Joseph P. Mathews
10 juillet 2011
Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
Proper 11, Pentecost +5, A
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Alabama, where I’m from, the corn is usually towering by this time of year. Fresh produce is everywhere here in this City of Light.
Growing up, my family – often my brothers and I at my mother’s direction - kept a garden. I can assure you that we never planted seeds the way the sower in today’s parable does, casting them about willy nilly. No, we had to do very intentional planning if we wanted things to grow.
Each year, we had to prepare our garden space before planting. The first step annually was looking for rocks. In the course of a year they always managed to move into the same area of land that we’d cleared the year before. We’d look for rocks, big ones the size of a fist. Next, after they were gone we had to turn the soil over. Some years we did this with spades over the course of a week or more, other years my step-father rented a tiller and it was done in less than an hour. But we still weren’t ready to plant, necessarily.
Different crops required further preparation still. Tomatoes had to go in cages so the vines could climb. Corn went in rows marked with string and pipe. Mounds had to be made for watermelons. Finally, we planted and let things grow. We did some weeding to keep things alive, but Mom did most of that.
Through the course of the summer we ate what was ready as it became ready: boiled squash with too much pepper, grilled corn on the cobb, and peas fresh from the vine.
How strongly our system of planting and harvesting differs from the sower in today’s gospel text! This person going out to sow is careless, reckless, casting seeds with abandon.
He throws seeds into the rocks, he throws them in the road, he throws them in the weeds, and some of them wind up in soil where they’ll grow. At the close of the parable Jesus tells those with ears to hear to listen. What are we supposed to learn?
In all the work that went into making our garden, we were pretty careful about what we did. We wanted what we planted to produce a harvest. The sower in the parable seems more concerned with sowing than reaping. In this parable Jesus is telling people who follow him in every generation that God the sower scatters Good News to all places with abundance and extravagance and without discrimination.
There are different reactions to God’s reaching out, certainly, but that’s not what Jesus wants us to listen for in this text. Jesus isn’t giving us a standard by which to judge ourselves and try to be good soil as hard as we can.
Rather than setting up a system of what is good and what is bad, he offers us a vision of what-might-be, a larger vision of God’s extravagance. The good soil – people who not only hear but stay in relationship with God – have an abundance of life. The fruit is one hundred fold – more bountiful than can actually be measured. Jesus offers life beyond measure for those in relationship with him. An easy temptation is to make the story about our working to be good soil rather than about God and God’s continual calling us and loving us.
To avoid that temptation, we should remember that Jesus had to explain the parable to the disciples because they didn’t get it. They want to understand what Jesus is talking about when he says “the kingdom of God has come near”, but they don’t.
Try as they might they don’t.
Jesus’ words are falling on minds packed down, like the soil in the road, from years of hurt and disappointed expectation. They have expectations about what God does and doesn’t do, how the world should run. What Jesus keeps telling them – love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, give to anyone who asks, not to store treasures on earth – flies in the face of their desires.
Jesus doesn’t give up on them, though. Jesus the Word continues to be among them - and us - recklessly, loving and teaching without giving up. Over and over again he says, “You who have ears, listen!” Unlike the seeds on the road, disciples aren't snatched up by the enemy; they follow Jesus until the end. And then they keep following him, talking about him, and making new disciples as he continues to live with them after the resurrection. They stick to it, even when it doesn’t make sense to them. They hope that one day they will understand Jesus’ messages. Jesus doesn’t abandon his disciples in any age, and they – we - are given lives of abundance.
Last week we heard Jesus invite us to take up his yoke, a yoke of easiness, of being bound to him in discipleship, not oppressively burdened down to do hard labor. This week Jesus invites us to lives of abundance: life in an abundant God who knows no scarcity of love, which he showed us when he cast Jesus the Word to live and dwell among us.
He did this not after getting rid of the rocks, loosening the soil, or getting rid of the weeds. God didn’t scatter the Word, his love in human form, after elaborate preparation like my family’s garden in Alabama. No, God loves us, meet us where we are, and doesn’t give up on us. Amen.