Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Soil, Seed, and the Sower

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
What I really like about Orange, besides all of you, is its agricultural roots that are still maintained to a certain extent thanks to the Wrights, the Hines, the Treats, the Clarks, the Zeoli’s, the Bespuda’s and Holdens, the Gagels and probably a few more that I’ve missed. 

I have an affinity for farms and farming.  It might be because it brings back childhood memories of my Uncle Al’s farm in Prairieville, IL and going out there each summer for a family reunion.  Or maybe because I went to college in the middle of Missouri and my watercolor professor made us go out and paint barns in the middle of rich and verdant Mid-western farmland, I dunno.
c 1974 Suzanne Wagner copyright

But let’s get this straight.  I am not a farmer; I’m not even a gardener.  In fact I’m pretty far from it.  So I would have to refer to all of the Orange farmers if I wanted to have a successful garden or to know anything about sustainable agriculture and how to grow things, or maybe the Bible.

Today we find ourselves in scripture on this second Sunday in Lent, learning about soil and seed and the beneficent sower; an agrarian parable for an agrarian culture.  In many ways different than farming in CT but I bet in many ways very similar.

Can you imagine being just one body among with so many other farmers, carpenters, and fishermen folks?  The crowd must have been very large that day and sitting there in the hot sun it was probably a bit sticky too.  So Jesus hops aboard an old fishing boat to get some space.  And it’s from this little wooden boat on the Sea of Galilee that this parable is told.  From the 13th chapter in Matthew…

That same day Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore. Then he taught them many things by using stories. He said:

A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds.  Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots.

Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered.  If you have ears, pay attention!

This is just one of seven parables in the 13th chapter in the Gospel of Matthew.  And it’s a good one, so good that it is also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.  Jesus, we know, used parables quite a bit in his teaching with his followers.  He used common situations and elements known to first century ordinary folk to get his message out there without saying it directly so that only certain kinds of listeners would understand. 
The Sower
Jean-Francois Millet
If you have ears and hear with your heart, then listen to his parable is what he is saying.  This way the believers would get it but the authorities wouldn’t.  Tricky, eh?  But he just couldn’t risk getting the kingdom of God information into the wrong hands at that point in time.

And they listen to this parable about farming, about the soil and the seed.  And being Jesus he probably knew that some would get it immediately and others not since parables are a bit tougher to decipher the real message. 

So later on in the 13th chapter Jesus offers an explanation of his parable….

The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts.

The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away.  But they don’t have deep roots, and they don’t last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.

The seeds that fell among the thorn bushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything.

The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.

Jesus’ spin on his parable is that we farmers have the responsibility to prepare and be good soil and bear fruit.  It is our responsibility to be sure that the ‘field’ of our lives is to be properly prepared and tended to, not rocky, organically fertilized and watered.  It is our responsibility to let the word of God take hold of us, to grow within us.  We definitely have responsibility and some work to do.   

Iffy farmers, or people like me, get a bit nervous with this traditional reading of the text.  That’s because I can see myself being all four of Jesus’ examples of soil on any given day.  Sometimes I don’t get what’s going on, what God is trying to do with me, sometimes I want to give up because life is really hard and I just get flat out tired, and sometimes my materialistic desires get in the way of the important things in my life.  Then there are days that it’s good, I’m good, life is really, really good and I am singing God’s praises from the time I get up until the time when I lay me down to sleep.  Is that true for you as well? Do you find yourself in this beloved parable?

What kind of soil are your today at this moment?

If we dig a bit deeper, pun fully intended, this parable is a tad bit more redeeming then you might think.  You see the message here isn’t so much about working hard to have a verdant field.  It’s really not so much about us but about God.  The seed is sown by Christ and the harvest is God’s doing, it’s God’s work.  We do not effect the final coming of the kingdom, only God does.  And we do not regulate the amount of seed being tossed about, God does that too.

Thank the Lord above, the sower in this parable is extravagant with the seed.  It is flung on hard paths, and rocky ones too.  It’s flung high and low into the thorn bushes and bramble and out into the open space.  The seed just keeps coming.  It is our benevolent and generous maker who prolifically sews the seed, no matter what type of soil it lands on.  Some might call that wasteful but God’s word is never wasteful or wasted.

Now that is the kind of God in Jesus Christ that I want. 

I want to know that when I falter, that when I am not prepared to received God’s undeserving love it will still be graciously available to me.  It was St. Benedict who said, “Listen with the ear of your heart”.  God loves unconditionally.  This my fellow farming friends is the really good news of Jesus Christ today.


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