Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Ordinary 15A; Proper 10
God does amazing work through that which we fail to even notice.
God brings forth an abundant life-giving harvest with the looked over, leftover and inadvertently tossed aside seeds. Did you notice this astonishing truth embedded in the parable of the sower? As the sower goes out to sow, throwing the seed, some of those seeds get dropped in the process. A few fall on the path, a few on the rocky soil, some get accidently scattered in the thorns, some of the seeds land on good soil. We get no information on if the seeds are tended, watered, weeded or fertilized — only that those seeds that fell as the sower went about her work yield a mind-blowing harvest. Surely this ought to give those of us attempting to do gospel-seed-sowing great hope. The sower seems oblivious to the fallen seed and its fate, yet the sower keeps throwing that seed hither and yon because that is the sower’s work. Sowers sow.
In this time of so much stress and suffering, a message of God’s ability to do abundantly more than we can hope or imagine, even with accidently sown seed, should encourage us to keep preaching, teaching, serving, working for justice, feeding the sheep and tending the least — even when it appears that our efforts do not bear much fruit. Yes, the path is hard and dusty and not hospitable to gospel seeds of loving kindness, but the birds are nourished by its presence on those very paths. Yes, the ground is rocky, perilous and frightening, but perhaps those fast-growing, temporary plants brought forth from the gospel seeds of mercy provide a glimpse of encouraging beauty to someone attempting to scale the cliffs. Yes, the thorns multiply and injure, but could it be that the gospel seeds of grace inspire some enmeshed in worldly cares to imagine that another way might be possible? Good soil, just the right soil, with all the favorable conditions for the gospel taking root are rare, and yet God works miracles through not only that rich, right soil, but through crumbs under the table and small containers of oil and far-from-perfect people.
Much of what we encounter in the landscape all around us – the rocks and thorns and birds, the weather, the natural disasters, the convergence of historic events – are out of our control. However, we are gospel-sowers and therefore we sow on, regardless of all the circumstances inhospitable to the harvest.
Jesus tells this story to a huge crowd so enthused by his presence and enthralled by his words that he must get into a boat so as not to be overrun by their need for him. Their hunger, even reading this story all of these years later, is palpable. Perhaps he wants them to know that the good news he brings, news of freedom for the oppressed, release to the captive, food for the hungry, sight for the blind, will not be universally received with joy and acted upon with decisiveness. In fact, grace, justice, mercy, peace and love are often met with violent resistance. The well-worn paths of hard-heartedness, the rocky ground of superficial idols and the virtually indestructible explosion of worldly thorns of wealth and power all conspire to silence the Word of God and will lead to the crucifixion of God’s Son. And yet, an abundant harvest will not be thwarted. Salvation will not be stopped. Death will not have the last word. Evil will be defeated. The few seeds that take root and grow will multiply and be more than enough, so much that all will be satisfied, nothing will be lost and there will even be leftovers.
The disciples, hearing this parable, want to know more. They want Jesus to interpret the story and tell them exactly what he means. Jesus obliges, reminding them that evil is real, persisting in faith is hard and the temptation to capitulate to the values of the world unyielding. Having the ears to hear is key to real understanding, to enriching the soil and bearing fruit. What, though, does this mean? Given that so much is outside of our control, what, beyond sowing the seed, proclaiming the Word, is our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ? Do we have the ability to hone our hearing and enhance our understanding of God’s will and work and Word?
I think, when everyone is feeling in various degrees the weight of this time, the weariness wrought by this chapter of history, our Christian call includes tending the soil within our reach. I confess that I am spiritually high maintenance. I must work hard to attune myself to the Spirit. I worry that had I been Moses I might have walked by the burning bush, distracted by my urgency to get where I was going or oblivious to the possibility that God’s plans are not identical to my own. Despair is always a tempting option. Cynicism grows like thorns. I create a self-centered ego-system when God calls me to participate in a holy, interconnected ecosystem. I need to stop and daily ask Jesus: “Why do you speak in parables? What, exactly, are you trying to tell us?” I need not only to get up and out and sow gospel seed, I need to pause and listen to the gospel itself and ask the Lord to help me hear and rightly understand it. Often, it is the latter that I find more difficult to do.
It is those who hear and understand the Word of God and bear fruit who become the ground from which God’s abundant, life-giving harvest grows. Understanding is not simply intellectual assent or theoretical knowledge, rather understanding is “perceiving clearly” and “comprehending thoroughly” and being “spiritually intelligent.” This is the kind of understanding that Jeremiah speaks of when God’s Word is written on the hearts of God’s people and subsequently, we can do no other than act from it and live lives reflective of the Good News. This kind of understanding shapes the way we sow, generously, daily, in and out of season, no matter the conditions, regardless of the results, trusting that as we sow, the seeds fall and God brings inexplicable, unexpected, life-giving growth.
- What strikes you when you read this parable and Jesus’ explanation of it at this time in your life and at this point in the life of the world?
- How much agency do we have over the soil in which the seed is scattered? Can we help create the conditions for the gospel to grow?
- What does it mean to you to understand God’s Word?
- How do you go about sowing gospel seeds in your daily life?
- What do you think the people in the crowd want from Jesus? What do the people in today’s crowd need from Jesus?
- When you read the various kinds of soil, where do you place yourself? Our culture? What are the greatest threats to the gospel taking root and growing?
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