Monday, July 17, 2023

The Sower


Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Proper 10 / Year A

Some commentators refer to Matthew’s thirteenth chapter as “The Sermon from a Boat”, as opposed to the more famous “Sermon on the Mount.”  Jesus is hanging out at on Galilean lakeside when a large crowd gathers around him.  So large, in fact, he has to get into a fishing boat in order to have a space from which to teach.  And teach he does.  Over the next few weeks we will read the content of what has to say, all of which he sets forth in parables.  

The word ‘parable’ comes from two root words - para and bolosPara means “alongside of” (think of the word parallel).  Bolas means “to throw” or “to cast.”  So a parable is a story where something is thrown against something else.  For Jesus, his parables are stories of familiar activities and events thrown against deeper and perhaps hidden spiritual things in order to shed light on what the kingdom of heaven is like.

This morning we read what we might call ‘the leadoff hitter’ in Jesus’ all-star story line-up… the sower who spreads seeds.  Now, all parables have been given names, mostly by scholars and bible translators.  These names can be helpful or misleading.  As an example of the later, the title “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” diverts our attention away from the older brother who refuses to welcome back his wayward sibling.  

Some suggest today’s reading should be called “The Parable of the Soils” and to be sure Jesus focuses much attention on the different types of earth which receive the scattered seed resulting in very different outcomes.  But, with this parable, Jesus himself gives it a name so it would seem reckless to deviate from it.  He calls this “The Parable of the Sower.”

Jesus tells us a farmer does the sowing.  He refers to the seed as being ‘the message of the kingdom” and as “the word.”  This suggests farmer is God the Father and the seed is Jesus the Word.  More than one commentator has suggested the farmer, by scattering seed so indiscriminately, is wasteful.  His approach, they contend, should be less random and more targeted.  The farmers who spend this day at the beach listening to Jesus surely are thinking about how carefully they sow resources as precious as seed only where it has the best chance to thrive.

But, as I always say about parables, this is Jesus’ story and he gets to tell it any way he wants to.  Rather than wasteful, what Jesus wants us to know through the metaphor of the farmer with his wide casting method is that God is generous and desires to reach each and every person.  For Jesus, God the Father is not angry, vengeful, or punitive.  For him, God holds there are no exclusions and no outsiders.  The message of the kingdom Jesus proclaims is not MIGA - Make Israel Great Again.  God cares deeply and equally for each and every person and this is why everyone receives the Word without preconditions or limitations.  The seed - the Word of God’s love - is made known to everyone… because everyone is precious to God… no exceptions.  

There are at least two things Jesus understands about his seed.  First, every seed is going to die in or on the ground it which it lands.  Jesus will say in another parable, “Unless a seed falls into the earth and dies it cannot bear fruit.”  Jesus the Word does not come into the world with great power and might, but rather humble and vulnerable.  He says he comes to serve, not to be served.  Humility, vulnerability, and service are the hallmarks of God’s seed once it dies in the soil and erupts into new life.  

The second thing Jesus knows about the seed is not all of it will make it.  Some will sprout up, but for various reasons, not survive.  And rather than try to consign particular individuals, groups, or movements to being one type of soil or another, I am acutely aware how the soil of my own soul is a composite of all four conditions.  A part of me is so densely packed the Word of God never even penetrates it for consideration.  There are other parts of me where the evil one has a hold and it is tough to shake it off.   There is a part of me wrapped up in the cares and concerns of the world and in spite of my intentions, these things chock out God’s Word in my life.  And, thankfully, there are places in my soul where the seeds find fertile soil and produce an abundance of humility, vulnerability, and service.  I am confident you see this in your own life as well. 

Perhaps the best known line from Oscar Wilde’s 1893 play A Woman of No Importance is this: “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”  It is a sentiment much in keeping with the message of today’s parable.  Each person is precious to God and God will withhold nothing in order for any and every one of us to know divine Love.  It is a love which is capable of producing in each of us a harvest of goodness and godliness beyond measure.  Thanks be to God.