The 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 10A (July 10, 2011)
Semicontinuous Series Genesis 25:19-34 Psalm 119:105-112 (105)
Prayer of the Day Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 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. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The Prodigal Sower
We have been working hard at Saint Peter during the past few years to fine tune how we do ministry together. We have established a vision statement, a mission statement, and a statement of our values. We have worked hard to help as many congregants as possible understand these statements and be committed to them. We meet regularly with our ministry team leaders, and encourage them to base their plans and activities on these ideals. We do all this, hoping to make the very best use of our time and our talents and our energy. We want to be driven by our sense of mission. And we believe that by doing so, we can be more productive, less wasteful, and more faithful to what God is calling us to do and to be. We also hope that this kind of attention throughout our congregational structure can make us more successful at what we determine to do.
Then along comes this disturbing parable. A Pastor-friend of mine once said that the role of parables is to "sneak up on us and cause a new catastrophe." If that is the case, then this one is doing its job, because here Jesus describes a sower of seeds who operates in exactly the opposite manner from what I have described in the paragraph above. He shows very little thoughtfulness about where he distributes his seed. He throws it in what seems to be a remarkably careless way. Some of it falls in areas where it is absolutely impossible for seed to take root and grow. Others of it fall in areas where it is highly unlikely. If St. Matthew has the proportions down correctly, it seems that 75% of the seed is wasted and only 25% falls on fertile soil.
Jesus has the audacity to commend this sower, or at least so it seems: "Let anyone with ears listen!”
Some have dealt with the dissonance of this parable by redirecting its focus. They have claimed that the point of the parable is the character of the soil. “Stay away from the behaviors suggested by the bad soil.” they say. But that misunderstands the entire point. It makes no difference to preach to rocky ground, “Become soft, dark, moist, fertile soil.” No more does it make sense to preach to humans, “Become fertile recipients of the Lord’s word.’
No, this parable is not about types of soil — it is not about hearers of the word, and their ability (or inability) to be touched by the word of God. This parable is about Jesus, and those who would seek to continue his ministry of spreading God’s word. It is about his prodigious efforts to share God’s word everywhere — even in the most unlikely of situations. By inference, in God’s economy it is worth spreading bags and bags of seed that have virtually no chance of producing a yield, if it makes it possible for one seed to take root; if it makes it possible for one person to hear the good news.
This runs against our sensibilities. It seems like an extraordinary waste of seed, especially in a time when efficiency and precision are all the rage. Yet the sower (and Jesus?) puts 75% of the planting investment at risk, in the hopes of discovering where that fertile 25% lies.
Perhaps we could learn from this image Jesus shares with us today. Perhaps we could become less focused, less exclusive, less skeptical, when we go about the business of sowing seeds. Perhaps we could reach out and share the good news, even in situations where it doesn’t seem apparent that we will have any impact. Perhaps we should trust our own intellect less, and the Holy Spirit more, so that we are, like the sower, willing to sow seeds even in spots where it doesn’t seem to make any common sense to sow.
Fools for Christ, St. Paul calls us. This is one area where we can practice a sacred foolishness. Sow with a reckless and faithful abandon, friends. Who knows what the Holy Spirit might accomplish among us?
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Why did Jesus portray a sower of seed who seems so careless about where the seed is sown?
- Who, in Jesus’ time, was restricting where God’s power could move, and where it couldn’t?
- What word of hope might the disciples have taken away from this parable?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- When does my focus and intentionality prevent me from seeing what is possible?
- In what situations, or with what people, and I reluctant to make a witness about my faith?
- How might this parable give me hope and confidence to share my faith more freely?