning in V4, Jesus illustrates the 4 types of soil.
The first soil... V4 “And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”
The wayside- a road, a travelled way…we may call it a path. The soil is well-trodden and compacted down…too hard for the seed to penetrate thus it just stays on the surface and birds come and eat the seed.
The second soil...V5 “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.”
Stony places…stony Gk. pĕtrōdēs…root word pĕtra meaning “rock.” Rocky soil is vast in Israel. This is not ideal soil for crops. Rocks covered by a thin layer of soil resulting in the seed sprouting, but the roots could not penetrate into the earth, to reach down for moisture and nutrients. Under the hot sun...the plants burned up and withered.
The third soil...V7 “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.”
Thorns…interesting...as part of the fall of man, Adam’s curse was the ground would be cursed with “thorns and thistles” Gen 3:18.
Thorns can be an invasive vine plant that chokes out other plants.
The fourth soil...V8 “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Good soil…soil that is free of thorns, rocks, and people trampling it underfoot. Soil that is rich in nutrients and moisture. On this good ground earth is produced a bumper crop...an unusually productive harvest…30, 60 and 100x the expected yield.
Then Jesus makes this statement...V9 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Jesus is the Master Teacher, and this illustration would resonate with many of the listeners in that agrarian society.
Many were listening, but did they truly hear? They heard with their ears, but did Jesus’ words touch their hearts?
Paul said, in 1 Cor 2:14 “...the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
And, that was the problem with this great multitude…thus He spoke in parables…and many of them did not hear…they did not spiritually discern His message.
Prior to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I was one of these people. I would sit in a bible study with other men, and they drew great insights from God’s word that I could not see, and I did not understand how they came to these rich conclusions.
But, like Paul, when Ananias laid hands on him and Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, Acts 9:18 states “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”
As Paul was filled with the Spirit, he regained his physical sight and for many Christians, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the event where they gain spiritual sight and “ears to hear.”
From V10-V23, we observe a private conversation between Jesus and His disciples where they ask Him about His veiled method of speaking in parables and Jesus responds by explaining why (VSS 10-17) and then interpreting the parable (VSS 18-23).
Matt 13:10-11 “And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”
In VSS 10-17, Jesus gives 3 reasons He speaks in Parables…to reveal, to conceal, and to fulfill.
Jesus responds to a straightforward question from His disciples, in V10, with the first reason He speaks in parables…to reveal truth to believers.
In V11, Jesus present 2 groups of people “you” and “them.” In God’s economy, there is very little gray. Spiritual alive or dead. Saved or condemned. Eternity is heaven or hell…smoking or non-smoking…however you want to say it...
And here in V11, to the disciples who are spiritually alive…the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” has been given…revealed.
The word “Mysteries” Gk. mustēriŏn- means a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding.
Truths hidden from the wicked, but plain to the righteous. For ex., God’s plan of salvation through Jesus...once hidden...now revealed.
And, the mysteries here in Matt 13 are “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is first mentioned in Matt 3:2 when John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus echoed this same statement at the beginning of His ministry in Matt 4:17.
It’s an important and big deal to Jesus. He began His ministry speaking about the kingdom of heaven, spoke about it often, and we read in Acts 1:3 that in the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, He spoke to the disciples “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is found 33x in the Bible…all in the Gospel of Matthew. The phrase “kingdom of God” is found 70x in the Bible…all in the NT.
In the OT, we don’t see these exact phrases, but “the kingdom” idea has roots in the OT. For side study, compare verses on the “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God,” along with OT references.
Defining the “kingdom of heaven” is not simple because it’s multi-faceted depending on the context.
But, the idea is God’s sovereign rule, the eternal nature of His kingdom, the future eschatological expression of His kingdom, and so forth.
Some people confuse the kingdom of heaven with the church…the church is part of the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom is a much larger concept.
But, these Parables in Matthew 13 specifically tell us what the kingdom and it’s citizens will be like between Jesus 1st and 2nd coming. These parables reflect the age in which we live…the Church Age.
Believers are granted the privilege of understanding these spiritual principles, mysteries, and insights.
Unbelievers who “loved darkness rather than light” (Jn 3:19) will remain in the dark spiritually…they will be given that which they love…as they sowed to darkness and they will reap spiritual blindness.
Jesus continues His explanation in V12...
Matt 13:12 “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
For the believer… the “whoever has” group…they have and will gain more…in fact they will have abundance.
Some want to twist scripture and give this verse a social gospel interpretation, that it is unfair that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Truly that is unfair, but has nothing to do with these verses.
The context is spiritual truths…revelation of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
This phrase in V12 is repeated in the parallel accounts (Mark 4 and Luke 8), but also in Matt 25:29 The Parable of the Talents, and in Luke 19:26 The Parable of the Ten Minas.
Note when God repeats Himself…in these various parables, Jesus is teaching a “Use it or lose it” principle.
