Trinity 5: It’s the way he tells them.
“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ … But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:13, 16-17)
In other words, the way we hear them tells us how open we really are to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses this first parable to prime us for the seven parables that will follow. They are all about the Kingdom of God. This one is not really about the soil but about the character of God, and how God reveals that character to those who recognize it.
Throughout this chapter of Matthew, Jesus keeps saying, “those who have ears, let them hear; anyone with ears, listen!” In other words, these stories will find the ones who can understand them. As we listen to the story, it will identify which kind of person we are by the way we hear it. The depth of our understanding depends on our willingness to be changed by what we hear. For example, we can take the story at face value: seeds get sown, and where they land determines how well they will grow.
Or, we can try to find meaning, treating it strictly as an metaphor. The Sower is God, the Word is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the soil is our hearts. Using this interpretation, and the explanation Jesus gives of this story, we might think the point is to do everything we can to become good soil.
But then we have a problem: we can’t change the kind of soil we are – only God can do that. The bigger problem with this kind of interpretation is that it makes the story to be about us, about the soil. But the story is not about us being good dirt; the story is for us. This parable, like all scripture, is really about God and God’s extravagant generosity. So let’s look at that for a moment.
God is the Sower, scattering seed liberally, even wastefully, everywhere. God sows; it’s what he does. It’s what he keeps on doing, he keeps throwing seeds, regardless of where it might land. God is love, and love is generous, lavish, abundant, and eager to share what is good. God will not hold back the Word from anyone. he will not deny anyone access to the Good News.
He sows liberally, even wastefully. This parable tells of a sower who is ridiculously generous with the amount of seed he scatters, throwing it not only on the good soil but on soil that even we can recognize wasn’t a good bet: thorny soil, rocks, and even a beaten path. Not much chance seed would take root in that.
God doesn’t use a computer-driven tractor to plot out perfectly spaced rows, carefully inserting each seed at the exact depth of carefully prepared soil for optimum germination. God scatters the Good News of the Kingdom of God liberally, even in places where it is not likely to grow or bear fruit. God sows everywhere.
Whether on the path, on rocky soil, among thorns, or in the good dirt, the Good News cannot be contained. God does not discriminate it goes everywhere, out into the world, to transform anyone who will accept it. You see seed can only become fruitful when it stops being a seed. Seed must die to become a plant. It breaks open, just as God has broken into the world in the person of Jesus. As it grows, it becomes something that is not a seed anymore – it becomes a plant that bears more seed!
As we listen to the parables of Jesus how will our ears hear them? How will we be changed, as we find ourselves drawn into God’s story, as God invites us to become part of it? How willing are we to be transformed by that story, becoming something new?
Each Sunday, clergy cast the gospel as broadly as possible, with no guarantee where it will land. We know that people come to church for all kinds of reasons; possibly a newcomer, checking out this church as they look for a place to call their spiritual home. Perhaps you come because you’re experiencing a crisis in your life. Perhaps you come out of habit, or to see friends you hope will also be here. This is your social network. And just maybe you come because you are hungry for God’s Word. You could be eager to bring your praise and your gifts to worship the Lord in the spirit of holiness. But clergy know that no matter how carefully crafted the sermon may be, no matter how much prayer and study have been poured into sharing the Word, the chances of something taking root are no better than the sower’s.
Yet that is what we have all been called to do. To sow the seed and to bear the heartache and frustration when it falls on rocky, weed-infested ground. And we’ve all been there! Each of us has experienced the hard truths of this parable on some level. Every parent whose words of loving concern have fallen on a teenager’s deaf ears knows hard-packed ground. Everyone who has run a business with integrity, only to see customers go where prices are cheaper, understands shallow roots. Everyone who has been overwhelmed with worry, or caught in the trap of loving money has experienced the chokehold of thorny weeds. This parable reminds us that we are not alone in these struggles.
The parable also reminds us as church, we may be tempted to invest time, energy, and hope in trying to coax growth among people who don’t want to grow. We can waste precious effort despairing when the seeds we sow do not take root.
The sower doesn’t do that. He accepts the reality that a good chunk of seed will fall on bad soil. Yet the sower keeps sowing. Jesus keeps spreading the word, and he calls us to do the same. But Jesus calls us to something even more in this parable. He calls us to hope. Jesus challenges us to believe in God’s abundance. This story is filled with the promise of lavish abundance, even in the face of rejection and the hard realities of living in this world.
God does not hold back. God is not worried about whether there will be enough seed or grace or love. God may want our hearts to be good soil but nevertheless hurls a ridiculous amount of seed even on dry, thorny, or beaten soil. Why, because there is enough!”
This story is not about the dirt. The story is about God, and the way he breaks into our lives in the person of Jesus, to change us, and offers us his extravagant love.
The story is about God’s abundant generosity, and God’s desire to draw us into the kind of transformation that bears abundantly more than a “normal” crop could possibly bear. Hear God’s love for you, become something new, become part of God’s story. Let the Word of God grow in you! Let the parables change you. Let all who have ears, listen! Amen.
The Rev'd Maureen Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 12/07/2020