Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13.1-9 and 18-23

We know the different landscapes of which Jesus speaks in the parable of the sower. We know the beaten path of life, being pecked at, the rocky patches of life, the weeds and thorns of life, the inner states from which God seems to bounce off or wither away inside us, seemingly killed off, and we may know the sacred soil of life in which the kingdom grows to a sizeable harvest. 

Jesus then, in the parable of the sower, is describing our inner geography, the various landscapes of the human heart. We have met these in others and discovered them in ourselves. We are rarely one type of soil. We are all four, the soils describe how we live and relate to others and God. 

Jesus’ parable then, describes the consequences of each kind of life we can live, so at one level, Jesus invites his first hearers, then Matthew’s hearers, and now us, to be self-reflective and examine the kind of life we are living. That is very important work indeed, to reflect, and to reflect on whether we are attempting to live out of our fear and pride wthout God or through God’s love and humility in us.  The word, humility, comes from the word, humus, the stable, long lasting remnant of decaying organic material, essential for life, but formed and discovered only by regular decomposition and death.  This then, is the value in thinking about ourselves as soil.

But in thinking this parable is primarily about ourselves, we can also be misusing and even abusing this parable.  The other day, for example, I was walking along, quite lost in the most unpleasant states of heart and mind, a miserable feeling in which it seemed nothing of God could flourish, when suddenly I realised I was not subject to these conditions at all, because God was the true life in me, not myself, and I wasn’t even born and nor would I ever die.  This is the power of the parable, if you listen, know, perceive and understand it.  But not everyone does, even Jesus acknowledged.

‘Why do you speak in parables?’ the disciples ask in verses 9 - 18, and Jesus answers, ‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not. The reason I speak to them in parables is that they do not perceive, or listen, or understand.”

Why not?  Because their focus of attention is only on this world, which thrives on competition, comparison, and judgment, and on the question about what kind of dirt we are, which is about putting ourselves, and our Church, at the centre of God’s Kingdom, with the sower being choked out, somewhere in the background.  No.

The “what kind of dirt are you” question can become a decoy, making us try to understand through the lens of our selfish worldview alone, which may not be sacred.  If our worldview is not sacred, we hear but don’t understand, see but don’t perceive, and the parable simply doesn’t make sense. The farmer, God, sends his sower, Jesus, to sow on a public pathway, where birds can get it, on rocky ground, amongst thorns, which is all very bad planning, it is wasteful, inefficient, ineffective, bad farming.  You just can’t plant seeds among birds rocks and thorns and act surprised when nothing grows there. Jesus tells a parable that does not fit our worldview.

To understand this however is the beginning of understanding that the parable therefore offers a new, fresh, different and delightful worldview. It gives us a glimpse into God’s worldview, heals our ears and our eyes so that we might hear and understand, see and perceive. The Hebrews called parables riddles, the Greek called them comparisons, the Orientals called them koans. It is enough for us to know that parables test our heart’s willingness to surrender to and be enveloped in the always revealing surprising and gracious generosity of God, not just thinking about what kind of soil we are.

Different as the four soils are, the sower sows the same seeds in all four soils with equal toil, equal hope, equal generosity, and no evaluation of the soil’s quality or potential. There is no soil unsown, no ground declared undeserving of the sower’s seeds, no state of mind and heart which does not have a chance, and therefore this is not only about the quality of dirt, but the quality of God, the divine sower. We want to judge what kind of dirt we are, God wants to sow his life into our dirt. No life, no person, no soil unsown.  

Seeds are being thrown here there and everywhere, which is both poor planning and wasteful economy by our own farming practices. It is inefficient and unprofitable, and bad management, but you see, if you do see, that is, this is not about our concerns, it is about the sower, God’s gracious faithfulness. God’s concern is not dependent on how things work out in our world, the sower’s world, but it is about our wastefulness giving way to his hope, our inefficiency to his love, and our profitability to his generosity. 

This is a parable of who we are capable of being and becoming if every part of our life has been sown with the seeds of God.  And it has.  Do you know what can happen to seeds, this is the question, riddle, comparison, koanDo you know what can happen?

Given the right conditions, which include our regular acceptance of death to our own concerns, of course, apple seeds become apples. Peach seeds become peaches, and God seeds become….


Hear the parable of the sower.

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