RCL Year A, Proper 10
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower sent out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path…other seeds fell on rocky ground…other seeds fell among thorns, and…other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
I can put myself right in the middle of this parable. I’m looking down, at the ground where the seed lands when it’s scattered: the rocks, the path, the thorns, the good soil. It’s so easy to make an allegory of the story and try to find where my rocks are, what path I get distracted to follow, what thorns I let choke out God’s love. Am I only responsive to God one day out of four? One hour out of four? Only 25% of the time? If I’m honest, I’d have to answer “yes” to those questions – if even 25% of the time! And worse, I cringe to admit that, when I remember all the petty thoughts, all the resentments, all the angry words that whiz through my mind and out of my mouth, I have little hope of ever getting much above the 25% obedience line.
We can get ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle of frustration and disappointment and guilt when we concentrate on the ground where the seed landed. But what if that wasn’t Jesus’ point? What if, for once, the title, given by someone long ago to this parable, is really the focus? The Sower. And after all, Jesus told these parables not to judge us but to describe for us the Kingdom of God and to invite us into it.
I think we can agree that the seed is the Word of God or the Love of God or Jesus’ teaching – which are really all the same thing – and that it has potential to grow and spread into a harvest beyond our imagining. And so the sower has to be the one or the ones who spread the Love of God. Let’s look up this morning. Let’s put ourselves and the ground aside, and let’s look at the sower who scatters seed. Let’s watch the seed as it blows where it will.
The first thing we see is that this sower is not your usual kind of planter. If he were a farmer, he would be more careful with his seed; he wouldn’t waste it, and he’d plant it meticulously in neat rows in soil cultivated rightly just for planting. If she were a gardener, she’d do the same, and in addition, she would carefully plan her garden, not just scatter seed all over the place. The ground would be aerated and fertilized and edged, and the seed would fall just where the gardener intended it should fall: black eyed Susans here, salvia there, marigolds, and a border of zinnias; Mexican heather to curtain the back, Lenten rose in the shade and daisies in the sun.
Who else scatters seed? Well, people who feed birds scatter seeds sometimes; my sisters and I used to scatter little bits of bread out in the driveway for the birds in the winter. But when some of the sower’s seed is eaten by the birds, feeding birds doesn’t seem to have been the intent of the sowing in this story.
Do we have a Sower who’s careless or one who is ignorant of the ways of cultivating ground and growing plants? Perhaps it’s a child who scatters seed on a bright Saturday morning and is happy to see it be food for the birds. Perhaps the child enjoys the puzzle of why the seed grows better in a deep bed of soil than on the path and among the rocks. Perhaps the little sower just wants the fruit of the seed to be planted everywhere it can possibly grow, and perhaps she will go out every day, check carefully on where the seed is growing and not growing – and then throw out some more seed.
Or perhaps it’s a sower who has so much seed he can be extravagant with it. A sower without a care for the speed or success of its germination, a sower whose only intent is to sow it freely and hope in its growth. No patch of ground must be left unseeded; no possibility for growth, however remote, can be ignored. A very extravagant sower with an unlimited supply of seed.
That’s how the Kingdom of God is, Jesus says. It’s a place available right now, right here, where there’s an unlimited supply of love and forgiveness, joy and peace. It’s open to everyone; all people are invited into the Kingdom. What you have to do to live in the Kingdom is accept the unconditional love of God, know you are loved and forgiven, and desire to live a new life in the Kingdom.
One thing we know about God’s love: it’s abundant beyond our wildest imaginings. The story of the Prodigal Son, or, more precisely, the Forgiving Father, is a good picture of God’s love. When we have done our worst, when we have taken all God’s gifts and wasted them or used them for ourselves or thrown them away; when we have hurt or alienated the people we love most or the people who have hurt us; when we’ve made every bad decision possible, and when at last we have nailed the Son of God to a cross and left him to die, God’s love will not let us go. Our God never gives up on anyone, even the worst criminal. If we think we are extravagant with our love for our children and the gifts we offer them, God’s love is beyond all we can give.
We don’t know this kind of love often in the world of human beings. A parent, a spouse, a friend gives their best, but there is always a conditional quality to their love. We fear to trust love here in this world because somehow, we know, it can let us down. It’s a leap of faith to trust anything with abandon – and yet, Jesus showed us as well as he could that we can give ourselves to God’s love for us. It’s here, it’s everywhere, scattered freely as the wind blows and calling us to find it and accept it. And when we do? The harvest is so great we could never have imagined it.
Wherever there is the remotest possibility; no, even when all possibilities are gone, God continues to offer God’s love everywhere. Just on the off chance that someone on the wrong path, someone caught in the thorns of deceit and sin, someone lost, looking for they know not what that has all but vanished in the daily life of the world, God, in the hope that a forgotten someone will at last find and receive God’s love that is their only hope of salvation, continues to scatter the seeds of love. And that love is to be found everywhere, even when we think the world has lost it all or consumed it all or choked it all out. It holds us in the brightest and in the darkest times of our lives. It’s hidden in plain sight, and it’s like a weed: when you harvest one, two grow in its place.
The point of the parable is not our being thorns, it’s not our getting off on the wrong path, and it’s not our ignoring God so that the world snatches God’s love away from us. The emphasis is not even on our receiving God’s love faithfully and doing all we can to spread it and multiply it in the world. The point of the story is the over abundance of God’s love for the world and for everything in it and God’s never ending, extravagant offering of love to us. When we know this, and when we really, truly accept God’s love, our response is never in doubt; we do not have to be told how to respond. We respond in gratitude, and that, that faithful gratitude, is the harvest of God’s love, thirty fold, sixty fold, a hundred fold. We give ourselves to God and to one another, just as God gives God’s self to us. In the harvest we have received and are living in the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. Mary B. Richard