God has trusted us with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. By grace, He came, died, and rose again in forgiveness of our sins. As you placed your faith in Him, His Holy Spirit in-dwelt you and gave you spiritual sight.
So, what are you doing with it? If you don’t have an answer to that question…if you are not doing anything with the gift of salvation that Jesus has given you, then you’re hiding your light under a bushel…get the word in your heart and give it out to others.
V12 is as much an encouragement as it is a warning. Especially for those who flat out reject Jesus… “even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Scripture declares “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Pet 3:9,
…but, there is a limit “...the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever.” Gen 6:3.
Anyone who hardens their heart towards God, eventually God will give “them up to uncleanness,” give “them up to vile passions,” and give “them over to a debased mind.” Rom 1:24, 26, 28.
God has a limit.
Thus, in V13 Jesus summarizes (as seen in the word “therefore”), why He speaks in parables …
Matt 13:13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
Here in V13, we see the second reason Jesus speaks in parables…to conceal truth to unbelievers. He desires to reveal truth to believers, but to unbelievers He conceals truth.
Why would God conceal truth from unbelievers ? It’s not that God doesn’t want an unbeliever to be saved…God said, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people...” Isa 65:2
Unbelievers don’t want to understand…they don’t want to come to Him.
This “evil and adulterous” generation…many of this great multitude listening to Jesus present these parables were in fact the very reality Jesus was speaking about in these Kingdom Parables.
3/4 of the soils in this first parable were not good…nor were the hearts of many who were listening to Him. They were tares hidden amongst the wheat, birds nesting in the branches, and so forth.
Jesus was “throwing alongside” one truth beside another.
Jesus spoke truth to them, but that truth could not travel the longest journey…the 18” from the head to the heart.
When you come to church, my prayer is I will sow seeds of truth into your life, and that you will see heart change. My heart is changing all the time...I want that for you as well.
Jesus continues His explanation of why He speaks in parables…it fulfills prophecy …look at VSS 14-15...
Matt 13:14-15 “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’”
The third and final reason Jesus spoke in parables was to fulfill prophecy. This prophecy in Isaiah is specifically Isa 6:9-10.
When Isaiah spoke to Israel in Isa 6…it was a message of judgment. When Jesus spoke parables, they were both the words of a Master Teacher and the sentence of a Judge.
The message of Isaiah and the message of the Jesus both had the same general result upon the nation of Israel…the message was given, but there was not a spiritual return.
The nation was in a sad state…they heard and saw Messiah, but did not comprehend Him, His message or His ministry because of their spiritual state…hard hearted, and spiritually deaf and blind.
The wicked generation of Jesus’ day were also spiritually in need of a physician…if they would have just believed and turned to the Great Physician, He would have healed them.
In contrast...
Matt 13:16-17 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Jesus concludes His explanation turning His eyes to the disciples and sharing how blessed they are for being spiritually alive and having spiritual understanding.
If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are spiritually alive…the blessings in VSS 16 & 17 apply to you.
Assuredly, V17, Gk (am-ane´)/ amēn - meaning “truly” from Heb. origin (aw-mane´)/ ʾâmên “so be it” or “truth.” What we say to conclude our prayers.
The disciples were amēn/truly blessed because many prophets from the OT desired to see Messiah…the one they looked forward to in faith. Heb. 11 speaks on this topic well.
In the OT, salvation came by faith in the coming Messiah; they looked forward to the coming of the kingdom.
John the Baptist was the last of the OT prophets. Jesus in Matt 11:11 said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John was not only the last of the OT prophets, but also the greatest person who ever lived in his dispensation of time…not because of character, but because He had the privilege of beholding the Messiah.
But, John did not live to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom, therefore “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Christians today have more privilege and blessings then John…we live in the Church Age…
the Holy Spirit in-dwells and overflows out of the lives of believers and gives gifts and fruits of the Spirit…
we have the whole counsel of God (Gen-Rev) and the canon is closed…
we look back in faith to Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His resurrection…
and we look forward in faith to His 2nd coming to right all that is wrong in the world.
Assuredly… “blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear...”
Now, from VSS 18-23, Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable...
Matt 13:18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower...” [stop there…]
Therefore…what’s it ‘there for?’ Jesus summarizes all He just said with this explanation of the parable...to further drive understanding into the hearts of his disciples...
Jesus titles this the “Parable of the Sower”…some prefer the title “The Parable of the Soils.” I like that title, but I’m not sure why we would change the title when Jesus already titled this parable?
There are 3 main elements to observe…the Sower, the Seed, and the Soils:
The Sower is not identified. Jesus was a sower, but so is anyone throughout the age scattering seed.
The Seed is the Word of God, as clearly seen in the parallel accounts. Mark 4:14 “The sower sows the word.” Especially, Luke 8:11 “The seed is the word of God.”
