Proper 10, Year A Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 10, 2011
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
Today, for the first time, I’m going to ask you to ignore the second half of the Gospel lesson you just heard. The lesson includes the parable of the sower followed by an explanation Jesus gave only to the disciples, not to the crowd. To accept the explanation is to limit our understanding of the parable, and besides, most scholars agree that the explanation was added to the text at a later time.
Jesus preaches in parables all the time and does not explain them. The technique is meant to pique the interest, engage the curiosity, and require some thought and consideration on the part of the audience. John Crossan talks about the parables as “lures” to be used by a fisher of people. As such they are liable to multiple interpretations, they are meant to keep people thinking, and to open their eyes to new possibilities.
To then state what each element means works against the whole technique by locking in only one understanding. So forget the explanation and let’s just consider the parable.
This parable is about a man who is sowing seed, but it is not about sensible farming practice. Please note that a good farmer would sow seeds only on good ground that’s been plowed and prepared. But this sower flings it everywhere, without regard for cost or for whether it is likely to grow or not.
Just this part is a wonderful image of God’s abundance, isn’t it? It could be an image of God’s love or grace, freely given to all, no matter in what condition, no matter how they live.
The parable goes on to say that the seeds that fell on the path were eaten by birds. I’m sure his audience knew as well as we do what happens to seeds that birds eat. They are deposited elsewhere, only God knows where, and fertilized in place.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground and could not take root. But anyone who lives in this granite country knows that a tiny seed that falls into a crack may in fact take root and in time may grow large enough to crack the rock. Such seeds are part of what transforms rocks into good soil!
Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew and choked them out. But who knows how many seeds may survive in spite of that and even one seed that survives can generate 50 seeds to return to the ground, because it will not be harvested. And over time who can say that the thorn patch will not be transformed into a wheat patch?
Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Now this would be a harvest beyond the imagining of any of Jesus’ hearers. According to Talitha Arnold, a commentator on this passage, a sevenfold harvest would be a good harvest in 1st century Palestine. Tenfold would mean abundance. Thirtyfold would feed a village for a year and a hundredfold would let the farmer retire to a villa by the Sea of Galilee!
So is this a miracle? Does it represent what can happen when God is involved in what we’re doing? However we may interpret it, once again we’re overwhelmed by the abundance it suggests.
I have long been aware of the amazing way that Christianity spread around the western world and beyond. I remember many of the reasons that historians give for this reality. But no matter how much history I read, it still seems slightly miraculous – that a small group of peasants in a remote corner of the Roman Empire could create and spread a new religion so far and wide that in a mere 300 years it became the official religion of that same empire.
Part of that miracle can be found in this parable, and I do believe that Jesus was intentionally teaching his followers a specific lesson about spreading the good news. Fling it everywhere. Don’t worry about whether the ground is good or not. Our job is to fling the seed. Let God worry about whether it works or not. Trust that the Holy Spirit is present in the flinging and in what happens after, but what happens is not under our control. We do not have to be perfect to fling the seed, nor do we have to do it perfectly. Just fling it!
I’ve learned this lesson on Sundays when I’ve preached something I thought was mediocre at best, only to discover that it was just what two or three people really needed to hear. While I mumble something like, “Thanks for telling me,” to the person who commented on the sermon, my internal voice is hollering, “That doesn’t make sense! What was there in this sermon that worked for them?” And of course the truth is that I haven’t a clue. What a great reminder that I am not in control! Nor do I need to be.
So what about you? Where have you learned this lesson? Oh, do not think that just because you don’t preach, you are off the hook. Any follower of Jesus is supposed to be a sower, a spreader of the good news. You may do that by example, by being the Good News in other people’s lives. You may do it by working to bring the Kingdom of God into life by serving others at the food shelf or the Clothes Closet or any other ministry of service: by visiting the sick or those in prison, by cooking meals for families in crisis, by knitting mittens for children in need, or providing mosquito nets for people in Africa.
None of this is work that guarantees salvation. Any more than baptism does. This is work that flows from our baptismal vows and from our desire to follow Jesus by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This work does not make us perfect, but it helps us show forth the light of Christ in the world.
When we baptize Conner today we will light a candle for him as well. This represents one more person in the world who is committed to letting their light shine on others, their light that is a part of or a reflection of Christ’s light. Conner will be one more little light that pushes the darkness away, and he will become a sower too, a spreader of light and love and the good news to everyone.
Let that be our hope and our prayer for all of us, that we may all be spreaders of light and love and the good news to everyone. AMEN
Lynn Naeckel +
Preached at the Rainy Lake Visitor’s Center Picnic Grounds of Voyageurs National Park