When I read today’s parable I get excited! Really excited!
Jesus is giving us a lesson on Kingdom values and there’s nothing better than learning about the ways of the World as it Should Be! And even better, today we’re getting a 3 for 1 in the parable department!! It doesn’t get much better than that! Jesus’ teachings should always make us think, feel and reflect on our own values and actions.
Jesus’ teaching in is found in verses 1-9 and is often referred to as the Parable of the Sower, but I’d like to call it the Parable of the Miraculous Harvest because its really about God’s bounty. It’s followed by verses 18-23 that are a commentary by a later editor in Matthews community.
The parable can be broken down into three segments, each with its own emphasis but working together it tells an overarching story.
- The Sower
- The 4 Soils
- The Miraculous Yield
“Listen,” says Jesus. “A Sower went out to sow.” Seems straightforward to me. But then we hear how he sowed. It’s definitely first century farming where the seed is scattered and then plowed into the ground. A lot different from current farming practices, where the ground is prepared first: plowed, fertilized, etc. and then the seed is mechanically injected into the soil. But the planting Jesus describes seems even more odd than that. It sounds like he’s scattering seed everywhere not just in the field.
What kind of worldview is suggested by tossing handfuls of seeds out in a seemingly random fashion: not just in a field, but also on a path, or rocky ground, or in the midst of weeds & thorns…everywhere for Pete’s sake…really!!!? What kind of buffoon is this farmer? You’re supposed to plant seeds in the field, and preferably in good soil not scatter handfuls of it everywhere! How are you ever going to get a good yield if you you’re just tossing it around. Common sense and years of scientific study tell us the way we are supposed to do it…the way we always have, because that’s the best. Or is it?
Maybe there is more to this. We all know Jesus isn’t really teaching us about 1st century agriculture, right! He’s talking to us about the building of the Body of Christ, by spreading the good news! Doing the things that spread the message of the World As it Should Be to help make it a reality. The dreaded “E” word for us Anglicans!! But its really about more.
Traditional views on evangelism tells us that careful demographic work occurs first. To be a good planter or evangelist you do it in the right place, at the right time where you’ve research the possibilities. You craft your message, examine the demographics, polish the media and strategically work to reach out to your target audience. Just like any good corporate chain, grocery store or other business. Don’t waste your time and breath on anything else. Right!!??
Or is that right? Of course we use our minds when we spread the good news, and invest our resources into growth but that shouldn’t be the only factor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had unexpected results, unexpected rewards and blessings from doing something different, something creative. So many times simply being present and making the effort is what matters. And being willing to take a chance.
In my D.Min. work I looked at characteristics of parishes that were healthy and vibrant. One of the commonalities in this group was that there was a culture of risk taking, of experimentation from the parish to the rector to the bishop. Creativity, risk taking and experimentation were critical factors for vitality.
This doesn’t alway happen though. Sometimes fear can be our biggest enemy and it freezes us in place. Fear of rejection and fear of failure. It leads us to always playing it safe or not playing at all. We end up looking inward, looking for people just like us and we end up stagnating and slowly dying. From what the parable says we need to keep trying and more creatively! NT professor Talitha Arnold states that “With this parable, Jesus reminds his followers-and Matthew reminds his community-that rejection of Jesus’ message does not mean the message is wrong or their efforts are folly. It is simply a matter of life, whether in farming or faith.”
I also wonder…what if it is not just about us!!!! Maybe the parable, maybe the growth of the Kingdom isn’t produced by us. Maybe <gasp> its really about God!
Imagine, God is engaged in extravagant evangelism. “Listen” says Jesus in the parable. Listen indeed! God is extravagant! God is abundant! The Good News isn’t meant to only be shared within certain groups and demographics. The Good News isn’t only meant to be sown in the places where we are certain it will take root. The good news isn’t worried about scarcity. The Good News can surprise us in how it’s received and grows. We aren’t the ultimate reason the Good News spreads, its not all about us and our efforts! Maybe we simply are called to be present, called to sow and scatter, and to bear the heartaches when it does fall on rock soil, or arid or weed infested soil. To share in the burdens of the world in its heartaches and failures as well as to celebrate in the successes and bounty.
I sometimes get worried when the seed doesn’t take root and grow. But here we are shown that the sower doesn’t sweat it. He accepts the reality that some, maybe most of what he scatters falls on bad soil but he keeps on going. Jesus kept on going and his followers are asked to do the same. Maybe the difference between those mind sets is scarcity and abundance.
The parable describes yields from this Sower who scattered his seeds with abandon, hitting the path, rocky ground, thorns and other inhospitable ground and everything else was 30, 60 and 100 fold yield.
My friends, these yields are miraculous! A 7-fold is a good year, a 10-fold is true abundance, a 30-fold would feed a village for a year and a 100-fold means I retire today to my Malibu beachside villa and personal vineyard for life and then some. If the small part of land that sprouted seed and made it to harvest yielded these results they were truly miraculous and a reminder that ultimately all growth comes from God.
So maybe the process of evangelism, the process of the spreading the good news, the Jesus Movement, us living out our faith occurs when we trust and put ourselves in a position to scatter the good news…everywhere and everytime with abandonment!
Our role is simply to scatter the seeds. To scatter far and wide, in all kinds of conditions in all places and times, with reckless abandon. Our reality is to be present in the sowing. We need to accept the reality and not be distracted by other matters. We can’t be afraid of scarcity. Just sow and leave the details to God. Just sow and trust in the overwhelming abundance of God. Believe in the abundance.
That may be the biggest challenge for us, not simply to keep sowing, but to believe in God’s abundance. To believe in a totally abundant and life giving God and trust in God’s abundance and in the reality that we aren’t in control, God is. We aren’t the centre of thee universe, God is. And with that in mind the parable calls us not simply into acceptance of what is but into a promise that we are also called to proclaim to the world. A promise that overcomes the reality of the world as it is and offers true life.
May it be so!