In 1 Pet 1:23, Peter said, “...having been born again [spiritual birth], not of corruptible seed [physical birth] but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever...”
Seeds are an amazing creation of God and a wonderful reflection on the word of God. If you think about it, there are many ways this comparison fits.
When planted both produce life.
Both have the ability to lie dormant for decades, and still produce life.
Seeds are powerful, as the plant grows it moves dirt, rocks…it can crack concrete and the word of God can move mountains in the heart of men…and it can multiply…from one seed many seeds are produced.
Seeds also require maintenance…you must nourish the seed...and in time, a harvest will be reaped.
There are additional parallels, but it’s fitting that God’s word is compared to seed.
The third element is the four soils which reflect the hearts of various people.
I don’t think these 4 soils necessary are equal fourths…as in 25% of people in the world are good soil… and 75% bad.
Jesus said, “...narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt 7:14 So, the percentage of good soil could be less than 25%…impossible to say.
But, we will observe that one soil is unproductive, two soils are short lived, and the final soil is fruitful.
Let’s read Jesus’ interpretation of the parable...
Matt 13:19 “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one [identified as Satan and the Devil in the parallel accounts] comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.”
This is the hard heart. You know people or have met people who are calloused towards God word. If you say “Jesus” or “the Bible” they get stiff or even obstinate. God called Israel “stiff-necked” in the OT…similar idea.
Interesting observation…notice who snatches the seed…Satan. Now look at V4…not Satan, but “birds.” This is how a parable works. The spiritual is cast alongside the natural. Satan is equated with birds, and birds are often evil in Scripture.
This interpretation will be important, especially with other parables…like the Parable of the Mustard Seed that becomes a tree with birds nesting in its branches.
Luke 8:12 tells us why Satan snatches the seed… “lest they should believe and be saved.”
This first person is not saved…an unbeliever.
The second soil or heart...
Matt 13:20-21 “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
This is the shallow heart. V5 stated “they had no depth of earth.”
This is a person who initially is excited and confesses they believe in Jesus…perhaps in their excitement they were impulsive and quick to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, but they quickly fall away for they are not grounded in faith and the word of God.
Luke says they “believe for a while” and then fall away…this person is at best a carnal christian, but more likely an apostate christian.
The scorching sun in V6 parallels “tribulation or persecution because of the word”…the Christian life is not all sunshine and rainbows as some prosperity teachers make it out to be.
In Jn 16:33, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
When this shallow person encounters tribulation they stumble…tribulation is not what they signed up for.
The third heart...
Matt 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches [Luke adds “pleasures of life” and Mark the “desires for other things”…they] choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
This is the unfruitful heart. This person is distracted and their mind is crowded by the things of the world. This person may in fact be a believer, but they are carnal. Their mind is on the world and not on the things of God and they are unfruitful as a result.
Their mind is focused on the cares of this world…they are worried about money, their possessions, their bills, their job.
John Wimber, a founder of the Vineyard Church, is credited saying, “Show me how you spend your time, money, and energy and I’ll tell you what you worship.”
This person is deceived by riches. Riches are deceitful because they never live up to what they promise. They promise satisfaction and joy, but the sparkle fades and the heart longs for more.
This desire for pleasure has infested America. As believers today, we need to be especially on guard not to fall into this trap... so we don’t become unfruitful.
It’s very important that we learn and practice “contentment.”
Paul stated “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Phil 4:11
Paul advised Timothy, “…godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Tim 6:6
Heb 13:5 states “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”
The fourth and final heart...
Matt 13:23 “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
This is the fruitful heart. This is the true believer who is receptive to the word and yields a crop…they bear much fruit.
In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Luke 8:15 reads, “...the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
I love that! Their heart is noble and good (only because their heart is changed by the word)…and they keep the word…and they are patient in bearing fruit.
Fruit doesn’t just pop up the first year you plant a tree…it takes time, and this person is patient.
The yield varies 30, 60, 100 fold, but they ALL bear fruit.
MacDonald stated, “An obscure Sunday school teacher invested in Dwight L. Moody. Moody won others. They in turn won others. The Sunday school teacher started a chain reaction that will never stop.”
This parable was a warning to the crowds, and prepared and taught the disciples.
To the unbelievers the meaning was concealed, to the believers the interpretation revealed, and in all prophecy was fulfilled.
Worship Team Come.
So, what is the soil of your heart? As you hear the word of God today…
Is your heart hard to God’s word?
Is your heart shallow?…Would you fall away if persecution rises in our country?
Are you unfruitful because of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life? The desires and cares of this world.
Or, do you identify with the good ground. You’re a “doer of the word, and not a hearer only.” I hope you are.
If you are not, please come up for prayer…God has changed my heart many times, even this week, as I have asked Him to take bad things from my heart and replace them with Christ likeness.
I encourage you to do the same.
Let’s pray!
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