Tuesday, July 12, 2011
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!
A few years back I bought a house here in Austin with a barren front yard. And after doing some research, it dawned on me that planting grass is pretty tough work. I’d have to loosen the ground and rake it into a thousand little furrows. The seed had to be scattered carefully and evenly. I would then put down wheat straw, which I was told would hold in the moisture before watering – which apparently is also a science. Not too much! The seeds will wash away. But not too little or the seeds won’t grow. Now, I never actually did any of this but I did learn a lesson. A careful farmer has knowledge, competency and skill. A careful farmer is diligent, patient and gentle. A careful farmer takes his time.
Now with that in mind, it’s worth asking, what’s Jesus doing in today’s Gospel by giving us a story about a farmer that just throws seed around like it’s confetti on New Year’s? On the path, the thorns, the rocky ground, the good soil – it doesn’t matter. The Farmer in Jesus’ parable throws seed around indiscriminately. He’s reckless, he’s wasteful and even seems to be in a hurry. Which is shocking – right? – Because we know who this Sower represents – God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus likens his Father to a reckless and wasteful farmer. And so here’s the question we need to ask. What is Jesus trying to say about the nature of God, and what’s he trying to tell us his disciples? Once again, what does this parable say about God, and what does this parable mean for us?
Now, you may think you know where I’m trying to take this. Be the good soil – don’t be hard hearted and shallow and materialistic like the other soils, but be the good soil. After all, this is a parable, which according to the dictionary is a short allegorical story that illustrates a well-known truth. That’s also what I was taught in Sunday school –that parables are just stories with moral lessons – and had I been a little older and a tad wiser I would have sued my church for malpractice. Why? – Because Jesus didn’t tell parables to illustrate a well-known truth. He told parables to shatter well-known truths. You see in Jesus’ day everyone thought they knew who it was that God favored – the right, the respectable, the religious, and the rule-keepers. And so to say that Jesus told this parable to confirm that belief, that He’s trying to scare us into being the respectable good soil is to entirely miss the point. Because the God Jesus reveals is not some methodical farmer looking only for the “best soil” to love. No, the God Jesus knows is like this Farmer – reckless, wasteful and in a hurry to sow His love wherever he can – on the path, the thorns, the rocky ground, the good soil – it doesn’t matter. The nature of God is to sow love everywhere!
You see, contrary to what we may have been taught, this isn’t a parable about good soil. It’s a parable about a good sower. And what Jesus is trying to say is that God isn’t cautious, strategic and calculated when it comes to sowing His love. Because He loves when we don’t love back. He blesses when we don’t say thanks. He sows when we’re surrounded by thorns. And that is what Jesus is saying about God – that He loves the rebellious and the religious as if they were the same. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, whether you’re a regular or a visitor, whether you’re on top of the world or stuck in the pit – black/white, rich/poor, old/young, sober/addicted, popular/alone – none of that matters to this indiscriminate and reckless God. He is in a hurry to invest in you. In other words, this parable isn’t Jesus’ way of trying to convince us to be good. It’s his way of trying to convince us that God is good.
Brennan Manning, who’s one of my favorite authors, tells the true story of an Irish priest who stumbles upon a peasant praying by the side of the road. And so the priest, who’s impressed, says to the peasant, “You must be really close to God.” And this is how that peasant responded. “I am, because God is very fond of me.” How sweet would life be, how many problems would disappear, how many rocks would be removed and how many thorns would be uprooted if we only believed that? If we believed that God is fond of us –not that we’re forgiven, or accepted, or tolerated – but that we are all the apple of His eye. I sure hope you’ve heard that before – that God is so very fond of you. Because Jesus was under the impression that hearing this good news and understanding it was half the battle. After all, the good soil in today’s parable aren’t the ones that are perfect – they’re people that hear the word and understand it. Is the God we believe in legalistic? Does the God we know only favor the right, the respectable, the religious, and the rule-keepers? Because Jesus’ intention in telling this parable was to demolish that God. The God He knows is reckless, wasteful and in a hurry to sow His love among thorny, rocky, and hard-hearted people. Why? Because God is so very fond of everyone.
Now, if we believe that, there is a second question we need to ask. What does this parable mean for us, for this community here at St. James? Well, a lot but I’ll mention two things.
First, sow love everywhere. Our God is reckless and generous and He sows love indiscriminately. If you and I are serious about being a disciple of Jesus, we will do the same. I mean, can you imagine how exciting and transformative churches would be if they poured into their community like the sower in today’s parable? Or how rich and joy-filled we would be if we loved and blessed the people in our lives like God loves and blesses us? Now, I know that’s easier said than done. And as we all know, to have our love fall on rocky, arid or weed-infested ground has the capacity to break our hearts. But here’s what I’d like to say about that. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Did he not offer words of blessing as the crowds mocked him? If we sow love like the farmer in Jesus’ parable it will break our hearts from time to time. But you know what? It’s also going to loosen the soil of our hearts so that the love that God’s pouring in can bear fruit. Sow love everywhere – it will not return to you empty.
Second, this parable is a call to be patient. God is a farmer that sows seeds; not some general that demands change. You see all earthly kingdoms come quickly, visibly and through force, but not the Kingdom of God, it grows slowly, secretly and quietly – like a seed buried in the ground. And so be patient with yourself, and be patient with the people you’re investing in! Because the truth is, each one of us is a mix of good soil, thorns and rocks. And we need to know that God is still working on our thorny, rocky places. In fact, in the Gospel of John Jesus compares God to a gardener that prunes those places in us that need to bear more fruit. But pruning takes time, and only God has the knowledge, competency and skill to do it. And so be patient.
And so here’s what I’d like to leave you with this morning. The point of today’s parable isn’t primarily to convince us be good. It’s to help us understand that God is good. And it’s also a parable about a miraculous yield! Remember, the parable ends by reminding us that God knows what He’s doing – that all this sowing will reap a hundredfold – and of that we can be certain. After all, the Christian Gospel is not about many seeds being sown but about One Seed in particular – about One Seed in particular that embodied the fullness of God’s love and was buried beneath the earth only to be raised that first Easter morning – which is our guarantee of just how fond God is of us all. Black/white, rich/poor, young/old, sober/addicted, popular/alone, thorns/rocks – none of that matters – God is reckless with his love. Be reckless with yours, too. Sow love everywhere. It will not return to you empty. God is good, and He is so very fond of you.