(Matthew 13:1-23. Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15)
I never actually heard him speak that day,
although, over the next few months,
I listened to him many times.
It was the early springtime – don’t you see? –
and I had spent the first part of that week
stumbling along behind my stubborn mule.
We were ploughing up a whole new section,
yes, that hillside that sits above the Sea of Galilee,
digging out and carting off old tree stumps,
roots and rocks and boulders,
preparing the virgin soil
to receive the precious seed.
Rain was expected by the weekend,
the beginning, so we prayed, of the sweet spring rains
that sweep in across our hills from the greater sea,
far distant, and soak the winter thirsty land
with life producing moisture.
So I needed to press on,
get the seed into the earth,
so that the rain, when it came,
could wet it down, bed it firm,
and get it started growing toward harvest.
Unstrapping from the mule’s back
the heavy sack of last year’s grain,
I set it at the nearest fresh-ploughed corner,
filled to the brim my grandfather’s old woven basket
slung over my shoulders,
and strode off across the hillside,
scattering broad-cast, far and wide,
from one end of the new-cleared field to the other.
Far down below,
along the edge of the water,
I could see a crowd begin to gather on the shore
and grow steadily larger
until, at last, during my early break,
I watched a fishing boat put out,
and sit there, just off shore,
anchored against the tide and wind.
Then I remembered that Jesus –
the carpenter-turned-preacher from Nazareth –
was to be in town that day
with some of his fisher-folk followers,
and guessed he must be teaching from the boat.
Anyway, the day went by,
as such days do, slowly, but steadily,
back and forth and back again,
the good seed flying out,
shimmering in the sunlight,
landing with a prayer,
unspoken, yet from deep within the heart,
that it return to these hands of mine by late summer,
multiplied by thirty, sixty, even one hundredfold.
And before the heat of the sun
had compelled me to seek shelter
and a noontime rest in a nearby cave,
the sack was emptied, the seed was sown,
and my old back was about to break in two.
I learned next day
from neighbors who had been in town
and heard the teacher speaking on the shore
that my labors up on the hillside
had been pointed out by Jesus.
They told me that he spoke about the seed
and where it landed:
some perishing among the rocks,
or eaten by the birds,
other springing up too soon
because of shallow roots
then dying in the scorching midday sun,
still other seed, Jesus had told them,
would be crowded out by weeds and thorns
and never make it.
But the miracle – so he told them –
the sheer splendor of God’s bountiful kingdom,
is to be found right there
in the rich and generous provision,
the almost unbelievable profusion and abundance,
that results from all the rest.
And I thought I had spent the day just sowing seed!
Later, as I heard the Master speak
of many things, in many times and places,
I realized more clearly
that he was showing us the splendor
to be found in all the daily things.
He was teaching us,
with all these word pictures drawn from daily life,
that no deed, no single moment of our lives,
is ever meaningless or insignificant.
He was showing us true glory, the genuine wonder
that God actually works within our days,
that everyday realm of generosity and grace
which lies, not far away, concealed,
at the end of time and space,
but in the nearest task to hand,
the closest person to your life or mine,
the most ordinary seeming objects
of our day-to-day existence.
As I said,
I didn’t get to hear him speak
that day I sowed my new-cleared field
on the hillside above Galilee.
But since then his words have taken root
and sprung to life within.
And now, some ten years on,
and after all those dread,
then wonder-filled days and weeks in Jerusalem,
I sow a different kind of seed -a new variety,
bursting with a vibrant life and growth –
following in his steps
across the fertile field of life,
and scattering – broad-cast –
these very words which someday,
I still pray, will return a harvest multiplied,
some thirtyfold, some sixty,
and even some one hundredfold.
Barrie Shepherd retired from historic First Church in New York City in 2000. He currently lives in Wallingford, Pa., and is a parish associate at Wallingford Church.