Proper 10A; Matthew 13:1-11, 18-23
I have a complicated relationship with the parable of the sower. It has so many facets to it that you really can't take it all in without spending time pondering it.
For instance, if the sower is God, we can look at it through the eyes of abundance with God generously spreading the Good News of the kingdom. But then again, if the sower is God, why didn't he have better aim? If he knows where he is throwing the seeds, does that mean he knows that some will land on the path or other undesirable locations? And if he knows, are some seeds predestined to be snatched away by the evil one? Wow.
Or maybe the sower isn't God, but is us. If that's the case, we should recognize it is our job to spread the word of the Good News of the kingdom as far and as wide as we can without making judgments as to the worthiness of the people to whom we are talking. In other words, it's not our job to determine if a person has no depth, or is easily distracted. It is simply our job to sow the seeds.
Or maybe we need to remember that we are the seeds. While it may be tempting to think that we are the seed that lands in good soil, and that we hear and heed the Good News of the kingdom so that we bear much fruit, the reality is more likely to be that each scenario represents a particular time in our lives. Yes, there are times I bear good fruit. But then there are also times when I am overcome by the cares of the world or am snatched away by the evil one (see Paul these last few weeks), or I am faced with rocky trials and feel I can't go on. To be honest, sometimes those particular times happen in the same week, or maybe even on the same day.
Like I said, I have a complicated relationship with this parable.
So with all of these facets of sower, seed, and place (where we land), where might we focus our attention? For today I want to look at the final verse: 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.
The seed sown on good soil is indicative of the one who hears the word of God, or the word of the kingdom of God, and understands. Or, as James says, we must not only be hearers of the word, we must also be doers of the word. Understanding means doing. Understanding means learning.
We see this in almost every facet of life. We all know the object of every game is to score more points than your opponent – from bowling to tennis. It's a simple matter to hear how the game is played. But good coaches will teach their players to understand the game, to learn rules and nuance to help players develop. Good players will take the time to learn and develop. Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, arborists, accountants, you name it, all work to understand their field more deeply.
For instance, I learned that the heart's cells coordinate with each other so that they beat in unison and that coordinated beating pumps our blood throughout the body keeping us alive. I know that. We all know that. But you certainly don't want me performing heart surgery because I really don't understand how it all works.
The same can be said for Christianity. The basic tenets of the faith are fairly easy to cite: Love God, love neighbor; Jesus was God incarnate; he was crucified, died, buried, and rose on the third day; bread and wine become body and blood. Like a coach who is asked, “What does your team need to do today to win?” and answers, “Score more points than them,” it's easy for us to say, “Love God and love your neighbor,” or, “Three in one and one in three,” without really understanding.
As we think about this parable and the seeds that are scattered onto various places – the path, on rocky ground, amongst thorns, and in good soil – it's important to note that it's not the passivity of the seed Jesus is describing. We can't look at this parable and say, “Well, God put me in a place where I'm easily taken by the evil one, so woe is me.” Instead, Jesus is describing the results of our actions.
If we hear the word of the kingdom and do nothing, we allow ourselves to be snatched up by the evil one. If we hear the word and get all excited, but spend no time working to deepen our faith, we are like plants with no depth and will fade away quickly. If we hear the word but are more concerned with our image or with chasing after wealth, we allow ourselves to be choked by the weeds. But if we hear the word, work to understand it and work to deepen our faith, we will grow and produce good fruit.
This parable isn't about where people fall. This parable is about what we are doing with what we have been given.
Are we using our gifts and talents for the benefit of the kingdom? Are we practicing good stewardship of what God has given us? Are we contributing financially to the mission of the Church? Are we taking to time to learn and understand the word of God through study, inquiry, critical reviews, sharing our faith, and working to shape our lives in the manner of Christ?
God is the sower spreading the Good News of the kingdom far and wide. But this isn't a parable about God's bad aim; this is a parable about what we do with what a generous and abundant God has given us. We can choose to ignore the Good News. We can choose to place more value on worldly pursuits than on Godly pursuits. We can choose to think we know it all because we've heard the Good News. We can also choose to work to understand that Good News, deepening our faith, and produce good fruit.
Either way, the choice is always ours. And that choice will lead us to being snatched away, choked off, or with the opportunity to bear good fruit.
Which will you choose?